BBC 2024-02-04 18:01:38


US says strikes on Iran-linked targets just ‘the beginning’ of response

Will Vernon

BBC News, Washington DC

The White House National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan,
has done a round of interviews on the US networks’ Sunday shows.

He’s been
commenting on the US airstrikes on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria on
Friday, as well as the ongoing joint military action with the UK and other
nations against the Houthi group in Yemen.

Sullivan drew a distinction between the two military
campaigns. The action against the Houthis, he said, is linked to the threat to
Red Sea shipping. The group’s attacks on commercial and military vessels off
the coast of Yemen have disrupted global trade in one of the world’s busiest
shipping lanes.

But the strikes on Iranian-backed facilities and groups in Iraq and
Syria were about sending “a strong message about the United States’ firm
resolve to respond when our forces are attacked”. The national security adviser
reiterated that these strikes are part of a continuing campaign and more should
be expected – something White House officials have said several times in the
past few days.

When questioned, Sullivan also refused to rule out
direct military strikes on Iran itself. He said it “would not be wise” to
discuss publicly what Washington has “ruled in and ruled out” in terms of
military action. So far, the US has refrained from hitting targets on Iranian
territory for fears of provoking a wider escalation in the Middle East.

Iran says US strikes are a ‘strategic mistake’

Iran has called US air strikes on Iraq and Syria a “strategic mistake” after 85 targets were hit across the region on Friday.

The US launched retaliatory strikes in response to last week’s drone attack on a US military base that killed three American soldiers.

The White House blamed the drone attack on an Iran-backed militia group.

The US and UK also launched a new round of joint strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday.

Iran’s foreign ministry said the strikes on Iraq and Syria “will have no result other than intensifying tensions and instability in the region”.

Earlier, Iraq said the US retaliatory strikes would bring “disastrous consequences” for the region.

At least 16 people, including civilians, were killed as a result of the strikes, Iraqi officials said.

A spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister said the strikes were a “violation” of his country’s sovereignty and that they would impact “the security and stability of Iraq and the region”.

While Syria said the US “occupation” of Syrian territory “cannot continue”.

According to a US military statement, the US struck Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militias in Iraq and Syria.

Several US aircraft were involved, including long-range bombers that flew over from the US.

Seven locations were hit – four in Syria and three in Iraq – with more than 85 targets being struck, the US military said.

There have been no strikes on Iranian soil.

Since Friday’s US strikes in Iraq and Syria, there has been one attack on American forces, a US defence official told the BBC’s US partner CBS News.

The attack in question targeted US forces based at the Mission Support Site Euphrates in Syria using rockets, but no injuries were reported.

  • What we know about US retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria

President Joe Biden said the US attacks “will continue at times and places of our choosing” but added his country “does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world”.

The strikes come after three US troops were killed and dozens injured in a drone attack on a US base near Jordan’s border with Syria.

US officials said the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an Iranian-backed militia group, was responsible for the attack. The drone was Iranian-made, they said, and similar to the ones being supplied to Russia.

The militant organisation – an umbrella group of multiple militias – is believed to have been armed, funded and trained by the IRGC.

Iran has denied any role in the attack on the US base, saying it was “not involved in the decision making of resistance groups”.

A spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry said US strikes on Iraq, Syria and Yemen “merely provide for the goals of the Zionist regime”, referring to US ally Israel.

Russia has called for an “urgent” meeting of the UN Security Council “over the threat to peace and safety created by US strikes on Syria and Iraq”, Moscow’s diplomat at the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, said on social media.

Russia – a permanent council member – has become a close ally of Iran.

The US attacks came several hours after Mr Biden attended a repatriation ceremony for William Rivers, 46, Kennedy Sanders, 24, and Breonna Moffett, 23, who died in the attack last weekend.

More than 40 other service members were injured in the same drone attack, which struck the US Tower 22 base.

US Republicans criticised the timing of the retaliatory strikes, saying that the US had waited too long to strike back. American officials said any hold up was due to cloudy weather obstructing targets.

Some foreign policy experts believe the delay allowed Iran to withdraw personnel, potentially avoiding a wider conflict between the US and Iran.

