First Lady Jill Biden presented the 2023 Grammy for "Best Song for Social Change" to Shervin Hajipour.
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“Baraye” was written in response to the death of Mahsa Amini

As is typical of any entertainment award show, the 2023 Grammy Awards were rife with several memorable moments, from exciting wins, to disappointing losses, and everything in between.

One of the most memorable aspects of the evening was the appearance made by the First Lady of the United States, Jill Biden, who took the stage to present the first-ever Grammy award for the “Best Song for Social Change.” The award was presented to Iranian singer-songwriter, Shervin Hajipour, for the song “Baraye.”

The Recording Academy introduced the new category as a Special Merit Award to recognize music that highlights and/or “responds to the social issues of our time and has the potential for positive global impact.”

In Biden’s speech, she explained the importance of the award by highlighting the impact that music has on igniting social change stating, “a song can unite, inspire, and ultimately change the world.”

“Barraye” was released by Shervin Hajipour in 2022, in response to the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died while in the custody of the morality police.

Amini was arrested on September 13, 2022 for wearing her hijab “improperly,” and remained in custody where she faced severe and brutal violence for three days before her untimely death. The police rejected allegations that Amini was murdered, instead attributing her death to a sudden heart attack.

Niloofar Hamedi, an Iranian journalist for the newspaper Shargh, first broke the news that Amini was admitted to the hospital for injuries acquired while in police custody. Elahe Mohammadi, a journalist at the newspaper, Ham-Mihan, was the first to report on Amini’s death from her funeral. Both journalists were arrested soon after their reports were released, and if they are convicted, could face the death penalty.

Since September 2022, at least 528 protestors have been killed and 19,600 have been detained by the Iranian authorities (which are likely conservative estimates as the Iranian government has failed to provide an official death toll and arrest numbers).

Hamedi and Mohammadi’s reports and images spread quickly around the internet, and led to international outrage at the mistreatment of Amini. Protests erupted, led mainly by women destroying their hijabs, cutting off their hair, and demanding equality for women, the end of the theocratic regime and morality police, and the introduction of democracy to Iran.

Just twelve days after Amini’s death, 25-year-old Shervin Hajipour released “Baraye” (Persian meaning “for” or “because of”) on his Instagram page, and amassed over 40 million views in less than two days, before he was forced to take down the song. The song unintentionally became the anthem of the Iranian protests.

The musician compiled tweets posted by supporters of the movement, and created lyrics that described the reasons for the unrest. The video featured footage of protests. Among the most poignant lines of the song translate to “for dancing in the streets, for fear when kissing” and “for the imprisoned intellectual elite … for the feel of peace.” Hajipour used the protester’s rally cry, “Woman, Life, Freedom” as the chorus of the song.

Hajipour was arrested on September 29, 2022 “for showing support for the rioters and solidarity with the enemies by posting the song on social media without getting permission for it”. He was released on bail on October 4, 2022 and prohibited from leaving the country (which prevented him from attending the 2023 Grammy Awards). Since his arrest and Grammy win, he has continued to release music on SoundCloud and Instagram.

During his arrest, his fans advocated for “Baraye” to be nominated in the newest Grammy category by submitting the song over 110, 000 times for Grammy consideration. “Baraye” was nominated alongside 12 other songs, all of which beat out a total of 3,200 songs for the shortlist. Hajipour’s public reaction to the win was brief, as he took to Instagram to post simply, “We won 🤍🎵.”

The determination of Hajipour’s fans to gain the Recording Academy’s attention underscores the First Lady’s sentiment that music can have a profound impact on the world. Hajipour’s use of sentiments shared by protestors highlighted the thoughts and feelings that have connected the protestors for the last five months.

Mahsa Amini’s death was tragic, and placed a spotlight on the inequality and oppression that still exist in Iran. Hajipour specified that the protestors are not just seeking out better living conditions for women, but for all Iranians.

The Recording Academy’s recognition of Hajipour and his fellow nominees signals an important shift from the awards being a solely U.S-centric and record chart-focused event, to one that considers and recognizes music on a global level, and the meaning behind it.