Unofficially billed as the virtual version of Live Aid, the 1985 fundraising telecast viewed by nearly 2 billion people, Saturday night’s multi-platform One World: Together at Home concert didn’t exactly have any breakout moments like Freddie Mercury riling the crowd or Mick Jagger removing Tina Turner’s skirt. The wildest surprise may have been Elton John singing “I’m Still Standing” seated beneath his sons’ backyard basketball hoop.
As quarantine entertainment goes, though, the two-hour TV special — and a smidgen of its online programming earlier in the day — felt like a real event. It had top-tier celeb power, no big technical glitches and many inspired if not ultimately memorable performances.
The “concert” was spearheaded by the poverty-fighting nonprofit Global Citizen and singer/actress Lady Gaga, who appeared in both the opening and closing performances in the main telecast — shown on all three of the big broadcast networks as well as across what co-host Jimmy Kimmel called “all those streaming platforms you’ve been promising to set up for your parents.”
Kimmel and his late-night counterparts Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert traded off introducing the performers, who included a screen-splitting Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Billie Eilish, Celine Dion, Eddie Vedder, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, John Legend, Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes (yes, together) and former Minneapolitan Lizzo.
A slew of other celebrities also pitched in with messages of hope and high praise for medical professionals, including Beyoncé, former first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, Ellen DeGeneres, Idris Elba and news anchors. At press time, the event had raised $128 million for health-care workers funds and (perhaps one reason Melania Trump did not also participate) the World Health Organization.
Here are some of the One World: Together at Home highlights. See video clips below.
Lady Gaga meets “Lady Madonna”: Gaga and McCartney both appeared near the top of the show singing from behind a piano. He sang a slowed-down version of the Beatles' piano-boogie classic, which he dedicated to his late mom’s World War II service and other nurses. She channeled Judy Garland and tugged at heart strings with the Charlie Chaplin “Modern Times” movie theme “Smile.”
Virtual Stones: The one “band” performance of the night had to be staged virtually but still had a kindred spirit to it. Mick launched into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” solo on acoustic guitar from his house and was casually joined in order via internet by Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and finally Charlie Watts. Poor Charlie looked uncomfortable tapping boxes and the air instead of real drums (which he probably couldn’t sync up right via the web), but at least he had a cool-looking study behind him.
True dedications: Emotions ran highest during Wonder and Swift’s respective performances on piano, both of whom sang with real people in mind. Stevie sang “Lean on Me” in tribute to its originator Bill Withers, who died April 3 of heart trouble but left maybe the quarantine’s most perfect anthem. Swift sang “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a new song about her mom’s cancer fight, which also sounded especially healing Saturday night.
The one non-virtual duet: The biggest attention-getter out of the telecast, at least for celeb-gossip sites, will probably be the Cabello and Mendes duet performance of Louis Armstrong's “What a Wonderful World” — not because it was rather sweetly done, but because the pop-star couple is clearly quarantining together. And they said it wouldn’t last …
Keith Urban’s hot new band: The Aussie countryman couldn’t get his significant other Nicole Kidman to pitch in musically (she waved at the end), so he looped three different videos of himself performing Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” and pieced them together as his own backing band. The bit actually worked better than some of the other synced-together performances, including John Legend’s and Sam Smith’s “Stand by Me” and the messy and tad mushy operatic finale with Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Lang Lang and Gaga.
The truly worldly tone: The cast throughout the afternoon webcast was widely international, highlighted by Colombian rocker Juanes’ moving support of South and Central America victims with his hopeful song “Más Futura Que Pasado.” Later during the telecast, reggae/hip-hop star Burna Boy performed from Nigeria to remind viewers of how hard the continent of Africa has been hit by COVID-19.
Race factors: Both Queen Bey and actress Kerry Washington used their on-screen time to talk about the virus’ disproportionate impact on African Americans and other minority groups, both through poorer access to testing and health care and from them making up a a higher share of the health-care work force.
Last but not Lizzo: Our former homie — whose palm-tree backdrop made it clear she’s not quarantining in Minnesota — channeled her childhood years of singing in the church in Detroit and Houston with her bellowing, all-in take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Here’s hoping the song was another case of Lizzo knowing what’s ahead.