Kesha’s cathartic performance was the purest Grammys moment ever

Though she was robbed of any actual awards, Kesha’s live rendition of “Praying” was the most meaningful part of the ceremony

In 2018, the age of social justice as cultural capital, awards ceremonies have undergone a transformation. The headlines that dominate your TL the morning after the Grammys are no longer just about who won what – in fact, that’s probably the last information you'll glean from a glance at the news. Instead, it's all about #politics. Last night at the 60th Grammys ceremony, stars used the platform to declare their support for second-generation immigrant Dreamers, and for the #TimesUp movement. Hilary Clinton was invited to send up Trump, by reading from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, in a particularly full-body-cringe segment. 

Sometimes, seeing these unignorable issues permeate a usually superficial atmosphere feels urgent and refreshing (see Janelle Monae's speech on sexual harassment); but at worst, it can all feel bait-y, or self-congratulatory. Most of these stunts occupy an uncanny space between celebrity and politics – when an awards ceremony that essentially exists to reward Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran for their music also starts discussing very real political causes, it feels unnatural somehow, like putting a dog in a Dior dress and making it walk the red carpet.

But while all of this is true, it would take the most cynical of cold black hearts not to see the truth and purity in Kesha's performance at last night's 60th Grammys ceremony. For me, it was the only moment of a typically stilted and staged ceremony that genuinely brought tears to my eyes – because Kesha's politics are not performative, but extremely personal, and her live rendition of “Praying” was naturally imbued with the significance of what it means to be a survivor, and a woman who has had to really fucking fight for her platform. 

“Praying”, of course, is the triumphant, roof-shaking ballad Kesha wrote to let her ex-manager/producer and alleged abuser Dr Luke know that she forgives him. For her to perform it on the Grammys stage at all – after she has spent years locked in a legal battle with Luke to earn the right to perform or release music without his input – is a spine-shivering moment. As she sings herself, “You said that I was done/ Well you were wrong, and the best is yet to come”. The performance gained even more resonance from the fellow women pop stars (Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha, Julia Michaels and more) who flanked Kesha as she sang. That this performance, with its weighty backstory and star power, came amid the #MeToo movement is a true statement.

But what actually makes it something you should watch is simply Kesha herself. For Kesha, this is about more than a cultural moment – it's about survival. When her voice chokes, and wraps itself raspily around the line “I’m proud of who I am”, you feel every ounce of the battle she's endured to make it to this stage. When she digs her heels in, closes her eyes, and bellows that final portion of the song, it’s almost too visceral, too close to the nerve to take. 

As we put it when we saw her Rainbow tour in 2017: “Kesha’s repeated advocacy for positivity, forgiveness, and kindness could feel twee from anyone else, and fuck knows how quickly pop can nosedive into syrupy empowerment soup. But her strength and positivity saved her; this is a woman who was abused, almost lost her career, and came back”. What may have seemed superficial and glossy in the hands of other celebrities last night became inescapably raw and earnest the moment Kesha took that stage. Nothing feels more urgent or poignant than simply seeing her thrive.