The Reason for Zelensky’s Surprise Grammy Appearance

Addressing a room of sparkly bodices and artfully outsized jackets on the Grammy Awards, the president of Ukraine had a easy reminder to offer. “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos,” Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned in a shock, pre-taped message that aired throughout final night time’s ceremony. His speech was filled with placing turns of phrase, however the tuxedo line stood out most—for feeling like a jab in opposition to, or a minimum of a problem to, the very celebrities and tradition he was additionally asking for help from.

Hollywood-backed activism is usually, understandably, met with cynicism; the cringe marks left on faces worldwide from Gal Gadot’s early-pandemic “Imagine” nonetheless might by no means heal. One of the questions defining this yr’s leisure awards season has been methods to handle the warfare in Ukraine: In March, Sean Penn pledged to destroy his personal Oscar if the Academy Awards didn’t invite Zelensky communicate, whereas Wanda Sykes expressed skepticism concerning the usefulness of such calls, saying, “Hollywood, we can get a little full of ourselves.” She had some extent. When a dictator is bombing a nation on the opposite aspect of the world, can the rhetoric of millionaire celebrities accomplish something apart from altering the topic to themselves? The Grammys second ended up answering that query affirmatively, and chillingly.

Zelensky’s handle, sober and forceful, instantly shifted the temper of the ceremony in Las Vegas. Wearing a signature tee shirt and talking in English, he described the devastation Russia had inflicted, together with the wrenching element that 153 youngsters have been killed within the warfare. He emphasised the facility of sound—how demise robs the world of it, how talking up can save lives. “The war doesn’t let us choose who survives and who stays in eternal silence,” went one line. Another talked about Ukraine’s musicians, who “sing to the wounded in hospitals, even to those who can’t hear them.” He additionally known as for viewers to “tell the truth about the war on your social networks and TV”—an essential ask on condition that Russia’s pretenses for the warfare are cunningly propagated lies.

The singer John Legend anchored the efficiency that adopted Zelensky’s speech, and each his involvement and the trimmings of his set—piano, choir, darkened stage—at first felt worryingly acquainted. After the specificity of Zelensky’s name, one more telethon-ready ballad hardly appeared appropriate. Still, Legend sang properly, with nearly shy tenderness. His music, “Free,” was new, and it blended lyrics about rockets with quotations of the religious “Go Down Moses.” Most importantly, precise Ukrainian artists joined the set because it went on.

Siuzanna Iglidan, an Odessa-born and Denver-based musician, made an announcement merely with the instrument she performed: the lute-like bandura, which was as soon as focused by Soviet authorities attempting to repress the nation’s people traditions and is now a logo of Ukrainian resistance. She was joined by the singer Mika Newton, whose sister, in response to textual content on display, is serving within the Ukrainian military. Then the poet Lyuba Yakimchuk, who viewers have been instructed had arrived from Ukraine solely days in the past, delivered a prayer-like verse: “Forgive us our destroyed cities, even though we do not forgive for them our enemies.” Though her phrases have been seething, her supply was matter of reality as she pleaded for the safety of her husband, mother and father, baby, and homeland.

The showcase ended up feeling each uneasy and touching—a probably productive brew. It pierced the dome of distraction that’s intrinsic to occasions such because the Grammys, and it included a concrete name to motion: Text directed viewers to Global Citizen’s web site gathering donations for reduction in Ukraine. The handiest rejoinder to doubts concerning the appropriateness of the second got here from Zelensky himself. Busy attempting to avoid wasting his nation, he clearly sees a strategic want to keep up a worldwide sense of urgency across the warfare. What’s extra, he understands that well-honed phrases, like songs, can transfer folks by haunting them. “The war—what is more opposite of music?” he requested. “The silence of ruined cities and killed people.”

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