The most moving moment of Sunday’s otherwise critically panned 60th Annual Grammy Awards was Kesha’s performance of “Praying,” an empowerment anthem inspired by her protracted and painful legal battle with her accused predator, Sony Records’ Dr. Luke. Introduced by Janelle Monae and joined by all-stars Cyndi Lauper, Andra Day, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, and Bebe Rexha, Kesha also invited the Resistance Revival Chorus — a collective of more than 50 women founded last year in response to Donald Trump’s presidency — to raise their voices onstage at the Grammys for the #TimesUp cause.
Two days later, still high on the excitement of the Grammys, the Resistance Revival Chorus has released their first single to commemorate the first anniversary of the Women’s March, a cover of Lesley Gore’s 1963 proto-feminist classic “You Don’t Own Me.” The recording is available for free download from WeTransfer and on all streaming platforms, with fans encouraged to donate and support Tarana Burke’s organization, metooMVMT.org.
We asked Resistance Revival Chorus singer Meah Pace, who shares lead vocal duties with Broadway singer and educator Abena Koomson-Davis on “You Don’t Own Me,” to speaks with us about her Grammy experience, her own battles with sexism in the music industry, and how Kesha’s bravery has helped the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
Yahoo Entertainment: Tell me what the vibe like was during rehearsal of this performance. It must have been very emotionally charged.
Meah Pace: Oh, it was wonderful to be around people who I could tell loved Kesha very much. Her mom was present a lot of the time. Her vocal coach seemed to be very close to her and hugged her a lot. It was just a very warm, family environment. You could tell that Kesha understood the gravity of what she was about to do. You could feel the energy when she walked in the room. She made it a point to speak to us and hug us and thank us every day for supporting her on this. There were some tears of joy and just a lot of hugs and a lot of singing. Those days of rehearsal are some of the most fun times I’ve had as a singer.
Beside Kesha herself, do you have any other fond memories of the other all-stars you worked with?
Well, on our rehearsal day last Thursday, we gathered around the piano, and Cyndi Lauper, I mean … such warmth! She is so invested in this movement and in women. She was so nurturing and so mama bear. She really cared about us and what we’re going through as female artists. She was the one who said, “Yes, this is all of our story.” She made it a point to hold our hand and look at us all and hug us. I really, really felt that from Cyndi Lauper. She was a huge force of energy and support in all of this.
It’s interesting that you say the rehearsal was fun, because when I watched the performance, I felt so much anger in it.
Yeah, it was heavy. It was emotional. She did have some rage, I’m sure. But this was now our time. This performance was not about the abuser. This was not his time to shine. This was our time to shine, to be uplifted, and to say, “We are not going to be victims anymore. We are going to take control of our situations, and we are going to fight back. We’re going to rise above this, or be the bigger person.” So I’m going to maybe remove the word “anger,” and say “power” and “triumph” instead. The specific song, “Praying,” it’s also about empathy and really coming out of this darkness, this really tumultuous time for her and for her fans. [Her legal battle] was tough to watch. I’m a Kesha fan. I wasn’t just up there singing. I’m also a fan of hers and her music — so to watch her have gone through this was just sickening. Also, as a musician, a female musician, it was my story. It was everyone’s story. We’re all here telling our story. It was so important for us to all do that.
Have you faced, as a female artist, any kind of misogyny in the business?
Yes, all the time. I remember specifically one point in my career where I was working with a gentleman who was helping me a little bit, as far as production, and he said to me, “You know, the reason you haven’t made it yet, and the reason why you probably aren’t going to make it too far, is because you just aren’t [sleeping with] anyone.” I was just like, “What? Are you saying this to me? Out loud?” I didn’t know if he was sort of setting me straight because he maybe thought I was naïve about the business, or maybe because he had no hope for me as an artist and my talent — or maybe he knew that I was talented, but because I wasn’t opening my legs to anyone, this was just not going to work out for me. I was just like, “Wow. OK. All right, cool.” Needless to say, I never worked with him another day after that. That was it for me. I didn’t care what he could do for me at that point.
Things like that happen to me all the time. When I do my own personal projects, I have to do my own business. I will make contact with people and do the business over the phone, via email, things like that. But when I get to the show, someone hands me an envelope with several thousand dollars in it, with my name on it, to my [male band member] — because he’s the dude. To me, as a business person, that is a slap in the face. That has happened to me more than two or three times. People just assume; they look for the guy who looks like he’s in charge, and they talk to him. I am the boss when I’m doing my own music, I’m the one in charge, but they don’t naturally walk up to me, because maybe I have on heels or lipstick. Happens all the time.
I’m also a touring musician and I get this [treatment] on the road, after the show. Guys feel they can paw all over you and hug you. This one guy asked me could he smell my hair. “Oh, what are you doing after? Can I take you out to my hotel?” Just all of that. These are people in the industry, not even fans. I had a handler once in another country. We were sitting in the lounge, thanking him for doing things for us, and I’m having a really great time, and then he just reaches down and sticks his tongue down my throat! I was disgusted. I got up. I walked out. I was like, “I can’t do this.” I mean, it’s everywhere.
Yes, and it has been going on for decades, but it’s coming to light in a way it didn’t before, due to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. I kind of feel if Kesha had come forward with her Dr. Luke allegations in the past six months, instead of in 2014, people would have listened to her much more. How do you feel about the fact that things seem to be kind of finally coming out, that other “Keshas” are coming forward?
