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White Roses Weren’t the Strongest Statement at the Grammys

Want to see what women can do? Give them a stage.

Kesha performs at the 2018 Grammys.
Kesha performs at the 2018 Grammys.
Photo: FilmMagic

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After nearly every major actress (and many actors) showed up at the Golden Globes earlier this month in head-to-toe black to protest sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, we wondered how the music world might show its solidarity with the #MeToo movement at the Grammys.

After all, while the transgressions of Hollywood men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have dominated the news cycle over the past few months, the recording industry — like all industries — struggles with sexual misconduct as well. For proof, look no further than Kesha’s ongoing legal battle with Dr. Luke or Taylor Swift’s recent court triumph over a DJ who groped her during a photo op.

The Grammys’ answer to the Globes’ all-black dress code? White roses. The idea came from Roc Nation executive Meg Harkins and Interscope/Geffen/A&M Records’ Karen Rait, who gathered a group of their industry peers last week week and, in a last-minute push for a visual symbol of solidarity, called on artists to wear the flower on tonight’s red carpet and during their performances.

Kelly Clarkson wearing Christian Siriano and carrying her white rose at the 2018 Grammys.
Kelly Clarkson wearing Christian Siriano and carrying her white rose at the 2018 Grammys.
Photo: Getty Images for NARAS
Cardi B wearing Ashi Studio and carrying her white rose at the 2018 Grammys.
Cardi B wearing Ashi Studio and carrying her white rose at the 2018 Grammys.
Photo: Getty Images

Most were happy to oblige, and while the majority of the men simply wore their flowers as boutonnieres, it was interesting to see how the women of the Grammys chose to incorporate the floral accents into their looks.

Some, like Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus, carried long-stemmed blooms, while Camila Cabello turned her rose into a ring and Lana Del Rey turned up with a corsage. On the even more creative end of the spectrum, there was Kesha’s navy Nudie suit, which was embroidered with white roses on both lapels, and Ava Max’s (temporary?) cleavage tattoo.

“We choose the white rose because historically it stands for hope, peace, sympathy and resistance,” reads a letter from the group. Additionally, the color white is connected to both the suffragette movement and Hillary Clinton (who memorably wore a white pantsuit to Donald Trump’s inauguration). Still, if the sartorial demonstration was meant as a salute to Time’s Up, it sent a somewhat confusing message; why not black roses to mirror what we saw at the Globes? That some — but not all — of the earlier performers like Maren Morris, Pink, and Sting chose to perform in white clothing only added to the visual dissonance; Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Sam Smith appeared to be wearing lab coats of some sort.

Stranger still was the fact that few artists choice to speak up about Time’s Up or #MeToo during the red carpet hour; country icon Reba McEntire was one of just a handful. “My message is... I want to treat you like I want to be treated,” she offered backstage. “It’s the golden rule, and I think if we did that more often, a lot of these problems would be nonexistent. Let’s just treat people kindly.”

Added Lisa Loeb, somewhat apologetically, “I know some people are saying the music industry took a little while to catch up with some of the other industries. But we haven’t had as many awards ceremonies.”

Janelle Monáe speaks at the 2018 Grammys.
Janelle Monáe speaks at the 2018 Grammys.
Photo: FilmMagic

Thank goodness for Janelle Monáe, who took to the stage about halfway through the ceremony to (finally!) address Time’s Up head on. “We come in peace, but we mean business,” she said, dressed in a floral Dolce & Gabbana suit accented with both a white rose and a Time’s Up pin. “To those who would dare silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up. Let’s work together, women and men, committed to creating safer work environments and equal pay.”

And then it was time for Kesha to sing her survival anthem “Praying,” a track directly inspired by her experience with Dr. Luke. The singer was joined onstage by a group of her pop-music peers, including Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, and Andra Day, along with members of the Resistance Revival Chorus — all dressed entirely in shades of white. In case there was any lingering doubt, this powerhouse performance made it perfectly clear: Want to see what women can do? Give them a stage.

And for the music industry, it seems that’s a message that still needs repeating: As Monáe tweeted, 90.7% of Grammy nominees between 2013 and 2018 were male, meaning just 9.3% were women. And yesterday, news broke that Album of the Year nominee Lorde wouldn’t be performing at the Grammys, as she would’ve had to do so as part of the show’s Tom Petty tribute. The four other contenders in her category — all of them male — were offered solo spots.