During the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, pop singer Kesha belted out a powerful ballad about overcoming abuse. It was a major set piece for the ceremony and represented the night’s most explicit acknowledgement of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up initiative. Unfortunately, it also felt like an outlier.
Backed by a powerful coterie of women, which included Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello and Andra Day, Kesha sang “Praying,” the lead single from her most recent album, Rainbow, and her first solo single since the beginning of her protracted legal battle with music producer Dr. Luke. The song is believed to reference the alleged dynamic between Kesha and Dr. Luke; the singer has publicly accused him of “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally” abusing her, as noted in Rolling Stone. Dr. Luke has denied all of Kesha’s allegations.
“When I wrote praying, with Ben Abraham and Ryan Lewis, I just felt as if I had gotten a huge weight off of my shoulders,” Kesha wrote in a tweet Saturday, ahead of the Grammys telecast. “It felt like an emotional raw victory for myself, one step closer to healing. I never could have known what would’ve happened these past few years.”
In a 2014 lawsuit filed against Dr. Luke, whose legal name is Lukasz Gottwald, Kesha claimed that the producer and former mentor had drugged and “forced himself” on her, drove her to bulimia with repeated cruel comments about her appearance and threatened to withdraw her publishing rights. In a 2015 affidavit, it was revealed that the ongoing court proceedings prohibited Kesha from touring or recording new music, causing her career to suffer “irreparable harm” as a result. (Kesha dropped her lawsuit against Dr. Luke in 2016, but she’s still facing a countersuit from him for defamation.)
After years of her career being in limbo, Kesha returned with her third studio album, the aforementioned Rainbow, in August of 2017. The LP picked up a Grammy nomination for Sunday’s ceremony for best pop vocal album, while the song “Praying” was nominated for best pop solo performance. Despite losing to Ed Sheeran in both categories, Kesha still managed to take the Grammys stage as a performer after being introduced by singer Janelle Monáe.
In her remarks, Monáe announced that she was proud to stand in solidarity with Kesha, “not just as an artist but as a young woman with my fellow sisters who make up the music industry: artists, writers, assistants, publicists, CEO, producers, engineers and women from all sectors of the business.” She also made reference to Time’s Up:
“We come in peace but we mean business. And to those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: Time’s up. We say time’s up for pay inequality. Time’s up for discrimination. Time’s up for harassment of any kind. And time’s up for the abuse of power because you see it’s not just going on in Hollywood. It’s not just going on in Washington. It’s right here in our industry. And just as we have the power to shape culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that doesn’t serve us well. So let’s work together.”
James Corden, the host of the awards show, took a short break from cracking jokes after Kesha’s performance to acknowledge what he called an “incredibly powerful and relevant performance.”
The moment, while no doubt powerful, especially stood out because no other portion of the Sunday night broadcast made significant mention of Time’s Up or #MeToo. Although women walking the red carpet donned white roses — a nod to the all-black outfits sported by the female attendees of the Golden Globes just weeks earlier — the lion’s share of the nearly four-hour awards show was dedicated to male-dominated musical performances, and most of the night’s top awards went to men.
Even the white rose plan, however, seemed to have been a slapdash initiative. The show of solidarity was announced just a few days ahead of the Grammys.
“We have not had the tsunami that politics and Hollywood has had, but we are still women,” Roc Nation senior vice president Meg Harkins told the AP in a statement. “I would want to see men and women wearing white roses, and I would like men and women to be able to have meaningful Grammy award speeches when those speeches happen.”
The white roses were present throughout the evening, but the night was short on meaningful speeches.