Recently, Kellyanne Conway, headmaster of propaganda and subsequent new queen of the remix, was asked about reports as to whether or not the president-elect’s transition team was trying to secure big names (according to The Wrap, they wanted artists like Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars) for the looming inauguration. Conway eagerly answered, “Yes!” before adding, “They can call me, by the way. They can call me.”
That same publication is reporting that the team is so desperate to have star power that talent bookers say that they have been offered cash and in some cases ambassadorships in exchange for securing talent. One apparent insider explained, “My first thought was, ‘Are you joking?' But no, it was serious.”
Another was “shocked” at the proposal, noting, “Never in a million years have I heard something so crazy. That was the moment I almost dropped the phone.”
In response, committee spokesman Boris Epshteyn said in a statement:
There is no truth to this insinuation. First-class entertainers are eager to participate in the inaugural events. The inauguration as a whole will be an exciting and uniting celebration of freedom and democracy. We will be releasing further details at the appropriate time.
There are minuscule things that are constant in the seven-decade-spanning look at instability that is Donald Trump, but this one is true: The orange-skinned man loves to be around really famous people. Another: He is a damn liar. To that end, if Trump’s transition committee is denying that they’ve offered cash and ambassadorships in order to secure big-name singers, it’s likely more true than it is false.
However, not every talent booker or the talent themselves will operate with ethical codes similar to those The Wrap spoke to. So, to any entertainer considering performing at Trump’s inauguration and de facto Klan rally, you best be careful of the consequences. This is especially true if you are black or an artist who dabbles heavily in black art forms.
Earlier this month, Ne-Yo was asked by TMZ if he would perform at Trump’s inauguration and said he would. "I wouldn't go because I support Donald Trump,” he said. “I'd go because it's a dope party." Social media backlash immediately ensued, leaving the singer-songwriter to go to Instagram to declare that some people just couldn’t take a joke.
If you watch the clip in question, though, Ne-Yo first answered yes and was then told that his answer was different from Jamie Foxx’s (who said he would not go). Ne-Yo went on to explain why he would do it. You know, “’cause a dope party is a dope party.” But ha-ha-ha or whatever.
Ne-Yo learned his lesson fast all the same. It’s one that other artists who swim around the same pop and R&B pools should heed as well. As much as I enjoy Bruno Mars, Puerto Rican Frankie Lymon better not go doo-wop-pop-pop and shimmy for Bankruptcy Batista. Likewise, Justin Timberlake better take the invitation to call Conway about putting on a suit and tie for Minute Maid Mao and set it on fire. I dare the man who turned on Janet Jackson to insult black people to such a degree again.
If the fear of offending a diverse public bothered by the tangerine demagogue is not enough to say no, then one can also learn from the mistake made by Destiny’s Child. Back in 2001, the group performed at George W. Bush’s inauguration. Five years later, Beyoncé was asked about her choice and whether it meant that she was a Republican. She said that she was not.
She went on to explain: "I played at the inauguration because there were a lot of kids in the audience that I wanted to reach, that's all. Maybe one day I will speak of my political beliefs, but only when I know what I'm talking about."
As you can tell from the past election, the imagery in her work and her past performances, her views are now clear. Yet, in time, black people came to understand just how little regard Bush had for black people. To be fair, Bush at least put on airs as president-elect that he was a different kind of conservative and harbored no ill will toward black people and other racial minorities.
When it comes to our next president, though, how he feels about blacks, Latinos, Muslims, women and the LGBTQ community is all quite clear. He doesn’t deserve a big bash full of the ultrafamous and extraordinarily talented. He deserves the has-beens and never-really-had-its. To celebrate him and perform before him is to endorse his bigotry.
It is a choice, one that warrants whatever consequences come as a result of it.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.