This year’s Grammy Awards provided several standout live moments, all performed by genuine artists who did not rely on autotune and heavily manufactured pyrotechnics. Billie Eilish sang a haunting rendition of her hit, “What Was I Made For?” backed up by a soulful, intimate orchestra. Joni Mitchell’s poignant performance of “Both Sides Now” cast a spell upon the riveted crowd, perhaps encapsulated most by Meryl Streep having an emotional moment with her daughter while enthralled by Mitchell. Billy Joel closed the ceremony with his hit, “You May Be Right,” proving that the piano man still has it at 74.
But it was the rare appearance of Tracy Chapman that produced pure magic for the ceremony. As soon as Chapman materialized beneath the lights, with her folk guitar and her bold gray hair, the crowd knew that we were about to witness a moment of profound authenticity. She had joined country star Luke Combs—who had won Single of the Year at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards last November for his cover of her folk anthem—in a live performance of the song that caused such a sensation in 1988.
“Fast Car” shot up to the top of the iTunes Top Songs chart later that night on Sunday, with her debut album joining the renewed popularity.
Chapman’s surprise performance—she was not on the performance list—produced such a powerful reaction among the crowd. And with lyrics such as “Is it fast enough so we can fly away,” it’s no wonder that the song still packs an emotional punch. It’s as if every generation discovers its haunting lyrics of freedom and hope, of dreaming of a better life.
For me, it’s simply one of the most important songs in modern music history.
You can check out Chapman’s original music video for the song here.
"That song, 'Fast Car', it was my favorite song[s] before I even knew what a favorite song was," Combs said, according to NPR. "It can be felt and related to by all kinds of people around the world.
"It's just such a cool full circle moment for me," Combs added. "Just to be associated with her in any way is super humbling for me."
In these days of divisiveness and extreme conflict, seeing the two artists humbly perform “Fast Car,” without an agenda, and warmly embracing each other afterwards, demonstrated more than anything the power of overcoming our differences. It simply represented the best in humanity. It’s also why the reaction to the performance has been so visceral. We recognize an authentic moment when we see it.
We simply need more of this in our lives and we all know it.
"I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there,” Chapman said in a Billboard statement back in July last year, according to People. She also expressed how honored she was by Combs’ rendition: “I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced 'Fast Car.'"
Combs has had plenty of success with the prophetic anthem, including the No. 2 spot on the Hot List and several music nominations. He did not win a Grammy for it at this year’s ceremony, but that’s OK, his performed duet with Chapman stole the night anyway.
Chapman has won four Grammys, including Best New Artist, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Fast Car,” in 1989. Her fourth Grammy came a decade later, for Best Rock Song, “Give Me One Reason,’ in 1997. She’s been nominated 13 times, including for her “Crossroads” and “New Beginning” albums.
I hadn’t watched the Grammys in many years. To be honest, I usually keep the TV on mute for most of the ceremony and just tune in for the highlights. But this year’s show produced some of the best live performances the Grammy’s have ever put on and I watched with rapt attention.
But it was Chapman’s performance alongside Combs that I couldn’t stop thinking about afterward. I haven’t felt that way about the Grammy in a really long time.