2019 Grammys: Alicia Keys opens show with help from Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga, from left, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alicia Keys, Michelle Obama and Jennifer Lopez at the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Sunday.
Lady Gaga, from left, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alicia Keys, Michelle Obama and Jennifer Lopez at the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Grammy Awards host Alicia Keys made good on her promise to “ensure peace” and “good energy” in the room — and she did it with the help of Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Jada Pinkett Smith and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The 15-time Grammy Award winner, dubbed a “musical superwoman,” stepped out to a standing ovation and welcomed a quartet of superwoman onstage with her at the 61st Grammy Awards on Sunday night to convey a positive, uplifting — even healing — message of unity through music.

“Do you feel that love in the building? This is love. This is life. This is living. This is light and all because of music. Music is so powerful,” Keys said.


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The entertainer said she wanted everybody to feel a little less nervous and let their “shoulders drop” because she was at the helm and she gave shout-outs to several of the evening’s honorees, mostly women.

“Music is what we all love,” she said. “Music is what we cry to. It’s what we march to. It’s what we rock to. It’s what we make love to. It’s our shared global language. And if you really want to say something, you say it with a song.”

She then introduced her “sisters,” who walked downstage hand in hand to the delight of the cheering audience inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“They said I was weird,” Gaga said. “That my look, my choices, my sound — that it wouldn’t work. But music told me not to listen to them. Music took my ears. Took my hands. My voice and my soul. And it led me to all of you and to my Little Monsters [fans], who I love so much.”


For Lopez, who grew up in the Bronx, music gave her a reason to dance, whether hip-hop, free-style, pop, soul or salsa.

“It reminds me where I come from, but it also reminds me of all the places that I can go. Music has always been the one place we can all feel truly free,” Lopez said.

Pinkett Smith, mindful of the divisiveness nationwide, noted that “every voice we hear deserves to be honored and respected.”

Obama, who got the loudest cheers, also expressed what music has meant for her.

“From the Motown records I wore out on the South Side to the ‘Who Run the World’ songs that fueled me through the last decade. Music has always helped me tell my story, and I know that’s true for everybody here,” she said.

“Music helps us share ourselves, our dignities and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters.”


Keys, pausing to take it all in, then doubled down on the message, saying that “tonight we celebrate the greatness in each other through music.”

She then asked, “Who runs the world?” citing Beyoncé 2011 anthem.

The host took the stage after Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” a star-studded show opener featuring Ricky Martin and J Balvin and danced along to part of it. The “Girl on Fire” has been a steadfast champion of female authenticity and natural beauty, further highlighted by her 2016 #nomakeup resolution, predilections she adhered to during Sunday’s show.

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The entertainer took on hosting duties a year after outgoing Recording Academy President Neil Portnow responded to a 2018 post-show question about the male-centric results during the show by imploring women in music to “step up.”

Speaking to reporters before Sunday’s show, Keys said she felt blessed to have been on the Grammys stage multiple times before.

“I understand what it is and what it feels like and I know what the artists are going through,” she said. “I’m really excited about the naturalness of it all.”


Keys later took the stage to perform an impressive dueling piano medley of sorts that included songs by Ella Mai, Drake, Kings of Leon, Lauryn Hill and more, saluting past and present winners with words of gratitude and awe.

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