Awards

19 Memorable Grammy Speeches That Tackled Political and Social Issues

Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alicia Keys, Michelle Obama, and Jennifer Lopez
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alicia Keys, Michelle Obama, and Jennifer Lopez speak onstage during backstage during the 61st Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Feb. 10, 2019 in Los Angeles.

For decades, artists have used the Grammy stage to raise awareness on pressing political issues, call out systemic inequality and encourage social change. The Grammys often serve as a barometer on the political and social climate, with the ceremony’s winners, presenters and performers using their platform to ramp up public discourse on important topics.

In the past few years alone, Camila Cabello lauded immigrants’ positive impact on America in reference to the DREAM Act, Logic called out President Donald Trump’s racist “shithole countries” comment, Janelle Monáe rallied viewers around the #TimesUp movement to end sexual harassment, and Katy Perry wore a “PERSIST” armband in a nod to Sen. Elizabeth Warren during her “Chained to the Rhythm” performance that ended with the U.S. Constitution as a digital backdrop.

And it’s not just artists who are turning the Grammys political. In 2019, Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance during the opening monologue to reiterate music’s role in telling diverse stories. In 2018, Hillary Clinton read an excerpt from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House during a celeb-infused skit mocking Trump. And in 2015, Barack Obama told the audience to support the “It's On Us” campaign to stop violence against women. “Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking and talking about what matters,” he said.

At the 2020 Grammys on Jan. 26, you can expect some winners and presenters to make varied political and social statements. Until then, here are some memorable Grammy speeches from 1986 to now. 

2018: Cardi B and Hillary Clinton read excerpts from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Speeches from skit: “Why am I even reading this shit? I can't believe this. This is how [Donald Trump] lives his life?” Cardi B said before Hillary Clinton chimed in with this excerpt from Fire and Fury, "He had longtime fear of being poisoned—one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s: Nobody knew he was coming, and the food was safely pre-made."

2015: Prince presented album of the year

Speech referencing the Black Lives Matter movement: “Albums ... remember those? Albums still matter. Albums, like books and black lives, still matter.”

1997: Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village won best spoken word album

Speech about the importance of arts in America: “I'm amazed. I didn't even know that Grammys were given to tone deaf singers like me, but I'm very grateful for this,” Clinton said while accepting. “I also want to acknowledge all of the artists who are here because you represent the millions of American artists who keep the American artistic tradition alive. And you know that the arts are not a luxury but a necessity for the American cultural identity and experience.”

2018: Camila Cabello on immigrants and DREAMers while introducing U2’s performance

Speech: “Tonight in this room full of music’s dreamers, we remember this country was built by dreamers, for dreamers, chasing the American dream. 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 from 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, just like dreams, these kids can’t be forgotten and are worth fighting for.”

2015: Barack Obama's pre-recorded public service announcement

Speech on rape, domestic abuse and violence: “Together we can change our culture for the better by ending violence against women and girls. Right now, nearly 1 in 5 women in America has been a victim of rape or attempted rape. And more than 1 in 4 women has experienced some form of domestic violence. It’s not OK, and it has to stop. Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes and get us thinking and talking about what matters. And all of us, in our own lives, have the power to set an example. Join our campaign to stop this violence. Go to ItsOnUs.org and take the pledge. And to the artists at the Grammys tonight, I ask you to ask your fans to do it too. It's on us—all of us—to create a culture where violence isn't tolerated, where survivors are supported and where all our young people, men and women, can go as far as their talents and their dreams will take them. Thanks.”

1998: Will Smith's “Men in Black” won best rap solo performance

Speech on boycotting the Grammys and the state of rap: “This is actually the first time that I've ever been a Grammy stage. In 1988, we won the first Grammy ever given to a rap artist, but the Grammys weren't televising the rap portion so we boycotted. Then in 1991, we won our second Grammy, but I didn't think we would win so I didn't come. … I’m really excited about winning this for one reason because probably about two and a half years ago the state of rap music was such that I really didn’t want to rap anymore. I like to refer to it as the Rap Dark Ages. Then with people like Tupac and Biggie, who I consider prophets. With the loss of Tupac and Biggie that kind of shook the industry, and people realized that even though we are artists we do have a responsibility for what goes into the ear—the impressionable ears that are listening to the music that we make. So [Jazzy] Jeff and I want to dedicate this Grammy to the memory of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.”

2014: Paul Williams: Daft Punk's Random Access Memories won album of the year and best dance/electronica album

Speech referencing the same-sex marriages that happened during the ceremony: “I just got a message from the robots,” said songwriter Paul Williams while accepting album of the year. “What they wanted me to say is that as elegant and as classy as the Grammy has ever been is the moment when we saw those wonderful marriages -- 'Same Love' is fantastic. It was the height of fairness and love and the power of love for all people at any time in any combination.” 

2017: Busta Rhymes during A Tribe Called Quest's performance

Speech about the Muslim ban: “I’m not feeling the political climate right now. I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States. I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt of the Muslim ban.”

1995: Bruce Springsteen's “Streets of Philadelphia” won song of the year, best rock song and more

Speech on the song’s impact on people affected by HIV/AIDS: “The folks who have come up to me at restaurants and on the street who've lost their sons, their lovers or their friends to AIDS and said this song meant something to them, thank you very much.”  

