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The Excerpt podcast: Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs at the the Grammys. Need we say more?

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The Excerpt podcast: Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs at the the Grammys. Need we say more? 3

On a special episode (first released on February 7, 2024) of The Excerpt podcast: At the 2024 Grammy Awards, a Black woman and a white man sang together about people down on their luck and dreaming of better lives. It was a moment that hit an emotional note with millions of people all over the world. The song was Fast Car, first released in 1988. Social media exploded with praise and admiration for Tracy Chapman, the song’s composer, and country singer Luke Combs, who recorded an award-winning cover version last year. What made this moment such an inflection point? Life and Entertainment Managing Editor Laura Trujillo joins The Excerpt to talk about how this pairing speaks more to what we share instead of what divides us.

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Hit play on the player below to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript beneath it. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Dana Taylor:

Hello and welcome to The Excerpt. I’m Dana Taylor. Today is Wednesday, February 7th, 2024, and this is a special episode of The Excerpt.

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On Sunday night, a black woman and a white man sang together about people down on their luck and dreaming of better lives. The light performance of Fast Car at this year’s Grammy’s resonated with millions. Following the award ceremony, social media exploded with praise and admiration for Tracy Chapman, the song’s composer and country singer, Luke Combs, who recorded an award-winning cover version last year. Many viewers were moved to tears. What made this moment such an inflection point for Americans? Here to talk us through this cultural significance of the performance is Life and Entertainment managing editor Laura Trujillo. Laura, thanks for joining us.

Laura Trujillo:

Hi. Thanks for having me on.

Dana Taylor:

Well, it almost feels gratuitous to talk about the song, the moment, the electricity of that duet from the Grammy’s. First off, you were in the room. Can you please take us back to that moment when Tracy and Luke took the stage and started playing? What was that like?

Laura Trujillo:

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It was amazing, which I think everyone knows who saw it. But we weren’t expecting Tracy Chapman out there. I mean, they had announced that Luke would be there, and so we all assumed he would be singing that song. I think there was some hope that Tracy Chapman might show up, but she hasn’t been performing or doing a lot of public appearances lately. So when the first chord of that song started and you saw the light on Tracy, everyone just cheered in the arena. Everyone was so excited. And then as soon as she started singing, it went completely silent. And I think we all were just in awe of her talent.

Watching them was amazing because you really saw the reverence that Luke has toward Tracy. And it seemed like he was as almost excited to be there playing with her as we were to be watching them. And it was really fun to see. Obviously everyone in the audience was excited. We saw Taylor Swift standing and swaying to it. You saw Jelly Roll doing that, Brandi Carlile. So everyone was definitely enjoying it. They had a really great standing ovation at the end. And it was just a moment that captured everyone into silence.

Dana Taylor:

Music from the ’80s became retro cool during the pandemic. The song In the Air Tonight from Phil Collins had a huge viral moment. It’s also not uncommon for a legendary artist to take the stage with a more current artist. Stevie Nicks performing with Taylor Swift comes to mind. But this performance and what’s happened with this song has been especially moving. You’ve covered the Grammy Awards in the past. Has there ever been a moment that moved you the way this one did? And why do you think this performance resonated so much?

Laura Trujillo:

I think a lot of it has to do with Tracy Chapman not being in the public eye very much, and that this was such a surprise and a treat really for all of us to have her come back. I think last year when she won the country song of the year, everyone was so excited. So I think people really wanted to celebrate her. I grew up listening to Tracy Chapman. I mean, her song came out, I want to say like two days before my birthday in high school. And I loved it.

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I went to the Grammy’s with my 17-year-old daughter, so she was the same age as I was when I first heard Tracy Chapman sing the song. And she had heard the Luke version, the country version last year, but she had not heard this, which was probably bad parenting on my part and that she didn’t know Tracy Chapman. She loved it. It was great. It was a great moment for us to talk about how lovely it was. And what I thought was really cool was seeing the day after they performed was that her song was number one on, I don’t remember if it was Spotify, but downloaded that everyone wanted to listen to her song again.

Dana Taylor:

You can’t really talk about Fast Car without talking about the experience of economic insecurity tinged with hope. Is that part of the story as to why this performance has been so viral?

Laura Trujillo:

Yeah. I think that when you think about the economic times of 1988 to now, we have some of the same problems where people are looking at things they want and they’re out of reach for people. And this song just really captures that. In many ways, I think the song is really depressing for a lot of people. But it also is tinged with this hope where you say we can get to this. And I think that just resonates and that class issue is as prevalent today as it was when she wrote it. And fortunately, I think the song is going to be relevant for a really long time for that reason.

Dana Taylor:

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Laura, our colleague, Jim Sergent, felt moved to pen an op-ed on the performance. He wrote that he cried and that, “Maybe we saw that our troubles and dreams can connect us, how much more we could accomplish together. And maybe the politics and other divisions faded, at least for those few moments.” Do you think he’s right?

Laura Trujillo:

I definitely feel like for those three minutes or however long the song was, people were lost in it. It was just a moment where you didn’t think about anything else but the beauty of it and how happy Tracy Chapman looked performing, how incredible Luke looked getting to perform with her. And you think about it, these are different generations, different genres, different races performing together. And I don’t think anyone thinks it’s the simple solution that they sing together, and look, everyone’s happy. But it was a moment to say, where are we the same, not where are we different. And a lot of that divisiveness, I think, that we’ve seen a lot of times within country music disappeared for those moments, and I think that was really lovely and people crave that moment right now.

