Why Jill Biden Made a Special Appearance on the Grammys Stage

The first lady's memorable appearance was made in part to honor a song that's become an unofficial anthem for Iranians protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini

First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden speaks onstage during the 65th GRAMMY Awards at Crypto.com Arena on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty

First lady Jill Biden made a surprise appearance at the 65th Grammy Awards Sunday night, to publicly recognize "a song that responds to the social issues of our time and has the potential for positive global impact."

That song, penned by Iranian singer and songwriter Shervin Hajipour, won an award in a new Grammy category: Best Song for Social Change.

Hajipour's song "Baraye" has become the unofficial protest anthem of Iran, after the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody has sparked international controversy and global calls for change.

Mahsa Amini was arrested by Iran's morality police in September — allegedly for wearing a hijab too loosely — and later died in police custody, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield previously explained to PEOPLE.

"She was arrested and taken into police custody for what they call an 'educational and reorientation class,'" Thomas-Greenfield said. "Some hours later, she was transferred to the hospital in a coma and she died two days later."

While Amini's family was told by Iranian police that she had suffered from a heart condition, her family has disputed that assessment, saying she had no heart ailment and that bruises seen on her body indicated she had been tortured.

Iranian women and men have taken to the streets to protest Amini's death in the weeks and months since, facing violence and even death themselves as the eyes of the world have turned to the morality police, which the U.S. State Department has described as an organization that enforces "restrictions on freedom of expression."

A young girl waves the Iranian flag. Iranians of Toulouse organized a protest in Toulouse in solidarity with women and protesters in Iran, following the death of the young Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's 'morality police'. Several hundreds of people participated to the protest. Police have said Amini fell ill as she waited with other women held by the morality police, who enforce strict rules in the Islamic republic requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public. Since the death of Mahsa Amini, many protest took place in Iran, the NGO Iran Human Rights says that many protesters have been killed. The death of Mahsa Amini sparked protests worldwide. Toulouse. France. December 3rd 2022.
Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty

Songwriter Hajipour was among those arrested (he was accused of spreading anti-government propaganda), as Dr. Biden noted in her speech at the Grammys.

"Shervin was arrested but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme—women, life, freedom," she said.

Dr. Biden, who also presented the award for Song of the Year, called Hajipour's song a "powerful and poetic call for freedom and women's rights."

U.S. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden perform onstage during the 65th GRAMMY Awards at Crypto.com Arena on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty

Dr. Biden's press secretary, Vanessa Valdivia, said in a statement: "The First Lady was honored to be asked by the Recording Academy to announce the Grammys' first Social Change award to Shervin Hajipour for his song 'Baraye.' As a steadfast champion for women and girls around the world, the First Lady was inspired by his song that served as an anthem for freedom and women's rights."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in October that the U.S. had imposed sanctions both on Iran's morality police and on "senior security officials who have engaged in serious human rights abuses."

"These officials oversee organizations that routinely employ violence to suppress peaceful protesters and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women's rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha'i community," the Treasury Department said in a statement at the time.

Meanwhile, Tehran-based Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) estimates that at least 527 protestors have died in Iran since the protests began.

Related Articles