There are plenty of moments that illustrate what a shit show the 60th annual Grammy Awards were on Sunday night, but few are more symbolic than how the Recording Academy chose to use “Havana” singer Camila Cabello. Fresh off of joining Kesha for a moving performance of “Praying,” Cabello shuffled across the stage, earpiece still dangling around her shoulders, to deliver a short-but-powerful speech about her experience as a Cuban-Mexican immigrant and defending the rights of DACA recipients:
“Tonight, in this room full of music’s dreamers, we remember that this country was made by dreamers, for dreamers, chasing the American dream,” she said. “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. And all I know is that just like dreams, these kids can’t be forgotten and are worth fighting for.”
Then, she segued into introducing... U2, who weren’t up for any Grammys this year, but justified the transition by name-checking The Joshua Tree, their three-decades-old album that confronted the American Dream almost as a means of tourism, traveling to a land they didn’t grow up in to arrive at some universal truths (and multiple Grammy wins).
I’ll probably defend the Irish rockers’ peaks more than most, but this was just an insanely (tone deaf!) Grammys moment. Here you have the woman behind the current No. 1 song in America (“Havana,”) a track specifically about the place where she originates, ceding the floor to safe Grammy darlings of yesteryear. U2 tried to wrench every drop of symbolism in the pre-recorded bit that followed, performing the snoozy “Get Out of Your Own Way” from their 2017 album Songs of Experience on a barge in front of the Statue of Liberty. Bono even went all American Idiot-era Green Day, shouting out the “shithole countries” through a megaphone. (This was censored on the broadcast, much like when rapper Logic incorporated the phrase into his performance of “1-800-273-8255" at the last minute.)
The Grammys are always selective about how they want their sanitized activism, along with the spaces in which they want women to be seen and heard. It would have been a more subtle and meaningful gesture to give that performance slot to a Cuban-Mexican immigrant in the first place, sans U2. But when have the Grammys ever been very good at either of those qualities?