Dana Taylor:

Social media, as I mentioned, went crazy over the performance. And quite a few of the people posting were talking about how they kept wanting to play the video over and over. Having a video go viral is one thing, but this national obsession with this one song, this one performance is something new. What do you think it says about the national mood?

Laura Trujillo:

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I think we all just are craving something good right now and something that unites us. We are so divided by politics and by so many other things. There’s so much like, I don’t know, economic disparity and so many things that pull us apart. And getting to hear this song and see two people who are so different being able to sing it together. Again, it’s not this kumbaya moment, but I think it was a small little symbol that we can do things, we can listen to each other. And I thought it really was what we needed.

Dana Taylor:

Well, other well-known artists have covered the song and live performances. Justin Bieber, Sam Smith and Khalid, all chose to cover that song Fast Car for BBC Radio 1. Clearly, the song is timeless. Why do you think it took a country recording to catapult the song back to the top of the charts, both the original version and Luke Combs version?

Laura Trujillo:

Well, one, I think because Luke released it. It wasn’t just a live performance, which is a lot of what had happened in the past. Like Luke had been singing that song at some of his concerts. But releasing it out there. Country also has such a huge audience right now. And so this song got such greater exposure than it had with Justin Bieber and some of the other people singing it. And it is really cool to be able to rediscover music. I think even me, I loved listening to Tracy Chapman in the ’80s. But truthfully, you move on, you listen to other music. And so sometimes, it takes either a re-recording, a re-release or someone else singing a song to bring it back to you.

I think what makes this one interesting is that it’s country versus maybe something else. And we know that there aren’t a lot of black artists who are making it in the country world right now. And so having Luke take that song and credit her, obviously, and being able to talk about how important that song was to him and how important Tracy Chapman was to him, I think was really good for everyone to know that he never claimed it as his song, that it was hers. And I think that introduced a lot of people to a new artist for them.

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Dana Taylor:

And quite a few commentators have noted that there’s something, a little denigrating perhaps, about needing a white man, in this case, Luke Combs, to elevate a song and a discussion created by a black woman. What are your thoughts here?

Laura Trujillo:

I mean, we’ve seen this unfortunately through history. You see it all the way back to… Well, I went to Sun Studios last summer and took the Elvis tour. And you learn, if you didn’t already know, that Hound Dog came from Big Mama Thornton. And this has happened throughout the years. And you do wonder in this case, so what if Allison Russell had saying this? What if Brandi Carlile had re-released this? Would it have gotten the same attention as a white man? And I don’t know. I think you can both celebrate the moment and also question, I don’t know if you want to say the motives, not the motives behind it, but the significance and what that means. I think you can do both.

And I think that’s what we should do, and that’s what good music should do is get us thinking about those questions and saying, okay, what is it? If this helps people rediscover Tracy Chapman, or for a lot of young people to discover her now, I think that’s a really good thing. I really hope they release this song together. I think the entire country is like, “Please release this song and let us hear it. Let us be able to buy it. Let us be able to stream it.

Yesterday, I did re-listen to the entire album, that debut album of Tracy Chapman, and there’s so many songs when you listen to it that are relevant today. I think of the one song about a revolution. Now, I think you have to be careful with that, with country music, maybe how some of the listeners may take the words from that song. But I think there are really important messages that Tracy had in 1988 on that album, aside from just Fast Car that people would love. So I would love… I don’t know if she can sing the songs with a lot of new artists, if she wants to sing the entire album with Luke, but I think it would be great to get it back out there again.

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Dana Taylor:

Social media is obviously a huge part of a celebrity’s interactions with their fans today. Tracy Chapman is famously reclusive. Is her public persona as someone who shuns the media spotlight part of a larger conversation about celebrity today?

Laura Trujillo:

I mean, I think it’s charming in this age when every celebrity talks directly to their fans from Instagram, and everything that they do is either they’ve shared or there are media or paparazzi who are sharing that. And so I think, in many ways, that was also what made Tracy Chapman’s appearance just so amazing. We didn’t know much about her. In a time when you feel like as much about some singers or celebrities as you do your own family, it is nice to just say, she sort of lets it be, “My work stands for itself. Here’s my song.”

And I think that’s a good question of how much do we need to know? How much of it is the artists that we like? How much of it is the personality that we like? And it will be interesting to see where this one goes. I did love though, just I haven’t seen her perform in so long, and just seeing her on stage and hearing her sing and look so happy was just, I think it was really good for the soul for everybody.

Dana Taylor:

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As we’ve said, Tracy Chapman hasn’t performed in public in years. And we may never know why she chose this moment. I’m going to take some of her lyrics out of context here. In her song, Baby Can I Hold You Tonight, she sings, “Maybe if I told you the right words at the right time, you’d be mine.” She found her moment again. Laura, how important is this moment in music?

Laura Trujillo:

I think it’s really important to see the genres connecting, the generations connecting and the races connecting. And so a lot of times, you do have maybe an older artist and a young artist connecting. But this had three different elements, and it also had a singer who hasn’t been in the public eye for a lot. And so all of that colliding at once, that made it so special.

Dana Taylor:

I wish I could have been with you at the Grammy Awards to see this live, but how lucky were we all to get to experience it at all. Thanks so much for being on The Excerpt, Laura.

Laura Trujillo:

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Thanks for talking to us.

Dana Taylor:

Thanks to our senior producers Shannon Rae Green and Bradley Glanzrock for their production assistance. Our executive producer is Laura Beatty. Let us know what you think of this episode by sending a note to podcasts@usatoday.com. Thanks for listening. I’m Dana Taylor. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with another episode of The Excerpt.

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