Namibia President Hage Geingob dies aged 82

Namibia’s President Hage Geingob has died at the age of 82 while receiving medical treatment at a hospital in the capital, Windhoek.

A veteran of the country’s independence struggle, Mr Geingob had been diagnosed with cancer and revealed the details to the public last month.

He died early on Sunday with his wife and children by his side, Vice-President Nangolo Mbumba announced.

Mr Mbumba has since been sworn-in as his replacement.

He will serve in the role until elections due later this year.

“I take on this heavy mantle cognisant of the weight of responsibility,” Mr Mbumba said at a swiftly arranged swearing-in ceremony at state house in Windhoek, just 15 hours after the death of Mr Geingob.

Paying tribute to his predecessor, he said that “our nation remains calm and stable owing to the leadership of President Geingob who was the chief architect of the constitution”.

Mr Geingob was first sworn-in as president in 2015, but had served in top political positions since independence in 1990.

The exact cause of his death was not given but last month he underwent “a two-day novel treatment for cancerous cells” in the US before flying back home on 31 January, his office had said.

On Namibian radio, people have been sharing memories of someone they described as a visionary as well as a jovial man, who was able to share a joke.

Leaders from around the world have been sending condolence messages with many talking about Mr Geingob’s efforts to ensure his country’s freedom.

Among them has been Cyril Ramaphosa, president of neighbouring South Africa, who described him as “a towering veteran of Namibia’s liberation from colonialism and apartheid”.

Mr Geingob, a tall man with a deep, gravelly voice and a commanding presence was a long-serving member of the Swapo party. It led the movement against apartheid South Africa, which had effectively annexed the country, then known as South West Africa, and introduced its system of legalised racism that excluded black people from political and economic power.

Mr Geingob lived in exile for 27 years, spending time in Botswana, the US and the UK, where he studied for a PhD in politics.

He came back to Namibia in 1989, a year before the country gained independence.

“Looking back, the journey of building a new Namibia has been worthwhile,” he wrote on social media in 2020 while sharing a picture of him kissing the ground on his return.

“Even though we have made a lot of progress in developing our country, more work lies ahead to build an inclusive society.”

When Mr Geingob first became president in 2015, he had already been the country’s longest-serving prime minister – in the post for 12 years from 1990 and then again for a shorter stint in 2012.

But going by results at the ballot box, his popularity had declined.

In the 2014 election, he won a huge majority, taking 87% of the vote. But five years later that had fallen to 56%.

Mr Geingob’s first term coincided with a stagnant economy and high levels of unemployment and poverty, according to the World Bank.

His party also faced a number of corruption scandals during his time in office. This included what became known as “fishrot”, where ministers and top officials were accused of taking bribes in exchange for the awarding of lucrative fishing quotas.

By 2021, three-quarters of the population thought that the country was going in the wrong direction, a three-fold increase since 2014, according to independent polling organisation Afrobarometer.

Three decades after independence, the heroic narrative of Swapo having liberated the country was losing its appeal among a generation born after the event, long-time observer of Namibian politics Henning Melber wrote in 2021.

Swapo, in power since independence, had chosen Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah as its presidential candidate for November’s planned elections.

She has now been appointed vice-president and will become the country’s first female president if she wins.

Seven of Venice’s most picture-perfect photo ops

Getty photographer Stefano Mazzola offers the most photo-worthy ops in his native Venice, from the sea of parked gondolas in Bacino Orseolo to sunrises at Ponte dell’Accademia.
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Ancient candy-coloured Venice, Italy, is among the world’s most uniquely beautiful cities, and is also one of the most photographed. Millions gather each year to gaze at the gondolas gliding through its otherworldly canals as they pack themselves onto romantic bridges and throng its magnificent piazzas – all eager to get that one perfect picture in a picture-perfect place.

Overtourism is this gorgeous city’s scourge, the SOS on the flip side of the postcard. So how to enjoy your visit and get great photos – without getting an elbow in the face or inconveniencing the locals? 

