The Scoop: Grammy performance of ‘Fast Car’ is a PR coup

Plus: Target pulls Black History Month set from shelves; Meta’s Oversight Board hammers AI rule.  

An empty stage with blue lights.

The Grammy stage lights came up, revealing one expected face, that of Luke Combs, who was up for an award for his cover of “Fast Car.” 

But those lights also showed a surprise. Tracy Chapman, who wrote the song back in 1988, stood beside him, dressed all in black, bearing an acoustic guitar as she plucked the iconic opening notes of the song. 

Chapman hadn’t been announced as a performer, and the audience roared its approval.  

The two proceeded to play a beautiful duet of the song, trading lines and singing in harmony. It’s well worth a few minutes of your day to watch. 

The moment was great entertainment, but its meaning goes deeper than that. 

Chapman is Black, queer woman. Combs is a white, male country singer. His rendition of “Fast Car” topped the country charts and even charted as high as No. 2 on Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 chart, surpassing Chapman’s high of No. 6.  



That’s inspired some controversy and mixed feelings. As the Washington Post reported in July:  

“On one hand, Luke Combs is an amazing artist, and it’s great to see that someone in country music is influenced by a Black queer woman — that’s really exciting,” said Holly G, founder of the Black Opry, an organization for Black country music singers and fans. “But at the same time, it’s hard to really lean into that excitement knowing that Tracy Chapman would not be celebrated in the industry without that kind of middleman being a White man.” 

Chapman had officially blessed the song with a statement earlier this year: “I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there. I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’” 

Why it matters: This performance was a savvy PR move for both Chapman and Combs — and the Grammys, of course.  

Chapman’s brief statement was adequate to dispel some controversy, but appearing on stage showed her (literally) full-throated approval of the cover. It also gave Combs a chance to show her respect: She sang the first lines of the song and carried the bulk of the vocals. She accompanied on her guitar, playing the iconic melody. At the end of the piece, Combs made worshipful bowing motions while Chapman soaked in the applause from the industry’s biggest stars and beamed.  

It also helped introduce Chapman to audience members who may not have been familiar with her and proved a financial windfall: Almost instantly after the performance, her version of the song and her debut album both topped the iTunes charts, NPR reported. She also receives royalties from Combs’ version.  

Does this moment end the complex racial politics inherent in the American music scene? Certainly not. But both Chapman and Combs came out triumphant: Chapman through her willingness to step into the spotlight for a rare public appearance and Combs for his humility in acknowledging the woman responsible for his single’s success.  

And we all got to hear a smashing performance. 

Editor’s Top Reads: 

  • A Black History Month magnet set was pulled from Target shelves after a TikToker pointed out it incorrectly identified several prominent figures, including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson. Target issued a brief statement confirming the item had been pulled from shelves, the Minneapolis StarTribune reported, while the manufacturer, Bendon, remained silent. It’s a PR quandary: Target wasn’t responsible for the mistake, but it’s their name in all the headlines while Bendon will remain relatively unknown. 
  • Meta’s Oversight Board, an independent body funded by the social media giant, had harsh words for the company’s deepfake policy, calling it “incoherent,” according to CNBC. Its ruling centers around a video of President Joe Biden and his granddaughter, which was manipulated — albeit not by AI — to wrongly imply he is a pedophile. The board said that Meta was correct in leaving the video up under current rules, which only bar content manipulated by AI. But it hammered that rule, saying it “is lacking in persuasive justification, is incoherent and confusing to users, and fails to clearly specify the harms it is seeking to prevent.” The board urged the Meta to rewrite the rule to include different kinds of manipulation across video and audio files. Meta has said it already intends to do. An oversight board like this presents unique PR challenges, but also opportunities for an organization to show its responsiveness and willingness to respond to criticism in a way that improves the end product. 
  • New anti-spam rules from Google and Yahoo could keep useless messages from landing in your inbox — or make your marketing efforts harder. The Wall Street Journal reports that under new rules, mass emailers must “authenticate their own email addresses, include code with their emails that lets recipients unsubscribe with one click, and keep their spam complaint rate below an average of one per 1,000 emails.” Those who fail to adhere to those rules could see fewer emails delivered to inboxes. Hopefully your organization is already adhering to best practices, but these updates should cause you to pause before you hit that send button. Are you delivering useful messages to audiences you’ve earned the right to market to? 

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on or LinkedIn.


3 Responses to “The Scoop: Grammy performance of ‘Fast Car’ is a PR coup”

    Mike Magan says:

    This song is about the resilience of people who have to work their asses off just for a chance to succeed. Like it or love it that is America. Blue and Red. Black and White. Some people have a shorter or steeper hill to climb, bnut this song is a balm that can be used to heal the open wounds caused by the many class, political, spiritual and racial divisions tearing our country apart right now.

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