The 61st annual Grammy Awards were held last Sunday and hosted by the incomparable Alicia Keys. The night was full of memorable performances, some noteworthy drama (*ahem* Ariana Grande), and an endless stream of feminist power.
From the first moments on stage Keys made it clear that it would be a night for the women. She opened the show by inviting her close friends up to share the stage with her: Jada Pinkett Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and, yes, Michelle Obama.
The women each took a moment to speak about their relationship with music.
“They said I was weird,” began Gaga, “that my look, my choices, my sound, that it wouldn’t work—but music told me not to listen to them. Music took my ears took my hands, my voice, and my soul and it led me to all of you, and to my little monsters who I love so much.”
“Back in the Bronx,” continued Lopez, “music gave me a reason to dance…and it kept me moving from the block to the big stages and even bigger screens. It reminds me where I come from but it also reminds me of all the places that I can go. Music has always been the one place we can all feel truly free.”
Smith spoke next saying, “We express our pain, power, and progress through music, whether we’re creating it or just appreciating it. But here’s what I know: every voice we hear deserves to be honored and respected.”
Last to speak was Obama, who was initially cut off by the deafening roar of the crowd’s standing ovation and had to begin again. “From the Motown records I wore out on the south side to the ‘who-run-the-world songs’ that fueled me through this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story, and I know that’s true for everybody here. Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. Our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters, every story within every voice, every note within every song.”
It was a powerful moment to behold. The five women stood arm-in-arm, poised with dignity and grace, with gratitude and confidence, for they knew they had earned their place next to one another.
“I’m soaking it in, sorry,” said Alicia. She leaned out towards the crowd and—with a commanding look in her eyes—asked, “Who runs the world?”
The crowd exploded in applause.
But this wasn’t the only women-power we saw that night.
Keys reminded us of her deeply ingrained feminism in her coded way of speaking. She talked of Diana Ross’ “herstory,” not her history. She referred to all the women performers as a part of her family, and she spoke of the fight for gender equality in the music industry.
It also cannot go unnoted that there were dozens of powerful performances by some of our generation’s biggest feminist icons. Dolly Parton was honored in a performance, during which Parton shared the stage with her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, and pop sensations Katy Perry and Maren Morris. Diana Ross graced the stage in a celebration of her 75th birthday, with her daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross, showing her enthusiastic support in the first row.
Other powerful performances were given by Lady Gaga, who sang her number-one hit “Shallow,” Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile, Jennifer Lopez, H.E.R., and Janelle Monàe.
It truly was a night to remember.
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