One of the biggest thrills of the 2024 Grammy Awards came thanks to a song released in 1988.
Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” a Grammy-decorated tune itself, has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to country singer Luke Combs’ cover, released last year. His version even garnered Chapman a Song of the Year win at the 2023 Country Music Awards – the first time that particular title had ever been given to a Black woman.
In light of its success, a performance of the 36-year-old song was anticipated. Chapman’s involvement, however, was a surprise – an understatement, really, as she’d left the music industry behind years ago due to her discomfort with being in the public eye. The mass elation at her unexpected presence was palpable; her beatific smile in response to the room’s enthusiasm was a balm in and of itself.
It made for one of a number of exciting moments for women in the music industry that evening – including wins by female artists in every major category.
On top of that, Joni Mitchell offered her own moving performance of her classic song, “Both Sides Now,” while Fantasia Barrino paid an electric tribute to the late, great Tina Turner. Powerhouse Celine Dion made a surprise appearance herself, despite her ongoing battle with stiff person syndrome. R&B singer and Best New Artist winner Victoria Monét walked the red carpet with her 2-year-old daughter in her arms. Both Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves announced new albums on the way.
Awards shows are rather cynical affairs, for the most part. But those milestones and moments did allow us to consider the breadth of women’s experiences and creativity. And all together, they served as fond recognition of 2023’s status as “Year of the Girl,” owing to a mass centering of art made by women – from the smash success of “Barbie” last summer, to economy-shifting tours fronted by Swift and fellow award-winning artist Beyonce.
All of that said, “Fast Car” gave us something else entirely.
What We Need
Right now, we’re struggling. We’re overworked and underpaid, not to mention underslept (women especially) and malnourished. Our bodies are pushed to their respective brinks, pressured to keep going by economic need and social pressures. And then on top of that, our hearts and minds are bogged down by residual stress and growing loneliness. We see it harming our children, too – and we barely have the bandwidth to help them.
All of this roils within us amid a backdrop of numerous nightmares. Wars raging, several of them funded by the U.S. government even as our domestic systems – already inadequate infrastructures designed to offer broader-level care – crumble under the weight of our growing exigency. Widespread illness. Climate change becoming increasingly tangible; those of us living in New York City rotate almost daily between coats designed for entirely different seasons.
I know, from numerous conversations with fellow parents, co-workers – and even a few strangers on the subway – that we’re all feeling the crush.
But then, there she was – Chapman, beaming at us. Radiant. Singing alongside a reverent Combs about struggling to stay afloat in trying times while also mourning the death of dreams as we knew them, navigating simultaneous waves of grief and disappointment. I wept as I watched them sing – and then, as I watched everyone sing along.
There was, of course, not a dry eye in that room. But there was delight, too. More than that – pure, unbridled joy. Smiles on every face as nearly the entire audience sang and danced along. Moments like that cannot be manufactured, or generated by AI – they only come from somewhere real, and earned.
As we all struggle so desperately to keep ourselves together, Chapman and Combs showed us that what we need is simply … one another.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. It requires real and radical energy to nurture our connections. It takes work, and intention, and love to maintain the ties that bind. And we need to do all that – to be that necessary kind of bold, and open-hearted – while carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Yet it can be done. Chapman herself embodied the sort of vulnerability and bravery we need to live out by stepping back into the spotlight – quite literally – to dazzle and soothe us once more. And Combs was there to see her through, watching in awe and exchanging smiles, as an adoring audience lifted them up further still.
“And I, I had a feelin’ that I belonged,” they sang together during the song’s bridge. “And I, I had a feelin’ I could be someone, be someone, be someone.” Here’s to us finding and forging that sort of vital community within the din. It’s worth the effort.