James Corden’s mild dig at President Donald Trump during his rapped opening monologue at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards – “Live it on up, because this is the best/And with President Trump, we don’t know what comes next” – seemed like a hint that the 59th annual ceremony would be shot through with political sentiment from all sides. But only a handful of the artists and boldface names performing and presenting took the opportunity to make their ideologies known.
1. Busta Rhymes calls out “Agent Orange.”
Hip-hop stalwarts A Tribe Called Quest, who performed with Best New Artist nominee Anderson Paak as well as fellow MCs Busta Rhymes and Consequence, had the most outwardly political performance of the night, a boisterous, feisty medley that paid tribute to deceased member Phife Dawg. Before the fiery We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service track “We The People,” Busta declared, “I’m not feeling the political climate right now,” then derisively thanked “President Agent Orange” “perpetuating all the evil [he’s] been perpetuating throughout the United States” and for flubbing the ban on refugees from majority-Muslim nations. As the song tumbled to a close, the group was joined by a slew of people seemingly representing the entire world. “[The people who joined Tribe onstage] are supposed to represent all the people that are other,” a rep for the hip-hop collective told Rolling Stone.
2. Jennifer Lopez sets a woke tone.
When she took the stage to announce the nominees for the night’s first award, for Best New Artist, Lopez threw in a brief, solemn and obviously Trump-targeting aside: “At this particular point in history, our voices are needed more than ever.”
3. Katy Perry stands in solidarity with Elizabeth Warren.
Katy Perry’s premiere performance of her pointed new single “Chained to the Rhythm” was accompanied by a more subtle dig. The right sleeve of her white blazer was encircled by a “PERSIST” armband, a reference to the way Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shut down Elizabeth Warren during new Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ heated confirmation debate on Tuesday night. Warren, who was trying to read a letter from Coretta Scott King about the then-Sen. Sessions’ checkered voting patterns on race, was shut down by McConnell on the grounds that by bringing up criticisms of his record she was violating rules against impugning fellow senators. “She was warned,” McConnell said after a Senate vote barred Warren from further participating in the debate. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” McConnell’s bluster has since been flipped, “Nasty Woman”–style, into a rallying cry that’s emblazoned T-shirts and tattoos – and, now, Perry’s arm.
4 and 5. Paris Jackson and Laverne Cox stump for pipeline protestors and trans rights in turn.
Two presenters used their short time onstage to advocate for causes they believed in and send viewers online to read up. Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris, introducing the Weeknd, called for action against the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying in response to the applause she received, “We could really use this excitement at a pipeline protest, you guys.” Doubt actress Laverne Cox, presenting the collaboration between Lady Gaga and Metallica, urged audiences to seek out information on Gavin Grimm, whose case regarding trans rights in high schools will be heard by the Supreme Court next month. (Both Jackson and Cox dropped hashtags – #NODAPL and #StandWithGavin, respectively – into their pleas.)
6. Neil Portnow calls for unity.
Recording Academy president Neil Portnow’s annual speech, punctuated by a snippet of “America the Beautiful” on trumpet, cited music’s ability to unite people. “What we need so desperately,” Portnow said, “are more reminders of all that binds us together.” Portnow also took the opportunity to lobby the president and Congress to work with the music business on legislative initiatives that would help the industry’s bottom line. “It’s our collective responsibility to preserve what binds us,” said Portnow, “and to ensure that the whole world continues to benefit from one of our most unique, economically and spiritually important assets and exports: American music.”
7. Beyoncé outlines her Lemonade mission statement.
And then there was Beyoncé, who used her acceptance speech for the Best Urban Contemporary Grammy to make explicit the political undertones coursing throughout the music and visuals of her ambitious 2016 release Lemonade, frustratingly shut out of wins in major Grammy categories. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history; to confront issues that make us uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror – first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys – and see themselves, and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable. This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”