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Eschewing a traditional opening monologue, LL Cool J opted instead to punctuate the ceremony with some choice words of wisdom. Among them: “Dreams don’t have deadlines. Believe in yourself.”
The sentiment was just the first of many along those lines for the night, as Grammy winners and performers preached the power of self-reliance, following their dreams and being true to themselves.
Sam Smith, who was the big winner at tonight’s ceremony, hit on that last theme in particular in the acceptance speech for best pop vocal album.
“I just want to say that before I made this record I was doing everything to try to get my music heard,” the soulful British crooner confessed. “I tried to lose weight. I was making awful music, and it wasn’t until I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen.”
It was a perfect segue into Madonna‘s performance, where, surrounded my marching dancers in bull’s horns, she preached about starting her own type of revolution: “Of not requiring anyone else’s approval. Of not wishing you were someone else and being perfectly content being who you are — someone unique and rare and fearless.” As the opening chords of her song “Living for Love” began to play, she ended her speech with one final note: “I want to start a revolution of love.”
However, as the Grammy artists started to veer into Hallmark territory, the ceremony was brought back to earth with a somber message from President Barack Obama, who implored the artists present at the ceremony to support the It’s On Us campaign against domestic violence.
His recorded message was followed by a stirring spoken-word performance by Brooke Axtell, who recounted her own harrowing experiences with domestic violence, and emphasized the importance of providing a hopeful, encouraging voice for those currently dealing with such circumstances.
It is a powerful platform in an industry that has had its share of struggles with the issue, including a few with artists in attendance at the ceremony.
The serious tone continued with Eric Church‘s performance of “Give Me Back My Hometown,” which featured a backdrop of images of police brutality, war and protests before concluding on an American flag covered in words like “truth,” “solidarity,” and “home.”
Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez delivered a clear message of her own as she introduced Colombian star Juanes and his song “Juntos”: “When people of various backgrounds work together, they can accomplish so much more.” And while presenting with Jamie Foxx, the legendary Stevie Wonder added his own call to action: “We must come together and fix all that’s wrong.”
It only seems fitting that a night filled with social-issue advocacy and consciousness ended with a performance of the hymn “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Beyonce before segueing into John Legend and Common‘s Oscar-nominated song “Glory.” Accompanied by an African-American male choir, the artists gave a rousing performance of the song from the Oscar-nominated Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma, at one point raising their hands in a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture.
Ever relevant in the wake of events in Ferguson, Mo., and national protests, the performance punctuated a night where themes of personal and united power and social consciousness transcended the celebration of individual creative achievements.
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