We spoke to Venetian native, Getty photographer Stefano Mazzola, for his niche take. His tip: visit the iconic wonders at dawn or after sunset, when the day trippers have fled, and then embrace Venice’s peculiarities. “Water is the crucial element,” said Mazzola. “The tide comes in for six hours, it’s slack for one hour, and then it ebbs for six hours… it’s a city that changes every hour because of the changes in the water and the light.”

Mazzola takes visitors on Venice photo walks to discover the city’s most iconic treasures, as well as its exquisite quirks. “Yes, of course, go see the Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), the prisons, Piazza San Marco,” he advised. “But don’t spend 10 hours [there]. Explore. Go for a walk. Get lost. Go get lost with your partner, with a friend. Stop every hour to have a glass of wine or a cicchetto [Venetian tapas] and keep walking… That’s how you’re going to discover the most hidden gems, the street corners, the most beautiful things.”

Venice is a walkable jewel, its six sestieri (districts) easily crossed by foot or canal using one of the city’s vaporetti (waterbuses). Here is photographer Stefano Mazzola’s list of the most photo-worthy scenes in Venice.

Mazzola’s favourite place to see – and photograph – the Venetian dawn is from the Ponte dell’Accademia overlooking the Grand Canal (Credit: Cavan Images/Alamy)

1. Best for catching the sunrise: Ponte dell’Accademia

“There are two Venices,” said Mazzola. “The touristy Venice that runs from Piazza San Marco to the Rialto Bridge that’s invaded from 09:00 in the morning to 06:00 or 07:00 in the afternoon. [It’s], for me as a Venetian, unlivable. The real Venice, the one of the high quarters, is still gorgeous.”

Getting an early start is the key to snapping great photos in this heavily touristed city – without someone’s head in the frame. Mazzola’s pick for experiencing daybreak is Ponte dell’Accademia.

The mammoth wooden structure arching across the Grand Canal is one of Venice’s four principal bridges, and according to Mazzola, offers a unique view as the light shimmers over the rainbow-hued buildings.

“If you’re on the Ponte dell’Accademia, looking towards the Grand Canal, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti is the first building on the left,” said Mazzola. “You can get images at sunrise with the first rays of light on the Grand Canal and this amazing building on the left and the Basilica [di Santa Maria] della Salute on the right of the Grand Canal. It’s lovely.”

Sunrise is the best time to observe gondolas and gondoliers in their natural habitat – just head to Bacino di San Marco or Bacino Orseolo (Credit: EM_prize/Alamy)

2. Best for observing gondolas and gondoliers: Bacino di San Marco and Bacino Orseolo

The gondolier – gondoliere/a in Italian – is an iconic figure yet shrouded in myth. If you want to get an unfettered look at gondolas, Mazzola suggests heading – once again, at dawn – to Bacino di San Marco, the city’s main harbour on the lagoon, where gondolas park at night. “With the Palazzo Ducale behind you, you can shoot three, five, seven gondolas depending on how wide your lens is, with the Island of San Giorgio in the background,” said Mazzola.

But to witness the gondoliers themselves in their natural state, Mazzola loves visiting Bacino Orseolo. “It’s a minute away from Piazza San Marco,” he said. “The gondolas that work in that area park there all night in that little basin. If you go in the morning at 07:30 or 08:00, you’ll find 30, 35 gondolas all shuttered in the same place. The guys who clean them [start] taking off the tarps and cleaning the gondolas one by one. [It’s] also lovely because the guys who are cleaning the gondolas will be chatting in Venetian. It’s a welcoming place. It’s a place where you see the real Venice.”

Head up the dazzling spiral staircase of the Venetian Gothic Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo to see Mazzola’s favourite panorama of Venice (Credit: heinstirred/Getty Images)

3. Best for seeing the panorama of Venice: Scala Contarini del Bovolo

“In Venetian, bovolo means spiral,” explained Mazzola. “[The palace] is halfway between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge… and it’s unique because this spiral staircase is fantastic. You walk up all these stairs which take you up to the panoramic terrace of this palace which [has] all these arches at 360 degrees, circular. You can see all of Venice.”

