Although there were many performances throughout the night at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday evening, two in particular perfectly captured the current zeitgest of our country: Kendrick Lamar’s and, later, Kesha’s.
Lamar opened the show with a charged performance that sent shock waves through the crowd, who eagerly answered with a standing ovation.
The innovative rapper kicked off the show standing among dancers dressed in military fatigues. Before a backdrop of the American flag with the dancers marching in place, the prelude to “XXX” set the tone: “America, God bless you if it’s good to you.”
Lamar then rapped these stirring lyrics:
Ain’t no black power when your baby killed by a coward
I can’t even keep the peace, don’t you fuck with one of ours
It be murder in the street, it be bodies in the hour
Ghetto bird on the street, paramedics on the dial
Let somebody touch my momma
Touch my sister, touch my woman
Touch my daddy, touch my niece
Touch my nephew, touch my brother
As Lamar rapped those last three lines, dancers dressed in red hoodies mimicked being shot and falling down to the floor in rapid succession. Spoken-word passages from comedian Dave Chappelle laced the performance, with Chappelle at one point stating, “The only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.”
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Lamar went on to win five awards out of seven nominations for the night. And while it seemed as though nothing could come close to his searing sociopolitical performance, another artist would take the stage during the Grammys and deliver a similarly pertinent message.
Unlike the Golden Globes earlier this month, during which Time’s Up was front and center, little was said at the Grammys throughout the evening — even though dozens of performers and attendees brought or wore white roses to the ceremony to show their support.
Until, that is, Janelle Monáe took the stage to introduce Kesha, saying, “We come in peace but we mean business. To those who would dare try to silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up.”
With that, Kesha stepped in front of the mic and poured out a truly cathartic and soul-searing rendition of “Praying.”
Making the moment even more poignant was the company Kesha kept. She was joined onstage by fellow artists Bebe Rexha, Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Julia Michaels and a choir cloaked all in white. By the end of the heart-wrenching song, the women had all circled around Kesha in love and support.
For years, Kesha has suffered through a highly visible and emotional struggle with her former producer and mentor, Dr. Luke. Kesha asserts that he raped and drugged her, which Dr. Luke vehemently denies.
Kesha’s personal plight and the Time’s Up movement gave her Grammys performance added resonance and reinforced the movement’s saliency. However, she did not take home an award in either of the categories in which she was nominated.