February 16, 2016

Music Speaks: What the Grammys & Real Life have in Common.


Tonight was supposed to be like any other night.

I was going through the same motions that I have for several weeks.

Grab a quick bite, plunk myself on the couch surrounded by research, computer on my lap, TV on for background noise—getting set up to hustle through all these assignments.

Except, that tonight wasn’t filled with mindless television, like it usually is. It was filled with the celebration of music as the world’s favorite stars received Grammy stage recognition. Naturally, I stopped to pay attention.

Music is a part of my life. It has been ever since I was little. I sang before I could talk, I put on my own shows for my stuffed animals, I sang in the car on the way to school, I’d sing to myself, and I even spent close to a decade in 10 residential choirs. Now, twenty plus years later, music is the only thing that has remained a constant in my life. It has seen me through the deaths of both family members and friends, through being bullied in high school, through all the downs, but most importantly, through all the ups.

I once heard that a song is like a friend. We can listen to a song as many times as we need to—to  heal, forget, relax or smile. No matter the artist, no matter the time of its release, a song is there for us.

“Art is the unapologetic celebration of culture through self expression. It can impact people in a variety of ways, for different reasons, at different times. Some will react, some will respond, and some will be moved.” ~ Beyoncé, presenting record of the year

I know that many people, many artists feel the same way. They create, not just for us, but…for themselves. They share a piece of their journey with us, so that we have something to hold on to. After all, that’s what art is. It’s self-expression, but more than that, it’s something to connect to and make connections from.

This year, the Grammy platform wasn’t just used to celebrate the arts or the artists. It wasn’t just for us to see some amazing performances. (Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute, anyone?) Stars actually used their platform to raise awareness about the issues that each of us who don’t grace the red carpet face, every day.

“As the first woman to win album of the year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame, but if you just focus on the work, and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there — and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.” ~ Taylor Swift, accepting the award for 1989, winner of album of the year

Bullying is a growing epidemic. As we spend more and more time behind our screens, a false sense of security and impunity has grown—some think that they can just say whatever to whomever without consequence. Young girls are especially vulnerable to these so called “keyboard warriors.”

This practice of girls pitting themselves against one another to establish who is the “queen” is harmful. Suicide rates have risen, not fallen, over the past decade, and part of the reason is: bullying just isn’t under control. It goes unreported or unpunished and there are many young girls who aren’t blessed with a celebrity’s seemingly “thick skin.” They are bullied mercilessly throughout their school days, come home and feel as though their dreams, their existence isn’t good enough—and that’s a problem.

I was one such teenage girl. But I was lucky—I had a support system. I had people that I looked up too; people who pushed me forward and believed in me even when others told me I wasn’t “pretty enough” or “good enough” or “too fat.” My people would help me back up after I was knocked down. I also had dreams that were too big to be squashed, and if I had listened to the bullies, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’d likely be dead. And sadly, that’s the outcome for many.

Yes, Taylor could have been referring to the “Kanye twitter rants” or to any one of her haters in general, but her acceptance speech was one of encouragement to all those teenagers (not just the girls) who struggle with not being heard, not taken seriously.

Taylor wasn’t the only one with a take-away message.

“We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.” ~ Stevie Wonder, while presenting the award for song of the year

Stevie also took a moment to point out that those with disabilities need to have accessibility to what we already have (and take for granted). He could not be more correct. In today’s educational systems [both private and public] there is not enough help for children who suffer from severe dyslexia, or other learning disorders. There are not enough options out there to help a child pass a class.

Contrary to popular belief, children are not always made for standardized testing. Sure, there are those who excel at it, but there are also those that benefit from projects and hands-on learning. I am one such student. Testing has never been a strong suite of mine—but give me an assignment where I can do my own research or have the freedom to get crafty—I promise you I’ll get a much better grade. Of course, this extends so much further than my personal experience and the educational system.

Children who have autism or are on the autism spectrum grow up unable to get jobs because many don’t believe that it’s possible for them to function in the workplace. Parents of these children who desperately need some kind of government funding to help with their childcare (as they don’t make enough on minimum wage), are either denied, or put on ridiculously long waiting lists. People who can’t read, write, see, hear are still harshly bullied in school for being “different.”

Those who are handicapped are taken advantage of, or cannot do half of what they’d like too, because they aren’t given the means to.

There are so many meanings behind what Stevie Wonder said, but he used his airtime to call attention to an issue that is still very problematic today: there isn’t enough accessibility out there for those with any kind of disability.

And just like there isn’t enough dialogue about disability awareness, there isn’t enough dialogue about the underlying race issue that America is facing right now. And if you say “What race issue?” you haven’t been paying attention (or you were sleeping under a rock the night of the Super Bowl where Beyoncé shoved that issue straight under everyone’s noses). The world is split between the privileged and the rest of us.

When I was a child, it didn’t seem this bad. As I have grown up and traveled around for work, I have noticed this problem more and more. I’ve been greeted with stares in shopping centers. I’ve had to request seat changes on flights because someone wouldn’t sit next to a “brown person,” I have been told that I look like a maid and therefore should pick up someone’s silverware after they’ve dropped it on the restaurant floor—and I have been told that I don’t deserve an education because I’m Hispanic.

Excuse me, it is 2016.

This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m currently living in central Pennsylvania, in the middle of nowhere; this has to do with the mindset of “if you are of color—any color that isn’t white—you are automatically not good enough.” And that is bulls**t.

We are all human beings. Human beings who have emotions, who have thoughts, who have feelings. We deserve an education. We deserve a spot in the work world and we shouldn’t expect to fulfill stereotypical jobs because that’s what society demands. No. We all have dreams and aspirations.

Beyoncé points this out in her new song, “Formation,” “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it.”

Likewise, Kendrick Lamar took the stage to address some of the same issues.

In his performance of “The Blacker the Berry” he throws these lyrics our way, “Been feeling this way since I was 16, came to my senses—you never liked us anyway. F**k your friendship, I mean it, I’m African-American, I’m African. I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village, pardon my residence, came from the bottom of mankind…you hate my people, your plan is terminate my culture.”

He also shines some light on the [seemingly] never-ending police brutality, “We been hurt, been down before…when our pride was low, lookin’ at the world like, ‘where do we go?’…and we hate po-po, wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho.”

The point?

These are real feelings that are being felt around the nation today.

“You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.” ~ John Stewart

Yes, there are successful people of all colors in the public eye—to inspire us every day. But for every successful person, there are dozens who are taunted, beaten up or bullied. There are those who cannot speak up, fight back or make a life for themselves, simply because they aren’t white.

That, my friends, is just wrong. Yes, it’s 2016 and we have made an astonishing amount of progress. Don’t get me wrong; there is plenty of good made from what was once so very bad. But that battle isn’t over. It’s not something to be dismissed.

So no, we shouldn’t be mad that artists like Beyoncé and Kendrick are shoving the issues some of us would rather not talk about in our faces.

Artists have the freedom to use their platforms to express their concerns and voice their opinions. That’s what music, what art does—it allows for that open platform. It allows for interpretation, relationship—it spreads messages of love, just as much as it spreads messages of concern.

The Grammys are still considered a global platform. Millions of us tune in every year to watch our favorite artists perform the pieces that mean the most to us.

Regardless of educational budget cuts, the disregard for music program needs, the rise in record leaks, music—and other artforms like it—will continue to be there for us, to guide us, to comfort us, to help us learn, to help us grow and to address issues we may not be brave enough to talk about on our own.


Author: Josefina Hunter

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Youtube screenshot




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