The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is a 15th-Century building built by the noble Contarini family in the Venetian Gothic style, tucked away in a quiet side street near Campo Manin. “It’s amazing for taking photos because you can take a shot of two arches with a slice of San Marco inside,” said Mazzola. “Or two other arches that capture the Basilica dei Frari, and you can see all of Venice from up there. It’s a beautiful hidden gem.”

One of the best ways to see Venice is visiting its “higher” districts like the Sestieri di San Polo e Santa Croce (Credit: Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo) )

4. Best for secret alleyways: i Sestieri di San Polo e Santa Croce

Some of Venice’s greatest beauties lie in small details. During the day, while tourists swarm the city centre, Mazzola suggests crossing the Rialto Bridge and heading to the sestieri San Polo and Santa Croce.

“They’re full of little labyrinths,” Mazzola said. “In Venice, the word for street isn’t via but calle, and this area is made of these tiny narrow streets. I can show people around for two hours, but we never get very far from where we started. And we never see the same place twice!”

The Sestieri di San Polo e Santa Croce are two bordering neighbourhoods rarely frequented by tourists and are home to medieval architecture and thriving fish, meat and green markets. “It’s lovely because every two minutes you find this beautiful corner, this beautiful reflection or some crooked bridge, as gondolas are passing,” said Mazzola. “At the border of San Polo and Santa Croce, there’s a square that I think is marvellous; Campo San Boldo. [It’s] been the subject of many paintings, many films… There’s a well in the middle. There’s a belltower that’s missing the tip. There’s a canal that runs along it with the [crooked] Ponte Storto bridge curving around… it’s so beautiful. And almost no one goes there.”

Corte Nuova is just one street in Venice where you can witness a rainbow of laundry hung out to dry for a peek into daily Venetian life (Credit: Matthias Scholz/Alamy Stock Photo)

5. Best for witnessing a slice of Venetian life: Corte Nuova

When many visitors think of Venice, they picture a gondolier paddling through canals, but Venetians think of laundry being hung to dry in the sun. “It’s prohibited to hang your laundry out to dry in Venice in the [heavily touristed] sestiere of San Marco,” said Mazzola. “You have to keep your laundry inside. But not in the other districts. In Castello, there’s a street called Corte Nuova, and it’s fantastic because every morning whenever it’s sunny the women who live on this street hang out their laundry to dry. The street becomes multi-coloured.”

Many Italian cities ban the practice of hanging laundry out to dry in touristy areas, but line drying laundry is one of the most Italian-core customs, even in romantic Venice, where you’ll catch powdery whiffs of Marseille soap as you pass through the calle. “You see sheets, shirts, you see all the laundry, all the washing, and it’s amazing. It’s very famous,” said Mazzola. “Castello is an area full of Venetians so it’s part of daily life. If you go to San Marco, you won’t hear anyone speaking Venetian. You’ll hear German, English, Russian, Chinese. If you go to Castello, you’ll hear Venetian.”

The Arsenale military zone is Mazzola’s pick for experiencing the best sunsets in Venice (Credit: Catuncia/Getty Images)

6. Best for capturing the sunset: the Arsenale di Venezia

A bridge on the Grand Canal may be the best place in Venice to see the sunrise, but you’ll see wonderful sunsets from the shore of the Arsenale di Venezia – the city’s military zone. “That’s also in the Castello district,” said Mazzola. “Inside the Arsenale, the walls are closed and that’s the military area of Venice where the Venetians once constructed warships. Nowadays, we have the military marina inside the Arsenale.”

While a military zone may seem like a rather unromantic spot to experience the sunset, Mazzola explains: “It’s because the sun sets behind San Marco. You go to get that shot of the last sun with a part of the Piazza San Marco with the tower. So, you see all the water, you see the start of the Grand Canal, on the right you see Piazza San Marco. And then you see the sunset.

The Rialto Bridge connects the sestieri of San Polo and San Marco, and is one of Venice’s most impressive and visited landmarks (Credit: westend61/Getty Images)

7. Best classic Venice shot: the Rialto Bridge

Few images of Venice are as indelible as the stunning Rialto Bridge, with its steep pointed roof and graceful arches, curving over the Grand Canal. Rebuilt several times since the 12th Century, the current stone bridge has been a fixture in daily Venetian life since the late 1600s, and a magnet for every visitor to Venice since.

