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Grammy Awards 2018: What message are we being given – “Time’s Up”, or time to “step up”?

ByMagdalena Pulit

Feb 12, 2018

It is well-known that big awards ceremonies like the Grammys – the “musical Oscars” – are not only hugely influential in the music industry and widely commented on in the media, ranging from coverage of winners, losers and performers to best outfits and fashion slip-ups, but they are also politically and socially impactful.

Both the organizers and the attendees of the event may either make use of the occasion to speak up for important causes or spectacularly miss this opportunity. The participants of the 2018 Grammy Ceremony, held on 28th January, can be divided into these two groups: on one hand, this year’s Grammys were a huge celebration of girlpower and embracement of movements such as the famous #MeToo and #TimesUp. However, on the other, they were a largely disappointing show of hypocrisy.

Let’s start from scratch. The attendees of the gala were encouraged by the organization Voices in Entertainment to attach white roses to their outfits –  a symbol of solidarity with the Time’s Up campaign and all sexually harassed women. This campaign, launched by Hollywood actresses after Harvey Weinstein’s case was disclosed to the public, aims to fight against sexual violence in show-business and raise awareness of this subject.

The initiative is a continuation of a powerful trend established at the Golden Globes ceremony, during which the celebrities wore completely black outfits, manifesting their solidarity with victims of sexual harassment. Indeed, white roses accompanied many celebrities on the red carpet, such as Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, Bebe Rexha, Kelly Clarkson, Khalid and Sarah Silverman, who took it to the next level by posing with the rose in her mouth.

Kesha’s performance of ‘Praying’ seemed to be a perfect capstone of Time’s Up, as the American vocalist had been a victim of scandalous sexual abuse by the producer Dr Luke.  All in white, consistent with the White Rose gesture, she performed her newest single which tells the story of this traumatic experience, backed by a choir of powerful women, including Cyndi Lauper, Bebe Rexha and Camila Cabello.

After the performance, she couldn’t help the tears, and all the female singers came together in an embrace. Girl power. A standing ovation. A powerful, beautiful image.

However, the statistics brutally contrast with the Time’s Up campaign and somewhat superficially exposed white roses. Female artists won only 17 out of 86 awards this year. Moreover, only one of these 17 was broadcasted on TV (Alessia Cara – Best New Artist). As if this wasn’t bad enough, not only was Lorde the only female nominee in one of the most important categories, Album of the Year, she was also the only artist from this category who wasn’t asked to give a solo performance during the gala. This was widely criticized by her fans and fellows from the industry – including Pink and Kelly Clarkson. The Recording Academy’s excuse to explain a lack of performance slot for her or other solo female musicians – “a full box” – isn’t very convincing. Lorde, a powerful, independent, inspiring young female artist who also supports other women’s initiatives (at the gala, instead of a white rose, she attached a poem “The Apocalypse Will Blossom” by feminist artist Jenny Holzer to her dress) could be an embodiment of real change. Clearly, the organizers didn’t see this possibility.

After the ceremony was over, the president of the Recording Ceremony, Neil Portnow, only added fuel to the fire. When asked about the male domination among the Grammy winners, he responded that women need to “step up,” provoking a wave of harsh criticism. Female artists of different ages and from various musical backgrounds – Pink, Sheryl Crow, Charlie XCX, Katy Perry, the Haim sisters and, not surprisingly, Lorde – spoke up on their social media platforms to express their outrage and to highlight the inappropriateness of Portnow’s comment. In response to that, two days after the gala, the Recording Academy promised to “tackle whatever truths are revealed” to eliminate male dominance and gender bias in the music industry.

However, is it really the wind of change or is it more an expression of political correctness, arising out of fear of controversies? Do things actually change or are these changes only window dressing? Kesha can give an emotional performance at the Grammys but let’s not forget that at the end of the day, she lost her case against the male producer. Celebrities can pin white roses to their outfits but comments made by the CEO of the organisation and glaring statistics overshadow these essentially shallow gestures. What does the male-dominated world have to say to women in the music industry, in show-business and across the globe – “Time’s Up” or “step up”?

Image: Krists Luhaers (@kristsll) via. Wikimedia 

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