Alicia Keys brought down the house at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards when she took the stage to present the award for Best Male Video. Instead of delivering the usual award show spiel, Keys got to the mic and recited an original poem in celebration of the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered 53 years ago, on Aug. 28, 1963:
“If war is holy, and sex is obscene
Then we got it twisted in this lucid dream.
Baptized in boundaries, schooled in sin
Divided by difference, sexuality and skin.
So we can fear each other and hate each other
We can break these walls, we can build these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself locked in, yourself locked.
Or maybe we can love somebody.
Maybe we could care a little more.
Maybe we could love somebody.
Instead of polishing the bombs of holy war.”
Keys half recited, half sang her poem a capella to the crowd of famous faces — all of whom appeared to be stunned into silence. Keys was the first person at the VMAs to get in any way political this year. In her poem, she made a call for people to see past the “walls” that separate us, be it “sexuality” or “skin” (read: race). More importantly, Keys used her poem as an opportunity to advocate for love, not hate or war.
Keys added that, in the spirit of MLK and her poem, she still has hope that one day, all men and women will be treated equally. “I still believe in that dream that one day our nation is going to rise up and finally, finally, be completely about the true meaning of this creed: that all women and men are created equal,” Keys said before introducing the Best Male Video nominees. It was a stunning, heartfelt award show moment — the kind that is rarely seen anymore during these heavily scripted events. And it certainly gave people a lot to think about.
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Keys’ raw, honest performance was probably one of the most authentic of the night, and not just because of her gorgeous, untouched live vocals. Keys has recently been embracing a no-makeup look and appears to have continued that tradition at the VMAs. “I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing,” Keys wrote in an essay for Lenny newsletter explaining her choice to abandon makeup.
If her VMAs performance is any indication, Keys is staying true to her words. And she’s authentic and beautiful in every way.
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