Politics and music can and should coexistBy Cassie Kuhn | 01/31/2018 7:58pm
In response to political references made during this year’s Grammys, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, tweeted, “I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the Fire and Fury book killed it. Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”
Haley should recognize, though, that including a few lines from Fire and Fury into a speech is arguably a smaller political statement than expressing political sentiment in a song that will be played by millions worldwide, which is exactly what many Grammys nominees did, and always do. Between Kesha’s powerful ballads about surviving sexual and emotional abuse and the political references in Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, plenty of relevant political content made its way into Grammy nominees’ music this year.
Some artists, like Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars, received Grammys for songs about sex, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Music doesn’t have to be incredibly deep and meaningful to be worthy of praise. But often, music is shaped by the personal experiences and worldviews of the artist behind it, and such things are often inherently political.
Speaking on political issues at awards shows is an excellent use of the sizable platform artists enjoy. To keep quiet given the current state American politics are in would be missing an opportunity. Political issues affect all of us, all of the time. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in our lives that we stop paying attention to the things that are happening around us, and a celebrity "getting political" at the Grammys is a relatively harmless way to combat this apathy that sometimes creeps into our busy lives.
Obviously, nobody wants to have politics on their mind constantly. Luckily, there’s no shortage of apolitical content to be found on Spotify, Netflix or at your local library. Different methods of escapism surround us constantly. High-profile events like the Grammys don’t have to be 100 percent superficial and light; if you just want to laugh and be entertained, you have other options. Haley’s criticism of artists for using their fame to make political statements is misguided. If we rigidly divide politics and art, we will suffer from lower-caliber, less meaningful music and a smaller diffusion of political knowledge and passion among Americans.
The historical underrepresentation of women and people of color at the Grammys makes it all the more evident that we need people to keep politics relevant, even at music awards shows. It’s pretty clear that Haley’s tweet was motivated by her own political leanings, since she failed to mention Joy Villa’s decision to wear a gaudy pro-life dress to the awards and focused on criticizing liberals. Ultimately, this was nothing more than a weak attempt at devaluing important political discourse that reaches a wider audience than C-SPAN ever will.
It’s immensely dangerous to pretend political issues don’t exist simply because they’re frequently divisive and unpleasant. Political discussion has its place, and the Grammys will continue to be one of those places so long as we have politicians like Nikki Haley failing to see the irony in telling musicians who create music about sexual abuse and police corruption to keep quiet about politics and to stick to music.
Cassie Kuhn is a junior majoring in political science and mathematics. Her column runs biweekly.