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Why Grammys attendees will be wearing white roses

Hundreds of women have mobilized to tell the Grammys, “Time’s Up.”

Rose (Rosa Dr John Snow), Rosaceae. DeAgostini/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The latest development in the push to express strength among women and solidarity in the wake of the #MeToo movement comes in the form of a classic symbol: a white rose.

White has long been associated with the fight for women’s equality, going back to the days of the suffragettes. Now attendees of the 2018 Grammy Awards are mobilizing to wear white roses to the ceremony as a way of recognizing the ongoing cultural reckoning with sexual harassment and abuse occurring across several industries, including entertainment.

Industry marketer Meg Harkins and promoter Karen Rait came up with the idea earlier this week, according to Billboard, at a dinner where they and other music industry insiders brainstormed ways to ensure that the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements were acknowledged at the Grammys, just like they were at the Golden Globes.

After they had chosen the white rose — which they settled on as a symbol of peace, hope, and resistance — they began to spread the word by way of a mass email from Atlantic Records chair Julie Greenwald. Celebrities who’ve confirmed they’ll be wearing white roses to the Grammys include Halsey, Kelly Clarkson, Cyndi Lauper, and Rita Ora, among others on a list that reportedly numbers in the hundreds.

When informed of the movement during an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Grammys host James Corden immediately voiced support and said he’d be wearing one as well.

Harkins and Rait told Billboard they were working to coordinate their messaging with the leaders of the Time’s Up campaign, which has been generally viewed as a leveling-up of the #MeToo movement to call for action and change in Hollywood. Time’s Up also doubles as a legal fund for anyone fighting sexual harassment.

The push to extend the conversation around the movement into the Grammys is significant; so far, despite prominent actors like Casey Affleck and James Franco coming under scrutiny in the wake of a wave of sexual assault allegations throughout Hollywood, there’s been little similar pushback against prominent members of the music industry.

A few, like mogul Russell Simmons, have experienced repercussions after allegations against them. But others, like musicians R. Kelly and Chris Brown, continue to maintain successful careers despite ongoing controversy surrounding accusations of sexual assault and misconduct leveled against them.

The organizers of the plan to wear white roses to the Grammys are all too aware of this dichotomy. “We have not had the tsunami [in the music industry] that politics and Hollywood has had,” Harkins told the Associated Press on Wednesday, “but we are still women.”

The effort to extend #MeToo and Time’s Up into the music industry comes at a moment when the latter campaign is already drawing backlash for expanding its reach outside of Hollywood, even though it’s not even a month old; the campaign has been criticized for not remaining narrowly focused on Hollywood reform. But the fact that in just a few days, hundreds of women in the music industry have vowed to show solidarity with Time’s Up at the Grammys indicates that, if anything, an expansion of the movement’s reach is still desired by many.

Ensuring that the conversation remains galvanized around the Grammys, then, will be an important task for the rose wearers. Corden told the Hollywood Reporter that the topic will be a major part of the awards show — most visibly through a prominent performance by Kesha intended to spotlight the #MeToo movement.

Kesha has become an inadvertent leader in conversations about how to reform the music industry to keep sexual predators from being structurally protected, due to her long fight to win contractual and financial independence from her alleged rapist and former manager, the producer Dr. Luke. Her struggle speaks to the ongoing need for conversations around abuse and assault in the music industry as well as to the growing call for change.

“We all agreed it was really necessary,” Harkins told the AP. “We’ve all felt the political and cultural change in the last couple of months.”

Still, the Grammys are already receiving criticism for not doing more to center the ceremony on such a glaring issue. Whether or not the red carpet is full of white roses, all eyes will be on the men and women of the music industry to see what comes next.

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