Grammys bring race issues onto stage


Under the dim lights of the stage, multiple black figures immersed from the darkness in a straight line. As the figures became closer to center stage, it became apparent that they were shackled, chained together. Even closer, it became visible that the figures were dressed as inmates. They continued to walk in unison, closer and closer to full visibility, until the leader of the line reached the microphone that waited in the center of the stage. The head of the line was award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and he was about to deliver a controversial, political performance on one of the largest music stages in the world: the Grammys.

Lamar, a popular African American rapper known for his songs about the struggles within the black community, delivered a powerful performance with many messages about racial injustice, African American heritage, and self-hatred intertwined. The performance began with Lamar and his background dancers in chains and dressed as prisoners while he rapped his song “The Blacker the Berry” which discusses oppression issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin case. Lamar rapped, “You hate me, don’t you? You hate my people. Your plan is to terminate my culture,” among other lyrics.

As the mood of the performance shifts, Lamar and his dancers drop their chains and begin to dance. Lamar then walks on to another set on stage with African dancers around a fire and begins to sing, “We gon’ be alright,” a lyric form another one of his popular songs. He ends the performance alone on stage, once again, rapping about racial injustice and oppression towards African Americans as an image of the continent of Africa with the word “Compton” written inside appears on a screen behind him.

Any time an artist, politician, or anyone for that matter, has the courage to speak on an issue of race on such a large stage, it is a hit or miss with the news media. Some times the individual receives enormous praise in the media while other times there is major backlash. In this case, Kendrick Lamar’s Performance was raved about within the media.

USA Today and the Los Angeles Times called Lamar’s performance “the only one that mattered.” CNN and many other popular entertainment news outlets covered his performance, all in a positive light. However, this positive reaction by the news media is drastically different from the reactions spurred by Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance.

Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance was also an attempt to bring light to the struggles of African Americans, but using a different approach. Beyonce’s back-up dancers all sported “Black Panther” attire as their outfits for the performance. Although a subtle message, this sent the media into a frenzy over Beyonce’s intentions. Some claimed the bold move was racist and anti-police.

Others connected the Black Panther reference to support for the Black Live Matter movement. Regardless, the media picks and chooses which racial messages to accept and which to reject. When one decides to discuss the “race issue” on a world stage, there is a risk attached, one that can impact the favorability of the artist in the eyes of the media.