In the middle of Sunday night’s 2022 Grammy Awards, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise appearance via a pre-taped video clip to ask Americans to speak up about the humanitarian crisis taking place in Ukraine. John Legend accompanied his message on the piano as well as a Ukrainian poet who, according to the telecast, had fled Ukraine “days ago.”
During Zelenskyy’s minute-and-a-half-long video, he told viewers: “The war doesn’t let us choose who survives and who stays in eternal silence. Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals.” Zelenskyy, who did not speak at the Oscars last weekend, likely to the chagrin of Sean Penn, went on to say he dreamed that the people from his Ukrainian cities would be “free like you on the Grammy stage.”
While the Grammys’ buttoned-up show had just paid homage to Ukraine in the way the Oscars could only dream of, it still felt… off. And in a truly surreal tonal shift, mere moments later, Lady Gaga came onstage and started...scatting.
Addressing a literal war that has the potential to become a global nuclear war in the midst of some of Hollywood’s most outlandish and glitzy events, where VIP attendees often walk away with gift bags valued at $137,000, is always going to be incredibly awkward. In a room full of celebrities in gowns worth enough money to send an entire family to college, trying to draw awareness to mass suffering and geopolitical issues feels tone-deaf: If half the money spent preparing for this display of wealth (and talent, of course) went towards the causes celebrities claim to support with their little blue and yellow ribbons, perhaps actual lives would be saved. But playing a short video about Ukraine and then pivoting to Gaga... well, is it better than nothing? Up for debate.
While Zelenskyy’s voice boomed over the crowd, it was difficult to forget that Justin Bieber was sitting just over there in his stupid over-sized suit and skater kid pink beanie. Moments earlier, Donatella Versace had just shimmied onstage to remove parts of Megan Thee Stallion and Dua Lipa’s skirts, and Jack Harlow had smacked his dick with a microphone in the middle of a Lil Nas X performance.
You simply cannot smoothly transition from a PSA about war crimes taking place on the other side of a planet to shrugging, “Well, the show must go on!” and shoving (a possibly horny for Tony Bennett??) Lady Gaga onstage to keep things moving along. But, they tried!