“If you go at 07:00 in the morning, you’ll just find two people so you can take photos and it’s nice,” said Mazzola. “But if you go at noon or at [15:00] in the afternoon, you’ll find 200 people taking selfies and in my opinion it’s no longer enjoyable.” He added wistfully: “The places are all marvellous. But to appreciate them you have to visit them at certain times of day.”

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How Joni Mitchell forged a path for Taylor Swift

Today’s biggest musical stars routinely bare their souls in songs – but women are still often judged for revealing too much. Joni Mitchell – performing at tonight’s Grammys – helped lay the groundwork for intimate female songwriting.
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On Sunday night, the great and the good of the music world will gather in downtown Los Angeles for the 66th Annual Grammy Awards. This year, female artists are set to dominate, with Taylor Swift, SZA, Olivia Rodrigo, boygenius, Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus each up for multiple gongs. If Swift takes home the best album award for Midnights, she’ll make history as the first ever artist to win it four times. If SZA beats her to it, she will be the first black woman to win the award in 25 years.

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But one of the most anticipated moments of the night will come from an artist who won her first Grammy more than half a century ago. Joni Mitchell – a nine-time winner – will perform at the show for the first time in her career, aged 80. It comes in the same week as she announced two shows at the Hollywood Bowl later this year.

Both of these are somewhat of a surprise – though welcome ones. In 2015 Mitchell had a brain aneurysm that left her temporarily unable to walk or talk. She hadn’t performed live since 2002, and her health struggles suggested she never would again. So her recent return to the stage (a live recording of her surprise appearance at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival is nominated for best folk album) feels miraculous. Yet her performance at the Grammys isn’t just significant for what it represents – an incredible story of resilience – but because of the influence she’s had on many of the artists who will be in the room with her.

SZA described her 2021 song Joni as ‘a trap song from the perspective of Joni Mitchell’ (Credit: Getty Images)

Lana Del Rey has frequently peppered her songs with Joni references. Phoebe Bridgers – one third of boygenius – has cited Mitchell as one of her biggest influences, as has Olivia Rodrigo. SZA’s 2021 track Joni is a tribute to the singer. Then, of course, there is Taylor Swift, whose 2012 album Red is thought to be partly inspired by Joni’s 1971 album Blue, and who shares an inclination towards emotionally candid lyrics. Last year’s album of the year winner – Harry Styles’s Harry’s House – takes its name from a Mitchell track. Joni may have been largely away from the limelight for some time, but her presence in the music industry is felt all around.

Early years

Born in Canada in 1943, Joni reached her mid-twenties having already experienced more than most: surviving polio, giving her child up for adoption, and leaving her first marriage to folk singer Chuck Mitchell. Songwriting became her way to process what she was going through. She released her first album Song to a Seagull in 1968. Her second, Clouds, won her a Grammy for best folk album and propelled her into the public eye.

But fame made her feel claustrophobic – as did domesticity. In 1970 she left her lover Graham Nash – who wanted to marry her – and ran away to Europe. “My grandmother was a frustrated poet and musician,” Mitchell explained in 2003 documentary A Woman of Heart and Mind. “She kicked the kitchen door off the hinges on the farm. As much as I loved and cared for Graham, I just thought, I’m gonna end up like my grandmother, kicking the door off the hinges.”

Mitchell told Rolling Stone, ‘I guess I really started singing when I had polio. Neil [Young] and I both got polio in the same Canadian epidemic’ (Credit: Getty Images)

Mitchell had a vision for her life and her art, and pursued it fearlessly – ripping up the rulebook for what was expected of women at the time. “I wanna wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive,” she sang on All I Want, the opening track of her fourth studio album, Blue. The record is widely considered her masterpiece – and the one in which she lays herself most bare. She wrote about her relationship with Nash, affairs with James Taylor and Cary Raditz (who she met in the caves of Matala, Crete), of feeling heartbroken, homesick, lonely. On Little Green, she sings about the child “born with the moon in cancer” that she gave up (Mitchell was eventually reunited with her daughter in the 1990s).

