I’ve told this story a few times so I hope you don’t mind me repeating it but today I think it’s worth coming back to. Remember Aretha Franklin’s hat at President Obama’s inauguration? And how a lot of people laughed at it? I loved it but I also laughed at the extra-ness but then afterwards, a friend of mine explained that the reason Aretha wanted to be extra, and wanted to put on a hat that was so glamorous and dramatic, the finest headwear she could possibly find, is because that’s how the Black community shows its respect. That’s why the Black community dresses for church. And so for the Black community, on that particular day, when America inaugurated its first Black president, of course Aretha would want to dial it up as much as possible. This was history, this was what generations of people had been waiting for.
In no way am I comparing Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez to the incomparable Aretha Franklin. Please, I want to be clear about this. There is no comparison. My point is that thinking back on that lesson from my friend, it changed my perspective about when style decisions are made on these occasions, even when celebrities are involved: it’s not just about attention and spotlight for the sake of attention and spotlight – it’s to honour the moment, showing up in your best to respect the magnitude of the moment.
So when Gaga walked out in all her Gaga-ness, with the hair and the billowing skirt and the gigantic dove pinned on her heart, the olive branch in her ears, and when JLo descended the steps in sparkling white, as if to signify a new beginning, I was happy to see it. And happy to hear it, for the most part. I thought Gaga’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” was beautiful and of course, she put all her theatricality into it with a gold microphone – especially in the moment she turned to the flag during “our flag was still theeeeerrrrrrre”, a part in the song that’s particularly poignant now considering what happened when Trump insurgents attacked the Capitol just two weeks ago:
As for JLo…
Look. Social media was amazing yesterday. The memes, the comedy that can come from Twitter especially, were an excellent addition to this American tradition of pomp and circumstance. So with that in mind, how can you be mad at “let’s get loud”?
My cat when JLo broke into â€œLetâ€™s get Loudâ€ ðŸ˜‚ pic.twitter.com/HemrhcnFGU— Sarah Kaplan (@sarahkaplan48) January 20, 2021
Here’s my favourite tweet about JLo’s performance. I laughed and laughed and laughed when I read this and sent it everywhere and still laughed when I looked at it again this morning:
"this land is your land, this land is my land from Brazil, Morocco, London to Ibiza, straight to LA, New York, Vegas to Africa" ðŸŽ¶ pic.twitter.com/48FQiZn5If— eric+ (@ericschmerick) January 20, 2021
I can’t. That’s just too f-cking good. By the way, someone in the replies actually did it:
Um hereâ€™s the full performance pic.twitter.com/v9ngqxSsOF— Ceeze (@ceeeeeeze) January 21, 2021
As the kids say…dead.
But to those who say none of this is important, that this is all too “celebrity”, or if you’re having to listen to some blowhard complain about it being too “celebrity”, Joy Reid said it best last night. That all of the fun and the joy and the glamour, yes even the glamour, that all of it was the whole point. You can have the fashion and the sparkle… and also WORK at the same time. And this is actually what bites the far-right’s ass – this is actually what they want and don’t know how to have:
"They gave us joy, they gave us fashion, they gave us celebrity, they gave us hope ... And they went to work. They did a workday. They gave us a press conference where there were no lies."@joyannreid on the inauguration day. pic.twitter.com/bHCYOFA0ga— The ReidOut (@thereidout) January 21, 2021
So, to go back to all those celebrities, and a couple of celebrity performances during the primetime special last night, Demi Lovato KILLED IT on “Lovely Day”, God she sounded so great. And God what a terrific song choice:
And the joy of that song set up the relief brought on the release, as Katy Perry closed with “Firework”. Seeing those fireworks light up the sky over the Capitol, where just days before, a global symbol of democracy was under fire, was a good way to end a good day. And a good way to signal the beginning of a LOT of work ahead. For all of us!