Beyoncé and Katy Perry “leaned in” on political sentiments at last night’s 2017 Grammys awards but A Tribe Called Quest brought politics front and center with all the power of a National Football team rushing the quarterback on first and goal.
For a while, it could have been last year’s Grammys with a whiff of politics sprinkled like a brief breeze before a summer rain. Then came A Tribe Called Quest.
A blizzard of sound, shouts of “We the people,” and rapper verse calling out “President Agent Orange,” a reference to the orange-colored defoliant used to carpet bomb Vietcong tunnels and troops in Vietnam later alleged to have caused cancer among returning GIs, thundered throughout the Staples Center and in homes as Q-Tip concluded with “Resist. Resist. Resist. Resist.”
It could have been the 1960s. They could have been yelling, “power to the people.” It could have been Huey Newton. It captivated the audience and stunned the heretofore political politeness nuanced in prior performances, Beyoncé’s call for equality of opportunity and learning from the past notwithstanding or, for that matter, Katy Perry’s “PERSIST” armband and final words, “No hate.”
Still the Recording Academy gathers to pick the best of the year’s recordings and musical performances. That is a feat and appreciation beyond my bandwidth. I look and listen with a cocked ear and inquisitive eye. I am not of this generation and know only the headliners like Beyonce, Adele, and others of their fame and play time.
The music critics also parse the Grammys for subtler trends of recognizing artists not on huge labels such as Chance the Rapper. I’m glad he won (three grammys no less) but I didn’t know who he was beforehand.
I did know the Bee Gees and I grew up with “Saturday Night Fever” as a coming of age movie but I was sorely disappointed in what the “updated” arrangements their songs did to the soundscape they had for the movie that scripted the disco era and what the Bee Gees wrote and sang. It wasn’t “Stayin’ Alive;” it was propped up, re-dressed, and “a time out of mind” re-creation of a time most of the audience never knew. John Travolta swinging a paint can walking down a Brooklyn street knowing he was going to “dance in France” that evening at the local disco as the place went wild was missing. He started a dance and music craze. I don’t know what it was for Barry Gibb, the last remaining Bee Gee brother who was in the audience and a good sport, trying to resuscitate the lyrics the performers were singing but not living. At least they gave him an all-star tribute.
Proud: The Bee Gees’ sole surviving member Barry Gibb lead a standing ovation after the all-star tribute he received at Sunday’s Grammy Awards
Whatever the Grammys are or stand for, it stands to reason that they should speak their minds. Music makes us in all sorts of ways. It gives us a sense of place, recreates fond and even erotic memories, is a placemarker for our times, and defines who we are. Speak out, shout out, dance it out, and stand for something. Bob Dylan did and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. He won for songs he wrote in the 1960s. Now, that’s stayin’ alive. Songs matter and music matters.
For NYT coverage on the Grammys, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/12/arts/music/tribe-called-quest-beyonce-katy-perry-grammys-politics.html