Standout lyric: “I was bruised and battered, I couldn't tell what I felt / I was unrecognizable to myself / I saw my reflection in a window, I didn't know my own face / Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin' away / On the Streets of Philadelphia.”

2018: Janelle Monáe introduced Kesha’s “Praying” performance

Speech on #TimesUp: “Tonight, I am proud to stand in solidarity as not just an artist but a young woman with my fellow sisters in this room who make up the music industry: artists, writers, assistants, publicists, CEOs, producers, engineers and women from all sectors of the business. We are also daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and human beings. We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up. We say time’s up for pay inequality. Time’s up on discrimination. Time’s up for harassment of any kind. Time’s up for the abuse of power. Because it’s not just going on in Hollywood. It’s not just going on in Washington [D.C.]. It’s right here in our industry as well. And just as we have the power to shape others, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well. So let’s work together—women and men—as a united music industry committed to creating more safe work environments, equal pay and access for all women. 

2018: Logic's “1-800-273-8255” performance with Alessia Cara and Khalid

Speech on equality and immigration: “Black is beautiful. Hate is ugly. Women are as precious as they are stronger than any man I have ever met," Logic said. "And unto them, I say stand tall and crush all predators under the weight of your heart that is full of the love they will never take away from you. Be not scared to use your voice, especially in instances like these when you have the opportunity. Stand and fight for those who are not weak, but have yet to discover the strength that the evil of this world has done its best to conceal. To all the beautiful countries filled with culture, diversity and thousands of years of history: You are not shitholes! And lastly, on behalf of those who fight for equality in a world that is not equal, not just and not ready for the change we are here to bring: I say unto you, bring us your tired, your poor, and any immigrant who seeks refuge. For together we can build not just a better country but a world that is destined to be united.”

1986: Lionel Richie: USA for Africa's “We Are the World” won song of the year, record of the year and more

Speech on supporting the USA for Africa charity single: “We are so proud to be part of an industry of people that in a time when the world is in need of helping each other, this music industry of ours responded,” Lionel Richie said when accepting song of the year. “And we want to take this time to thank all of the many artists and arrangers, writers and, when I say this, I mean, people behind the scenes that really made things work for us. And, of course, to the public for responding. But the most important thing was that, when we called, you responded."

2019: Lady Gaga: “Shallow” won best pop duo or group performance with Bradley Cooper

Speech on mental health: "If I don't get another chance to say this, I just want to say I'm so proud to be a part of a movie that addresses mental health issues. They're so important. And a lot of artists deal with that, and we gotta take care of each other. So if you see somebody that's hurting, don't look away. And if you're hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody and take them up in your head with you. I love you.”

Standout lyric: “I'm fallin' / In all the good times / I find myself longing for change / And in the bad times / I fear myself.”

2019: Michelle Obama during Alicia Keys’ opening monologue 

Speech: “From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side, to the ‘who run the world’ songs that fueled me through this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story—and I know that’s true for everybody here. Whether we like country, or rap, or rock, music helps us share ourselves. Our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters. Every story within every voice, every note within every song. Is that right ladies?”

2017: Beyoncé's Lemonade won best urban contemporary album

Speech about representation in politics and in entertainment: “Thank you so much. Hi, baby. Thank you to the Grammy voters for this incredible honor, and thank you to everyone who worked so hard to beautifully capture the profundity of deep Southern culture. I thank God for my family, my wonderful husband, my beautiful daughter, my fans for bringing me so much happiness and support. We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible. My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty, so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror, first through their own families—as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys—and see themselves, and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable. This is something I want for every child of every race. And I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes. Thank you again for honoring Lemonade. Have a beautiful evening. Thank you for tonight. This is incredible.”

2017: Jennifer Lopez presented best new artist

Speech: "At this particular point in history, our voices are needed more than ever. As Toni Morrison once said, ‘This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence and no room for fear. We do language. That is how civilizations heal.’ So tonight, we celebrate our most universal language, music, as we honor the voices of the past and the present.”

2017: James Corden name-dropping Trump during the opening monologue

Speech: “You gotta be thankful that this what you do. Live it all up because this is the best, and with President Trump, we don’t know what comes next. We sit here tonight no matter our race, or where we were born, or color of face. Music is ours, remember forever: We can survive by sticking together.”

2019: Ludwig Göransson: Childish Gambino's “This Is America” won song of the year, record of the year and more

Speech from co-writer and co-producer Göransson: “No matter where you are born or what country you're from, you connect to ‘This Is America.’ It speaks to people. It connects right to your soul. It calls out injustice, celebrates life and reunites us all at the same time.” 

Standout lyric about police brutality: “This is America (Skrrt, skrrt, woo) / Don't catch you slippin' now (Ayy) / Look how I'm livin' now / Police be trippin' now (Woo).”

2019: Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour won album of the year and best country album

Speech on the political climate’s impact on music: “Life is pretty tumultuous right now for all of us. It can feel that way. Because of that, art is really thriving, and it’s been really beautiful to see that.” 

Standout lyric: “Yeah, there's always been a rainbow hanging over your head / It'll all be alright.”

2020 Grammy Awards