From Harriet Beecher Stowe to Public Enemy, art, whether literature, movies, or music, has long been held as a tool for social progress. Last night, The 57th Grammy Awards, highlighted the ways music serves as a purveyor of justice, with subtle and explicit references to the country's most pressing social issues.
Several performers, including Pharrell and Beyoncé, brought #Blacklivesmatter to the stage, with performances that referenced solidarity with those fighting police brutality. Prince, took the charge a step further, and declared while introducing the nominees for Best Album-
“Albums — you remember those? They still matter. Like books and black lives, they still matter.”
Pharrell performs "Happy" at the 57th Grammys and nods to "Hands Up, Don't Shoot"
Perhaps the most buzzed about moment of the night was President Obama's domestic violence public service announcement. About midway through the program, President Obama appeared to implore the music industry to take the lead on ending domestic and sexual violence through the White House's It's On Us campaign.
President Obama's PSA was followed with a spoken word performance by Brooke Axtell, a survivor of human trafficking and domestic abuse. Immediately after Axtell, Katy Perry performed "By the Grace of God," an emotional ballad from her Grammy nominated album Prism, which many interpreted as a reference to the tragedies of an abusive relationship.
Brooke Axtell performing at the 57th Grammys
Like the NFL's domestic violence PSA a week earlier, the Grammys inclusion of domestic violence awareness drew criticism. Many viewers highlighted the striking irony that is an industry that tries to promote an end to gender based violence, while also allowing Chris Brown and R. Kelly, convicted and accused abusers respectively, to receive repeated nominations for their work. Last night, Brown was nominated for three Grammys and R. Kelly for one.
So what do you think? Do the Grammys care about ending domestic violence? Does the NFL? How can we demand industries and organizations to more fully support social justice and positive change in all of their operations?