Our Favorite Moment, Part 2: Jennifer Hudson’s ‘Hallelujah’
Jennifer Hudson doesn’t just know how to build a performance. She understands how to gracefully ascend each holy measure. And Leonard Cohen didn’t just know how to build a song. He could enter it as if pushing through synagogue doors on a Saturday. Combined, two brilliant artists generated enough spiritual energy to lift the whole internet.
Dressed casually and wearing long braids, Hudson sang with a trio of backing vocalists and a keyboardist. Despite the rectangles separating them, their voices wove through the song’s dozen or more hallelujahs in mesmerizing harmony.
Best, Hudson sang one of the oft-skipped verses, but changed Cohen’s lyrics in the process. His original line, “Maybe there’s a God above,” suggests a certain luke-warmness. Hudson grabbed the line by the throat: “I KNOW that there’s a God above,” she sang with certainty, “But all I’ve ever learned from love / Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.”
It was a fierce, mesmerizing rendition, one that shot down from the satellites and into millions of quarantined homes around the world.
We needed reminders of what’s on the other side of COVID-19
The “One World: Together at Home” not-a-foundraiser, not-a-telethon all-star concert was a genuinely heartfelt and effective moment for people to come together, even beyond the $50 million raised for the World Health Organization. It’s important to remember all the good things in life that will be there for us on the other end of this — music, gatherings and the now-incomprehensible joys of getting a beer spilled on you by a seatmate at a concert.
As this drags on though, one can’t help but also feel angry: at the disinformation, political failures and myopia from individuals and officials alike. But thank you Elton, Kacey, Stevie and everyone who performed tonight for the ray of optimism that we will get through it, and that it’s worth the days trapped inside and the lives on the line to get us back to where we should be.
Our Favorite Moment, Part 1: Jennifer Lopez’s ‘People’
Give it up, everyone, for Jennifer Lopez, who offered a taste of one of the many things waiting for us after the pandemic finally ends: a return to razzle-dazzle.
Love and respect to the many superstars going low-key for livestreams these days, but Lopez’s high-wattage take on “People” — originally popularized, of course, by Barbra Streisand, the razzle-dazzliest of them all — was an oh-so-welcome reminder of how pop stars behaved (and looked) before this godforsaken virus — and of how their music invited us along to that elevated plane.
Someday we’ll thrill again.
Lady Gaga, Andrea Bocelli, Lang Lang, Celine Dion and John Legend close with a prayer
Perhaps it’s only fitting that Global Citizen’s “One World: Together at Home” concert closed with a prayer.
Superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang introduced the event’s final song with the gentle melody for “The Prayer,” a song written for the 1998 film “Quest for Camelot.” Soon a global collaboration unfolded as Canadian Celine Dion, Italian Andrea Bocelli, New Yorker Lady Gaga and Ohioan John Legend joined in.
Swapping lines as if they were sharing a microphone, the group offered a wish. Though likely a plea to a God, it could very well have been a prayer to Dr. Anthony Fauci:
I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go
And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe.
Taylor Swift channels the pain of many
A song of private pain became an expression of collective grief when Taylor Swift performed “Soon You’ll Get Better” near the end of Saturday’s “One World: Together At Home” special.
On Swift’s “Lover” album from last year, the country-inflected piano ballad (with backing vocals from the Dixie Chicks) is about the singer’s desperation to see her mother recover from cancer. Here, though, in a touching solo rendition with Swift accompanying herself on piano, the lyrics about “holy orange bottles” and “doctor’s office lighting” could only summon thoughts of those suffering from COVID-19 — and of their worried loved ones.
“What am I supposed to do if there’s no you?” Swift sang, close to tears but with a trace of anger to which way too many can no doubt relate.
Billie Eilish, a very old soul
Billie Eilish is at the cutting edge of modern pop, but she and her brother/producer Finneas reached deep into the well of old soul for their turn in the round.
Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” came out in 1963, and went on to be a songbook staple for that era of R&B. It was maybe an unexpected choice for Eilish, who in a different epoch swept all major categories at the Grammys this year. But she handled it marvelously from beside Finneas’ keyboard in a perfectly-appointed Old Hollywood living room. She imbued its refrain with the homebound desperation of the last few weeks: “Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain / Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain.”
