The 61st annual Grammy Awards aired on CBS the evening of Sunday, February 10th. The night was star-studded and emotional, as artists accepted their hard-earned awards, and others rocked the stage in celebration of the music industry's biggest honor.
Jennifer Lopez, a Latin American superstar known for her strides in music, film, and television, made an appearance that has sparked some mixed feelings among viewers. It was advertised before the event that Lopez would be a part of a Motown musical tribute, along with Motown recording artists Smokey Robinson and Ne-Yo, as well as music/film star Alicia Keyes, who also hosted the show. During the performance, however, it became obvious that Lopez was the artist headlining the tribute, which has continued to generate buzz since its premiere.
The controversy relates to the question of why Lopez was asked to cover the music created by an African American record label, while she herself is not of that cultural background. According to an article on the topic posted by the Hollywood Reporter, "…after Lopez took the stage… a number of Twitter users wondered again why a black artist wasn't selected to honor Motown and questioned Lopez's connection to the label, with some pointing out that a black woman honoring Selena, the Tejano artist Lopez memorably played in the 1997 biopic, would generate a similar backlash" (Lewis, Hillary). It also shocked viewers to notice how few African American back-up dancers were on stage with Lopez throughout the tribute.
The following are quotes from the comment section of a Facebook status, inquiring for opinions about the performance.
"It's black history month and it felt like a slap in the face to the black community because that's (Motown) one of our great accomplishments and one of the many things we've done to influence music. When Beyoncé sang at the CMT awards, there was an uproar... It's just heartbreaking because Motown helped break down barriers between races through music and what the Grammys did undid what Motown was all about." – Jessica Delacruz
"When you create a label that gives black artists visibility, you by default give Latino artists visibility because you're in the same family. One paves the way for the next and vice versa. That being said, why not get someone like Beyonce who is not only black but also has played in a lot of roles that are based in Motown and has the range and the educated history? Having J. Lo perform it was not Motown at all. It was a disco version of it. But it wasn't a tribute that I enjoyed watching." - Danielle Alexis Johnson
"It was not her space to do that. That is the bottom line. Yes, Motown was music for everyone, however, a tribute of that magnitude, with that visibility, should have not been done by 1 person that was not of the same persuasion as the entire record label… Motown gave black voices a much-needed space. Her tribute effectually took up space that we made for ourselves… It is not a question of whether or not she did a great job. It is the question of, should the job have been done PRIMARILY by her - my vote is no. Could she have been a part of the festivities - SURE, BY ALL MEANS. Should she have been the FACE of the tribute - again - HARD NO." – Sheri Hall
"…there are so many other black femme artists that would have been perfect for this…They also missed a major opportunity to take some of the gorgeous underground black femme voices that are not big names yet and raise them up into the spotlight… there was literally no reason for JLo to do a historically black driven genre of music." – Briana Grace Hammerstrom
While social media continues to push back on the decision to give Lopez the platform of a Motown tribute, her co-star Ne-Yo had some words of encouragement to share in a video posted by USAToday.In response to the backlash, he stated "I didn't totally understand what the issue was in the first place…I feel like Motown, though it is Black excellence and it started as Black music in the first place, it has become world music. It's for everybody…No matter your race, color, creed, this music has touched you in some way, shape, or form and fashion. And this was J's opportunity to get up there and show the world how it's touched her, and that's exactly what she did".The video goes on to show support from artists Fantasia, who also performed on Sunday in a tribute to Aretha Franklin with Yolanda Adams and Andra Day, Thelma Houston, and Brian Holland.
Smokey Robinson took to Instagram to defend Lopez. He writes, "If you call yourself loving Motown, be happy that we reached so many people and broke down so many racial barriers… Stop hating. Motown united people not divided them…The beauty of Motown is that we're a family made up of Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian women and men. We had a very diverse employee roster. So I hope knowing these few facts helps you get your perspective together and think about the hate you're spreading."
Whether or not one chooses to side with the buzz on social media, or the stars coming to Lopez's defense, this conversation has brought to light the impact of music on society, as well as the connection we as a people are prone to feel to what we claim as our own. When that claim is threatened, it is a personal attack, and our voices are the most valuable shields.