Few celebrities have done this more boldly and regularly than Donald Trump, a former reality television star with acting credits to his name, who regularly took to social media to criticize politicians and advocate for policy issues long before he launched his successful presidential campaign.
Over the years, critics have slammed entertainers for using their celebrity to promote policy views, calling on them to “stay in their lane” or “just shut up and sing.” Such criticisms were aimed most recently at this year's Grammy Awards on Sunday night. After 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton mocked Trump in a sketch during the show, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted that some “of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”
But many Americans can’t separate the two.
Pop singer Kesha became a prominent voice in revealing sexual harassment within the music industry even before the #MeToo movement made national headlines. The artist sued Sony Music producer Dr. Luke, alleging sexual and emotional abuse. He has denied the allegations.
The professional costs of Kesha’s situation were high. After 2012, she did not record an album for five years while fighting to be released from a contract requiring her to record only with Dr. Luke.
As the co-sponsors of the #MeTooCongress bill know, workplace sexual harassment is now a political issue, and Kesha sought to address it in her performance Sunday of her single “Praying.”
She wrote about the song's cathartic effect in a tweet a few days before her performance: “I just felt as if I had gotten a huge weight off of my shoulders. 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.”
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. 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. pic.twitter.com/7qibyvdzNm— kesha (@KeshaRose) January 27, 2018
At the Grammys, Kesha was introduced by singer Janelle Monáe, an artist whose signature black-and-white wardrobe is inspired by the working-class people of color in middle America who helped shape her politics and worldview. The Kansas native, whose mother was a janitor and whose father was a trash collector, told the Huffington Post in an interview a few years ago:
It’s a dedication to uniformity and I’m a minimalist by heart, but a lot of it had to do with me wanting to have a uniform like the working class, like my mom and my grandmother.. . . And so that’s the family that I come from — I don’t ever want to be detached from that. I use it as motivation for my music and to just keep me centered, grounded and to stay on message.
Country artist Maren Morris sang a rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” at the Grammys, along with Eric Church and the Brothers Osborne. The three acts were on the bill at the October country music festival in Las Vegas where a gunman killed 59 people in one of the largest mass shootings in U.S. history.
Hours before her performance at the Grammys, Morris spoke to Rolling Stone magazine about the need for a political solution to mass gun violence. “Having this open conversation about gun rights would be a start, [as well as] changing legislation,” she said. “ . . . We need to protect ourselves and our children, and I want the county music community to get brave and talk about it. . . . Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like Vegas to start that conversation, but I'm hoping it impacts positive change from now on, so we never have to see this again.”
And Camila Cabello, a Cuban-Mexican immigrant brought to the United States as a child, spoke in support of legal protections for “dreamers,” who have been in the country illegally since they were children.
I'm here on this stage tonight because, just like the dreamers, my parents brought me to this country with nothing in their pockets but hope. They showed me what it means to work twice as hard and never give up, and honestly, no part of my journey is any different than theirs. I'm a proud Cuban-Mexican immigrant, born in eastern Havana, standing in front of you on the Grammy stage in New York City. All I know is, just like dreams, these kids can't be forgotten and are worth fighting for.
Artists, like all people, have many aspects to their identities. And many of them would say that their primary role is not tied to their profession. It is those other identities — such as their gender, their faith and their race — that often inspire their art and, perhaps more important, allow them to be the voice of voters in ways that lawmakers cannot.
Instead of reducing these human beings to people whose sole or even primary purpose is to entertain us, we could find it beneficial to lend them an ear, even when they aren’t singing, to better understand people outside our own political tribes.