Eilish always had range beyond what her mutated-pop albums suggest, but what a welcome sound to hear her reaching back in time, for an incandescent reminder that brighter days will come again.
John Legend and Sam Smith duet on ‘Stand by Me’
Neither John Legend nor Sam Smith were messing around during their quarantine collaboration of “Stand by Me.” Though in separate locations, they were connected by their confident deliveries and Grammy trophies visible in both singers’ homes. (You have to store them somewhere, right?) Made popular by Ben E. King, the devotional “Stand by Me” is not to be mistaken with Smith’s similarly titled song of devotion, “Stay With Me.”
Jennifer Lopez brings superstar sparkle to the livestream era
Nobody — and I mean nobody — expected Jennifer Lopez to barge into Saturday’s “One World: Together at Home” special and steal the show with a knockout performance of Barbra Streisand’s signature song.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Perched outdoors amid a carefully designed tableau of twinkle lights and super-sized candles — you can’t tell me J. Lo didn’t hire a cinematographer for this — the singer and actor told us that what the pandemic has taught her is how much we need each other. Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she sang the stuffing out of “People,” the great Jule Styne/Bob Merrill ballad that Streisand introduced more than a half-century ago in “Funny Girl.”
It wasn’t just that Lopez sounded great, though; it was that she brought a level of superstar sparkle at a moment when we’ve all grown accustomed to the shabby-chic aesthetic of our new livestream era.
Hair? Perfect. Makeup? Flawless. Wardrobe? The woman was wearing a Coach x Richard Bernstein sweatshirt with Streisand’s face on it, for God’s sake. (It can be yours for $225.)
I’mma let you finish, Taylor Swift. But Jennifer Lopez had one of the best Global Citizen videos of all time!
Burna Boy advocates for Africa
It must be harrowing to watch from Africa as COVID-19 sweeps the globe, knowing that health infrastructure all over the continent is facing such an enormous, multifaceted burden. Attention on those particular challenges is sorely necessary now and in the months to come. Burna Boy, the brash and jubilant north star of African pop right now, has written pointedly about government failures in his native Nigeria. But Burna used his hits “African Giant” and “Omo” to advocate for the world’s attention on behalf of a whole continent facing a plague unlike any other.
Three Keith Urbans and one Nicole Kidman do Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’
Fans of Keith Urban were treated to a threesome during his take on “Higher Love.” Covering Steve Winwood’s 1986 smash hit, Urban appeared alone at first, strumming an acoustic guitar in his gear room. But when a metronomic rhythm pattern kicked in, a second Urban stepped in to add a bassline.
Then a third Keith Urban on acoustic guitar! Three Keith Urbans, all in a row, dancing and singing and letting it go. And then, lo! Keith Urban’s wife made a cameo: Nicole Kidman stepped in, said hello!
The Rolling Stones, each on his own
And here I thought they might do "(I Can’t Get No) Interaction.”
Instead of quarantine-izing one of their biggest hits, the four principals of the Rolling Stones — each in his own close-up from his own palatial rock-star estate — performed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It was an odd choice, perhaps, given the song’s famously elaborate choral part — and President Trump’s repeated use of the song at his rallies.
But there was no denying how alive these guys sounded (particularly Mick Jagger) in a stilted technological format with little connection to, y’know, the way rock ‘n’ roll used to be made.
Special shout-out to 78-year-old Charlie Watts, whose droll air-drumming is precisely the lift we need right now.
Lizzo showcases her pipes
Lizzo is such a multivalent performer that we don’t always pay as much attention to her singing as we should. But that wasn’t the case in her churchy rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which reminded you how good she can be even minus the jokes and physical comedy that make her such a welcome presence in modern pop.
Eddie Vedder plays ‘River Cross’ (and shows off some platform boots)
Performing in a room seemingly designed by Tim Burton and arranged by Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder accompanied himself on organ for a version of Pearl Jam’s “River Cross.” As candles flicked behind him, Vedder’s husky tone bellowed about “living beneath a lion’s paw,” thunderclouds and a government that “thrives on discontent.” The song closes the band’s new album, “Gigaton.”
