Something unprecedented happened at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night (February 9). Mid-way through, the festivities were put on hold for a few minutes to make way for a public service announcement from US president Barack Obama. In the solemn message, Obama condemned domestic abuse and encouraged artists to take a stand against rape and violence against women. He cited statistics of rape on college campuses and urged attendees to be more vocal in their condemnations of assault. "It's not OK, and it has to stop," the president said. "It's on us, all of us, to create a culture where violence isn't tolerated."
Obama's message was followed by an incredibly moving speech from domestic violence activist Brooke Axtell, who shared her own story of abuse, as well as a performance from Katy Perry, who sang the ballad 'By The Grace Of God' - a song she previously explained was about her thoughts on hopelessness and suicide. It was a rare incident of a big awards ceremony making an important societal point, and the Grammys must be praised for their efforts. But one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was the presence of Chris Brown and others on the nominees list.
Brown, who was in attendance at last night's ceremony, attacked Rihanna just before the 2009 Grammys. After an altercation in his car, the singer choked his then-girlfriend and threatened to kill her while repeatedly smashing her head against the car door. Photos released shortly after the incident showed Rihanna with her face bloody and swollen. The singer escaped a prison sentence after admitting to the crime as part of a plea hearing. And yet, though the legal case is still ongoing, Brown has since won numerous awards that include a Grammy award for best R&B album in 2014. At this year's ceremony, 'New Flame' feat. Usher & Rick Ross lost out to Beyoncé's 'Drunk In Love'. What kind of message does this send to women around the world who are victims of domestic violence? Yes, your partner may be a violent abuser, but that doesn't stop him maintaining a thriving career that involves receiving one of the highest accolades in his field. It's bullshit, really.
Meanwhile, R. Kelly, who has been accused of assault by numerous women, was nominated for best R&B performance for his song with Jennifer Hudson, 'It's Your World', his 25th Grammy nod since 1996. It brings to mind a quote by music journalist Jim DeRogatis, who has been investigating the case against Kelly for years. Speaking about the volume of allegations in the 2013 Village Voice profile, he said,"I think in the history of rock & roll, rock-music or pop-culture people misbehaving and behaving badly sexually with young women, rare is the amount of evidence compiled against anyone apart from R. Kelly."
And have we forgotten that Eminem was all over the headlines recently for his raps about female musicians? In a song called 'Vegas,' which features on Eminem's Shady Records compilation 'SHADYXV', the star rapped "So what's it gon' be? Put that shit away, Iggy. You don't wanna blow that rape whistle on me. Scream!" He also threatened to "punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice, like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator Surveillance," but still managed to win Best Rap Album at last night's ceremony.
In his message, Obama said that music has a direct responsibility in the fight against domestic violence. "Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking and talking about what matters. And all of us have the power to set an example," he said. So why not use that power? Until we call musicians out for their blatant glamorisation of abuse, and until we stop rewarding those who have been accused of assault, then we're merely indulging in an age old act: that of abstractedly lobbing stones from our crystal glass houses.