(Photo credit: Timothy A. Clary)
By Chelsea Booth
It’s no secret that there was a lot wrong with the Recording Academy’s 60th Grammy Music Awards: Bruno Mars won Album of the Year, Lorde was snubbed for a solo performance, and Ed Sheeran, the only male nominee in the Best Pop Solo Performance category, won for his song “Shape Of You” — a song whose lyrics are literally: “I’m in love with your body.”
This should be enough to piss anyone off. However, almost now a month later, what has left me with the most residual unease was Kesha’s performance of her song ”Praying”, a song about the sexual abuse she faced at the hands of Dr. Luke.
Just before Kesha’s performance began, a poised Janelle Monae spoke out in support of the Time’s Up movement affirming that women, “Come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: ‘Time’s up.’”
After Monae’s dignified words, an all female chorus featuring Andrea Day, Bebe Rexha, Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels and the Resistance Revival Chorus, were revealed on stage. Dressed in all white, the all-star chorus began the first verse of “Praying” in a cappella and harmoniously sang “Sometimes, I pray for you at night, someday, maybe you’ll see the light.” The chorus ended the phrase with a dramatic and exclamatory pause to introduce the songs’ distinctive piano line in addition to a noticeably nervous and uncomfortable Kesha. Wearing a white pantsuit embroidered with flowers (because apparently pantsuits = female empowerment), Kesha slowly maneuvered towards the mic. Just before her first line, the camera zoomed into Kesha’s face and she glanced down to take a deep breath.
It was with that split-second body language – a body language I was all too familiar with myself – in which I knew that this performance was not a stance against patriarchy, nor was it a stance against rape or sexual harassment. No, in my gut, I was sure that this was something else entirely. This was the Recording Academy exploiting Kesha’s trauma for their own personal gain.
Kesha started off strong. I can’t imagine the superhuman-like strength it must have taken. But, I could hear it wasn’t going to last. Kesha’s voice was shaky with nerves and I could feel her throat and chest closing up. I glanced over at my mom; she was quietly withdrawn and my dad was almost purposely commentless. My friend texted me and said, “This is powerful.” It was powerful, just not for the right reasons.
The choir surrounded Kesha and provided her with vocal and emotional support as she embarked on the song’s next verse. Shortly after, the performance began to fall apart. I winced seeing Kesha struggle to get through the performance. Honestly, I didn’t think she would.
This was not a performance. This was a woman’s personal trauma on display for the world to consume. The Grammys were more interested in having their own #MeToo moment instead of being genuinely concerned over the #MeToo movement. Kesha didn’t smash the patriarchy – she lost the case against Dr. Luke and is still trapped in that contract with Sony. The patriarchy smashed her, but she’s still standing. Kesha wasn’t silenced. However it is safe to say, that her message was lost on the public. The Grammys framed Kesha’s performance as if she was a champion for women in the music industry. While in reality, she is still being victimized. It’s time for the Recording Academy to put their money where their mouth is. Kesha and many other female artists sure have. White flowers, phony showcases, and hash-tags won’t cut it. The Academy needs to step up and do the right thing.