Easter egg alert: On the mantle behind Vedder were an awe-inspiring pair of Elton John-style silver platform shoes with Vedder’s initials on them.
Beyoncé and Alicia Keys tell the truth about race and COVID-19
Finally, someone spoke up about how black Americans have, troublingly, been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. No surprise that it was Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, two of pop music’s main voices of conscience today. The underlying conditions that COVID-19 can exacerbate, like asthma and hypertension, indeed affect black Americans at higher rates. In California, black Americans suffer COVID-19 deaths at twice the rate of their population in the state. On a telecast devoted to general uplift, Beyoncé and Keys were necessary messengers that we’re all in this together, but not all in the same ways.
A peek inside Camila and Shawn’s ‘Wonderful World’
There was no social distancing whatsoever to Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s duet on “What a Wonderful World,” which the two lovebirds delivered while snuggled up on a piano bench in what looked like a dimly lighted lovers’ lounge.
Kacey Musgraves offers intimate take on ‘Rainbow’
With her camera set close enough to suggest she were sitting across the table from us, Kacey Musgraves presented her optimistic ballad “Rainbow” while accompanying herself on piano. To her right, a jar of paintbrushes and a transparent ukulele; behind her, spring foliage through a window.
A song written to someone “stuck out in the same old storm” of depression, Musgraves sang about maintaining hope despite “the struggle of staying above the rising water line,” a feeling that millions will be facing for months or years to come. “If you could see what I see, you’d be blinded by the colors,” she sang. “Yellow, red and orange and green, and at least a million others / So tie up the bow, take off your coat and take a look around.”
Elton John’s piano, ‘Still Standing’ in his yard
Elton John may have had the tail end of his career-farewell tour thrown askew by COVID-19, but he obviously hasn’t lost his zest for playing live. A jaunty run through “I’m Still Standing” was a statement piece for him, for us, and for anyone manning the boards on this broadcast right now.
Bonus points for the excellent ad-hoc set-dressing work for whoever wheeled Elton’s piano outside into the yard, and dropped it right in front a pile of basketball gear.
Paul McCartney’s ode to health-care workers
A bit of advocacy from Sir Paul McCartney: “Let’s tell our leaders we need them to strengthen our health-care systems.”
That’s how the former Beatle introduced a stripped-down but funky take on “Lady Madonna,” which he dedicated to medical workers like his mother, he said, who’d been a nurse and midwife after World War II.
Bonus points for the Cute One for clearly not having had his hair dyed while in quarantine.
Never leave us, Stevie Wonder
The singer-songwriter Bill Withers’ death came right at the moment we most needed a song like “Lean on Me.” Time is cruel to all of us, that way.
But right now we still have Stevie Wonder, maybe the last pure thing on the planet and the only singer whose aspirations for a gentler world seem plausible today. He played “Lean on Me” from his old friend Withers, and his own “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” of which it most certainly is.
There’s no voice I’d rather hear right now than Wonder’s, even at a video-conferenced pick-me-up rally in the midst of a global pandemic. I can’t think what we’ll ever do without it, but mercifully that day is not today.
Lady Gaga opens the big show with ‘Smile’
Lady Gaga channeled some happily recovered “A Star Is Born” vibes to open the broadcast portion of Saturday’s “One World: Together At Home” special.
Seated at a candle-strewn piano in a cozy-looking studio space, the pop superstar, who helped curate tonight’s proceedings, sang Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” with an old-school gusto that couldn’t help but recall her show-stopping “La Vie En Rose” from the movie that earned her an Oscar nod last year.
Introducing the tune, she said, she was giving us permission in a dark moment to do what the song suggests.
One (gorgeous) ‘Hallelujah’ down, 74 to go
There was never a chance we’d finish tonight without hearing “Hallelujah,” right?
Indeed, Jennifer Hudson’s performance of the Leonard Cohen warhorse came before the big show even started — which means we may yet hear it again (and again!) once the networks start rolling.
Still, Hudson’s close vocal harmonies with the three back-up singers joining her remotely?
Will someone have a Kanye ‘Katrina’ moment?
