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2015 Grammys: Obama missed the moment on domestic abuse

February 11, 2015, 12:00 PM UTC
From YouTube

During Sunday night’s Grammy Awards ceremony, President Obama appeared in a public service ad condemning sexual assault and domestic violence. “It’s not OK and it has to stop,” he told his audience of 25 million TV viewers.

“Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes,” he added, gingerly tip-toeing around the elephant inside L.A.’s Staples Center that night—all those rappers and hip-hop artists who extol the abuse of women.

Stunned that this cool-and-hip President of the United States didn’t nab a prime-time opportunity to condemn misogynistic lyrics, I shot off a tweet: “@BarackObama let’s start by rejecting lyrics that promote violence against women.”

My words hit a nerve—with hundreds still retweeting and favoriting—and, predictably, a handful accusing me of supporting government-imposed censorship (a familiar trope against those of us who dare criticize crude, violently sexist language in pop culture).

Let’s be real. This is a music culture that rewards lyrics demeaning and abusing women. Obama wants to stop domestic violence by raising awareness. What better setting than Grammy night? What better audience than the artists and producers who profit off it?

Especially the 2015 Grammy’s, where the winner for best rap was –once again—famed woman-hater Eminem. This father of three daughters raps about dragging Grammy contestant Iggy Azalea by his Humvee and raping her. Another recent favorite: “Bitch, I’ll punch Lana Del Rey right in the face twice/Like Ray Rice in broad daylight in the plain sight of the elevator surveillance/’Til her head is banging on the railing, then celebrate with the Ravens.”

The President’s decision not to take aim at woman-bashing lyrics like these could have something to do with a cultivated hip-hop image dating back to his 2008 campaign. The President and First Lady included Common in a White House poetry reading, and the President remains texting-buddies with another White House guest, Jay-Z.

(Speaking of which, here’s a question: Did Jay-Z decide to stop using the word “bitch” after his daughter was born—as some reports claim—or not, as his representatives responded? Just asking. And, since this is a PG column, you can find a more vivid flavor of hip-hop’s rage against women here.)

Obama claims to enjoy “teachable moments”—like his famed 2009 beer summit on police and race relations. Grammy night could have been a powerful one, and one without the pointed political motivation of, say, Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign decision to take on Sister Souljah to burnish his centrist credentials.

Honored at Sunday’s ceremony were nominees Chris Brown and R. Kelly—both purveyors of misogynistic lyrics and questionable behavior. There was lots of attention to the fact that Brown, who beat Rihanna and left her hospitalized with horrid bruises in 2009, wasn’t shown on camera during the domestic violence interlude.

Brown’s work draws millions of teen followers. His 2012 single “Biggest Fan” has disturbing lyrics:

When you scream I need

To pull your body closer, let me sex you baby

Girl you better not change your mind…

No is not an option.

And later in the song:

I’m ‘a take what’s mine.

Kelly is also no innocent; he’s been accused of rape by multiple victims and of predatory behavior toward teenage girls.

Nice stuff, huh? But whenever someone like me suggests political leaders call out artists—and the profit-making music mill that supports them—critics scream censorship. “You’re not reviving the PMRC concept are you? wtf are you talking about?,” one angry Twitter critic responded (though the tweet has since been deleted), referencing Tipper Gore’s famed Parents Music Resource Center from the 1980s.

No, I’m not calling for censorship, or new government-backed panels. I’m calling for self-control, and there is nothing wrong with political leaders like Obama weighing in.

On Sunday night, he asked the Grammy artists and their fans to take a pledge not to tolerate domestic violence.

How about taking a pledge not to celebrate it?