Well, I can be nothing but proud and happy that it’s finally becoming such a huge force. With any civil rights movement … I mean, I’m a black woman, and I come from children and parents of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s. You’ve got to start somewhere. If there was no Kesha, and if there were no women like that who had to take some bullets for the rest of us, the wall would not be coming down. It may never come all the way down in my lifetime. You have to chip away at it. There have to be some people who are willing to take those hits first and really get hurt — really get hurt. And no, she didn’t ask for this, but Kesha could have done a lot of things with this. Kesha could have taken this and been defeated by it. I don’t blame any woman who has been defeated by it. This mess is hard.
And you’re right, this isn’t new. There are plenty of women before Kesha, and before Cyndi Lauper, and before everyone, who have gone through this in the industry, who decided, “You know what? This is too much. I’m going to stop singing. I’m just going to go be something else. I’m just going to make sure my family’s OK and I’m going to move on. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to stay out of the press and the limelight.” There are plenty of women who have done that — and I respect them too. But Kesha decided to take what happened to her, which was not a choice, and she decided to make a choice to help the people that come after her. She decided not to be defeated by this and to take it and to pay it forward to the rest of us, so that the movement will become stronger. It’s because of Kesha and people like her that I will have a career, you know? It is that. It is paying it forward. It is taking the beating for sisters or somebody else. I could be nothing but grateful. It makes me all the more motivated to keep going, because someone had to go through something so that I could be here.
Kesha’s Grammy performance was really inspiring, but the overall night was still disappointing in terms of gender equality. Kesha and a lot of other amazing women — P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, and Lady Gaga — all lost in the Best Pop Solo field to Ed Sheeran, to a song literally about the shape of a woman’s body. And Lorde, the only female nominee for Album of the Year, was not invited to perform solo. Then of course, there were these backstage comments from Recording Academy president Neil Portnow about how “women need to step up” if they want to win awards. The industry still has a long way to go.
Yes, we have got to do better. Not “we” meaning women. I mean as an industry — they have got to do better. Now that women are opening our mouths on a larger scale, we are shouting from the rooftops. We’re singing. We are getting in people’s faces. Artists are really getting on these global stages and not being afraid to open our mouths, so no one can say anymore, “I didn’t know how you felt. I didn’t realize women weren’t being awarded. I didn’t realize that women weren’t being invited. I didn’t realize!”
What ’’ve learned just being a part of activism and things like that, whatever you do has to be intentional. Things aren’t going to happen by accident. You have to exactly say exactly what it is you want. That’s what we’re doing. We’re not going to let people figure it out. We’re not going to let men figure out that women are not winning these awards, because they’re not going to notice it. We have to tell them, “Look. This is what’s happening, and this is what we want. We want Lorde on the stage. This is what we want!” Then when we continue to ask and demand what we want, then if people don’t respond, they’re going to look like the jerks. They’re going to look like they’re stuck in the Stone Age. What I’m finding is that either you’re going to get onboard, or you’re going to get steamrolled. We’re going to roll right over you. So it would behoove everyone to just get onboard with this, because it’s getting bigger and it’s moving. So yeah, we’re angry.
And they’re saying we need to step up? What do you think we’ve been doing? But you know what, we don’t expect you to get it. We are enough. We are enough. We are our own advocates. We are our own heroes. We can speak for ourselves. We don’t need to be invited. We’re going to come and step up and we’re going to do this anyway. So if [Portnow] doesn’t get it, if he doesn’t see that we are speaking up, that we are stepping up, that we are mad, and that we are using our voices and organizing, and being loud and being angry … if he doesn’t get that, that’s his problem, not ours.
Kesha’s performance ended with a big group hug, and everyone seemed on the verge of crying. What was the vibe like when you got offstage and had a moment to process what had just happened?
Well, I burst into tears immediately when I stepped off the stage. When I was onstage, I had to be a professional and do what I was supposed to do in order to not mess up the show — there was a lot riding on everyone holding it together to do a great job — but it was very emotional, so as soon as I got backstage, that was my time to just let it go. I hugged the girls, and I got a chance to just really feel it. I really felt it. I really felt that I moved people, that I touched somebody, that I changed somebody’s life — that there’s some little girl out there saying, “Wow, I can be a singer. Wow, I can work with other women. I can work with women writers and producers and artists, and we can stand onstage and not be catty and root for each other and support each other and not slut-shame each other.”
We’re standing up here, and we’re going to show our faces. We’re not ashamed. When you have a cause and you have a message and you’ve been through something, it doesn’t always go this well. I know that. Kesha knows that. People will come at you and blame you for everything: “How dare you use the Grammys as this platform! How dare you!” People will try to take your joy and take your moment. But we couldn’t have that fear. We had to just do it. We did it for each other, and that’s where that hug came from. We did it for each other. We were there for each other. We were there for Kesha, and for all the women who have experienced that.
Tell me about the Resistance Revival Chorus’s single, a cover of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”
It’s a message, a strong message. It’s what we wanted to get out first, to get moving with this movement. We as individuals, as women, have to be confident and know that we own ourselves. We own our bodies. We own our minds. And it’s OK for us to choose to not be victims. That gives us the strength and the courage to continue with this movement. We’re about community. We’re about taking up for each other and speaking for each other. So that’s what this is about. It’s about all of us standing together and really having a voice.