“I was demanding of myself a deeper and greater honesty, more and more revelation in my work,” she said in A Woman of Heart and Mind. Mitchell felt she owed it to her audience to make music that “strikes against the very nerves of their life… and in order to do that you have to strike against the very nerves of your own”. It wasn’t just the lyrics that wrung out every drop of feeling, but the music too, with Joni “twisting the knobs on the guitar until I could get these chords that I heard inside that suited me – they feel like my feelings.”

Talking to Cameron Crowe for Rolling Stone in 1979, Mitchell said: “I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes.” It was this radical transparency – rare at the time – that made people feel such an intense connection to her music. She has said: “I have, on occasion, sacrificed myself and my own emotional makeup… singing ‘I’m selfish and I’m sad’, for instance. We all suffer for our loneliness, but at the time of Blue, our pop stars never admitted these things.”

Mitchell continued to write intensely personal songs, while also experimenting with different musical styles – jazz, world music and, in the 80s, synth-rock. A recurrent theme in her music was her struggle between two desires: love and independence. Her 1974 album Court and Spark finds her adrift at Hollywood soirees, “living on nerves and feelings, with a weak and a lazy mind” (People’s Parties). On the album’s Down to You, she grapples with the flip side of freedom, where “Everything comes and goes, marked by lovers and styles of clothes.”

On Amelia, a song from 1976 fan favourite Hejira, Mitchell finds common ground with aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, expressing how lonely it can feel chasing your dreams. “Maybe I’ve never really loved, I guess that is the truth, I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes.”

Not everyone appreciated her emotional honesty. On first hearing Blue, Kris Kristofferson famously told her: “Joni! Keep something for yourself!”. In a 2022 interview with Elton John, Mitchell said her lyrics made people nervous. “People thought that it was too intimate,” she said. “I think it upset the male singer-songwriters. They’d go, ‘Oh no. Do we have to bare our souls like this now?'”

Revealing lyrics

While disconcerting to some, Mitchell’s radically honest lyrics changed how people wrote songs, encouraging others to dig deeper. Stevie Nicks, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Carly Simon and Elvis Costello have all cited her as an inspiration. Morrissey, interviewing her for Rolling Stone in 1997 said: “I think you’re the greatest lyricist that ever lived.” Björk credited her as the first who “had the guts to set up a world driven by extreme female emotion“.

According to Bjork, Mitchell ‘created an all-female universe with intuition, wisdom, intelligence, craftsmanship, and courage’ (Credit: Getty Images)

More than 50 years on from Blue, today’s biggest musical stars routinely lay themselves bare in their songs – but women are still often judged for revealing too much. Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Lana Del Ray are labelled “confessional” – a description that Joni herself hated, believing it sounded like she was being forced to admit something against her will.

Swift, especially, knows something about having her music dismissed for being too personal. Last year, in a written prologue to the re-released 1989, she called out “the trivialisation of my songwriting as if it were a predatory act of a boy-crazy psychopath”.

The singer was once rumoured to be playing Joni in a biopic of the singer’s life. Mitchell apparently “squelched” the idea, saying: “All you’ve got is a girl with high cheekbones.” But the two share more than just great bone structure – with Swift clearly influenced by the specificity of Mitchell’s lyrics.

Swift has picked out Mitchell’s song River, ‘which is just about her regrets and doubts of herself’ (Credit: Getty Images)

Swift says Blue is her favourite Mitchell album because “it explores somebody’s soul so deeply” including “her deepest pains and most haunting demons.” Cross-reference that with Swift talking about her own album, Red: “Musically and lyrically [it] resembled a heartbroken person… a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end.”

For Swift and others, Mitchell left another important blueprint: that of a female artist totally in charge of her career; whether by owning the publishing rights to her music from the start, painting her own album covers, switching musical styles, or standing up to streaming services like Spotify (in 2022 Mitchell pulled her music from the platform in protest at Joe Rogan’s podcast), Joni has always done things her own way.

By singing at this year’s Grammys, she’s again proving her doubters wrong, and delighting the many people there who owe her a creative debt. Whether, like her, they’ll still be enrapturing audiences in 50 years’ time, is less certain.

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