Iranian pop singer and songwriter Shervin Hajipour on Sunday won the first Grammy Award for Best Song for Social Change for his song “Baraye” which has become the unofficial anthem of the wave of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.
“Baraye” was posted by Hajipour on Instagram in September after Amini died while detained by Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing a loose headscarf. The song, which racked up more than 40 million views in 48 hours on Hajipour’s Instagram account, won a Grammy just as Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also on Sunday, reportedly ordered an amnesty or reduction in prison sentences for “tens of thousands” of people detained amid the nationwide anti-government protests, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.
Hajipour, 25, was arrested in Iran shortly after “Baraye” went viral. He is currently out on bail awaiting trial on charges that can carry as many as six years in prison and banned from leaving the country. He was thus unable to attend the Grammys.
During the ceremony the newly introduced Grammy for best song for social change was presented by U.S. first lady Jill Biden, who said “a song can unite, inspire and ultimately change the world.” She added that “Baraye” is “a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights” that continues to resonate across the world.
After the award was announced, Hajipour who until recently was a relatively obscure pop singer who had reached the final round of an Iranian talent show similar to “American Idol,” simply posted “We won” on his Instagram.
An online video appeared to show Hajipour in a darkened room watching the ceremony on TV surrounded by friends who cheered and hugged him as he wiped away tears after the announcement.
The lyrics to “Baraye” are taken entirely from messages that Iranians have posted online regarding their reasons for protesting: Each begins with the word baraye, which means “For …” or “Because of …” in Farsi. In the song, Hajipour sings lyrics such as, “For dancing in the streets, for kissing loved ones” and “for women, life, freedom,” which crowds have often chanted during the protests following Amini’s death.
There was no immediate reaction in Iranian state media or from government officials to Hajipour’s Grammy victory. The now popular Iranian singer is among more than 19,600 people who have been arrested during the demonstrations, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran. At least 527 people have been killed.
The amnesty announced on Sunday by the Iranian government has been dismissed by activists as mere propaganda.
“Khamenei’s hypocritical pardon doesn’t change anything,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights on Twitter. “Not only all protesters must be released unconditionally, but also it is a public right that those who ordered the bloody repression and their agents are held accountable.”
As previously reported by Variety, the newly introduced Grammy honor is “curated by a blue-ribbon committee” of music experts who decide which songs qualify and win. According to the Recording Academy, 95,000 of the 115,000 submissions they received were for “Baraye.”
In solidarity with the Iranian protests “Baraye” has been covered by international artists including Coldplay, Jon Batiste and German electronic artist Jan Blomqvist.