After telling those in the audience and watching at home that music is our shared global language because it’s “what we cry to, it’s what we march to, it’s what we rock to, it’s what we make love to,” Keys brought out Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and — in a surprise move that instantly had the Staples Center erupting in cheers — former first lady Michelle Obama to help her finish her message.
Each gal explained what music means to them, with Gaga — who was already a two-time winner for the night before the first award was even handed out on the broadcast — going first. “They said I was weird. That my look, my choices, my sound, that it wouldn’t work. But music told me not to listen to them. Music took my ears, took my hands, my voice and my soul, and it led me to all of you and to my Little Monsters, who I love so much.”
JLo was next, expressing that music gave her a reason to dance, but also reminds her where she came from and all the places I can go. Perhaps most importantly, though, “music has always been the one place where we can all feel truly free.”
Jada Pinkett Smith added that music is the way to express pain, power and progress, whether we’re creating or appreciating it. “But here’s what I know,” she declared, “every voice that we hear deserves to be honored and respected.”
Last but certainly not least was Michelle Obama, who received the loudest response from the crowd. “From the Mo-Town 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,” she said. “Whether we like country, 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.”
Grinning from ear to ear, Keys capped off the empowering opening with a final message of what music’s biggest night is all about this year. “Tonight we celebrate the greatness in each other, all of us, through music,” she said, adding an exclamation point to the female-dominated intro. “Who runs the world?”
Watch the full video of Alicia’s girl-powered monologue below.