First-time host Alicia Keys kicks off the awards ceremony with an uplifting lovefest featuring former First Lady Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Jada Pinkett Smith.
In lieu of the usual monologue with zingers and shout-outs to the stars filling the auditorium, first-time host Alicia Keys kicked off the 61st Annual Grammy Awards with a star-studded lovefest, including a raucous ovation for former First Lady Michelle Obama.
For her first time hosting the Grammys, Alicia came out very chill and very cool, with a smile and clearly enjoying the vibe she was feeling in the room.
"Do you feel that love in the building?" she asked the assembled superstars. "This is love, this is living, this is light. And all because of music. Music is so powerful."
It was clear right away that she was trying to create a totally different vibe than most awards shows. With more than a dozen awards to give out throughout the evening, she knew nerves were raw, but she wanted everyone to shake them off. "Just know that I got you," she told them. "I'mma take care of you tonight."
And then she proceeded to show them just how she was going to do that by making sure they started the night off on the right foot. Or make that the right eight feet, as she invited four powerhouse women from all walks of life onto the stage with her.
"Music is what we cry to, it's what me march to, it's what we rock to, it's what me make love to," Alicia said with a wry smile. "It's our shared global language and when you really want to say something, you say it with a song. Am I right or am I right?"
She was flanked by music royalty in Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez, Hollywood royalty in Jada Pinkett Smith and, some might argue, just straight-up royalty with Michelle Obama. How uplifting and motivational it was to hear these women speak about the importance of music in their very different lives, to share in their uplifting stories and feel that love.
Gaga kicked things off by sharing the familiar story of the challenges she faced trying to be an unconventional artist in a conventional industry. "They said I was weird. That my look, my choices, my sound, that it wouldn't work," she said. "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."
For Lopez, the music got her moving back in the Bronx, which launched her multifaceted career as a dancer on "In Living Color" back in the day. "And it kept me moving from the block to big stages and even bigger screens," she said. "It reminds me where I come from, but it also reminds of all the places I can go. Music has always been the one place we can all feel truly free."
For Smith, music played a different, but no less important, role throughout her life. "We express our pain, power and progress through music, whether we're creating it or just appreciating it," she said. "But here's what I know. Every voice we hear deserves to be honored and respected."
And the very next voice to speak was so honored and respected that Michelle Obama had no choice but to stop speaking altogether. It was far and away the biggest cheer of the night, a sustained roar that drowned out all other sounds, and far louder than when she first appeared on the stage.
Finally, Obama had no choice but to try and rein the crowd in, joking, "Alright alright, we got a show to do."
After she got the crowd back under control, but no less enthralled, she talked about how important music has been throughout her life, from her youth in Chicago's South Side to "the 'Who Run the World' songs that fueled me through this last decade."
For Obama it is the power of music to help all of us tell our stories, even if we don't make music ourselves. "Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves, our dignity and sorrows, our hopes and joys," she said.
"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."
Shortly after her surprise appearance alongside such powerful and influential woman, Obama took to Instagram to say she was proud to show up for her girls. " I was thrilled to be there for the one and only Alicia Keys at the Grammys," she wrote. "She is one of the most genuine, caring, and thoughtful people I know—there's no one better to help us all celebrate the unifying power of music."
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There was nothing really more to say after such an auspicious and inspirational opening. "What is better than this? There's nothing better than this," Alicia said. "Tonight we celebrate the greatness in each other, all of us, through music."
And that's what she and The Recording Academy proceeded to do. It was an opening so unlike anything you might have expected, and yet she did exactly what she expected to do. Certainly the response to Obama alone shook off any residual nerves any of the nominees were feeling. There was nothing but euphoria in that room for those ear-splitting moments when no one could speak.
Alicia Keys wasn't lying when she told everyone she had them, and she had the home audience in the palm of her hands, too. No one knew what to expect from an Alicia Keys-hosted Grammys, but now we know. It's nothing but love, and we're feeling it, too.