‘Michelle Obama rocks the house at the Grammy Awards,’ was the headline delivered by NBC to describe the former First Lady’s surprise appearance at the 2019 ceremony. Her speech received a 25 second strong standing ovation from the onlooking crowd, as Obama highlighted the importance of music in today’s world.
"From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side to the 'Who Run the World' songs that fuelled me through this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story, and I know that's true for everybody here,” said Obama. “Whether we like country or 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.”
It was a speech that highlighted the importance of music at a time when traditional sales have all but vanished, streaming is on the rise, and attempts by artists to take back control of their own content appear to be failing. Artists like Kanye West have migrated as far as possible onto reality and social platforms, Beyonce makes as much as she can from live tours, and we’ve seen further diversification in more recent months from the likes of Lady Gaga – herself on-stage with Michelle Obama during last night’s speech – through her appearance in the film A Star is Born.
In an age of social media dominance, when the President of the United States can take to Twitter and say whatever he wants about whatever subject he wants, to whatever degree of truth he wishes, it can be tempting to think that cynicism has forever replaced style and substance.
But quality content remains important, and indeed more vital than ever before. Not only to artists and brands, but also to individuals by way of the stories we tell and the way we interpret the world around us. The traditional and even the more modern digital media has taken something of a kicking in recent years, seeing dwindling returns and fragmented audiences. But with an emphasis on truth, engagement, and meaning it remains possible to break through the noise and create meaningful dialogue, just as Michelle Obama’s speech shows us.