Did Michelle Obama get a taste for showbiz style when she slipped on Balenciaga’s knee-high holographic boots in December? Whatever reference the former First Lady was considering when she commissioned Sachin & Babi to make a sparkly silver two-piece for her surprise appearance at the Grammys 2019, she certainly embraced the glamour that is typical of the annual music ceremony.
Minutes after the show had begun, host Alicia Keys welcomed Obama onto the stage with Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith and Jennifer Lopez. “All right, all right, we got a show to do,” Obama told an audience in full meltdown at the sight of her. “From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side to the ‘who runs the world’ songs that fuelled me through this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story, and I know that’s true for everybody here.”
“Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves, our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys,” she continued. “It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters – every story within every voice, every note within every song. Is that right ladies?”
The decision to have four powerful women on stage – Keys also asked the crowd, “who runs the world?” – was no doubt an answer to last year’s outcry over the lack of female winners. In 2018, only one woman was awarded a Grammy, which prompted Neil Portnow, president of The Recording Academy, to comment that females needed to “step up” if they wanted to be recognised. A Grammys diversity taskforce led by Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, was then implemented to “identify the various barriers and unconscious biases faced by underrepresented communities”.
And so on February 10 before artists including Childish Gambino and Diana Ross took to the stage to perform, Hollywood’s new power quartet shared their experiences of how music had given them a space to explore. “They said I was weird, that my look, my choices, my sound, that it wouldn’t work,” said Lady Gaga. “But music told me not to listen to them. Music took my ears, took my hands, my voice and my soul, and it led me to all of you and to my Little Monsters who I love so much.”
Pinkett Smith added: “We express our pain, power, progress through music – whether we’re creating it, or just appreciating it… Every voice we hear deserves to be honoured and respected.”
Lopez was the final performer to address the audience. “Back in the Bronx, music gave me a reason to dance, from hip-hop to freestyle, pop, soul and salsa,” she said. “It kept me moving from the block to the big stages and even bigger screens. It reminds me where I come from, but it also reminds me of all the places I can go. Music remains the one place we can all feel truly free.”
Obama later took to Twitter to tell her followers that she was “thrilled” to have been there for her friend, the “one and only” Keys. “A big part of friendship is showing up for your girls,” she wrote, before another Flotus-fuelled social-media frenzy promptly ensued.