It’s a little disorienting to see all these calls for supporting the World Health Organization while no one is mentioning one very recent, unexpected gap in their funding. I know this whole thing is supposed to be a balm for weary viewers, and artists are probably jittery about taking volatile stands right now. But it’s hard to stay apolitical when politics helps determine who gets exposed to the virus or not. Will anyone have a 2005 Kanye moment at this thing? Probably not 2020 Kanye, but the example is still a meaningful one.
Lady Antebellum sings about loving home (and planning a trip to Disneyland)
Hope springs eternal, at least during Lady Antebellum’s performance of “Our Little Paradise.” Performing from, respectively, Florida, Florida and Tennessee, singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley joined Dave Haywood on piano to sing the country superstars’ ode to returning home after a long absence. They also sparked hopes of thousands of furloughed Magic Kingdom employees by predicting a “Disneyland trip next summer.” Do they know something Mickey doesn’t?
Niall Horan is pro-cozy
One guy who clearly didn’t read The Times’ much-pilloried case against quarantine leisurewear? One Direction’s Niall Horan, who sang his appealingly raunchy “Slow Hands” while wearing a lumpy (if plush-looking) sweatshirt.
‘Despacito’: Up close and (too?) personal
Before “Old Town Road,” there was “Despacito” — the song that “sort of brought the world together” a few summers ago, as Luis Fonsi put it before sliding into his bridge-building Latin-pop smash.
The only problem? While Fonsi and his bassist were positioned a safe distance from each other, his drummer and cuatro player looked to have brought themselves a little closer than health experts advise.
SuperM shows the Korean excellence we need now
South Korea was, arguably, the model of a nation with an effective, efficient reaction to the spread of COVID-19. There’s a whole lot for the world to learn from them about mass testing, and its public health work should help set the global standard right now. But K-pop supergroup SuperM is also a standard-bearer for escapist fun right now, and they’ve never been more charming than with their multi-streamed, delightfully zippy run through “With You” right now. If K-pop can help brighten the mood at a week like this, that’s kind of a public health win, too.
How are musicians getting such great sound today?
Good question! Los Angeles-based artists in need of fancy microphones or engineering help to record their “One World: Together at Home” and other quarantine performances have been turning to shuttered recording studios for help. Studios such as the Village in West Los Angeles, forced to close their doors to clients during the pandemic, have been making contact-free house calls to wire living rooms for sound.
Sheryl Crow goes — what else? — solo for ‘Everyday Is a Winding Road’
Remember hanging out with friends?
Sheryl Crow used last year’s collab-packed “Threads” album as an excuse to do just that with pals including Stevie Nicks, Maren Morris and Gary Clark Jr.
Here, of course, she was alone — just like the rest of us these days — for a still-lovely take on “Everyday Is a Winding Road.”
“I get a little bit closer to feeling fine,” she sang, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar.
A nice thought.
Early pick hit: Jennifer Hudson’s take on ‘Memory,’ from ‘Cats’
Those who have successfully avoided screens so far on a Saturday and are just getting going on this whole “One World” Together at Home” thing, the structure’s been wonderfully basic: one by one, professional musicians appear from their places of confinement, greet viewers and play a song.
Some, like Adam Lambert and Jennifer Hudson, got dolled up to play in front of well-designed backdrops. Others, like Finneas, aka Billie Eilish’s collaborator/brother, performed “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night” casually in a room while sitting on a stool. Michael Bublé offered a smooth take on the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” and Hudson was, as usual, in brilliant form doing “Memory,” from “Cats.”
Charlie Puth’s unfolded sweatshirts steal show
Singer-songwriter Charlie Puth played his hit “Attention” in front of a bed at his parents’ house, topped with a mess of unfolded sweatshirts. “Mommm, I’ll do it after the global broadcast!”
Welcome to the Global Citizen ‘One World: Together at Home’ live blog
Hello fellow quarantiners, and welcome to the LA Times’ coverage of Global Citizen’s “One World: Together at Home” concert, in support of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic being led by the World Health Organization.
The concert and broadcast, carried on CBS, NBC, ABC and the CW, is curated in collaboration with Lady Gaga and hosted by Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. Among the performers are Paul McCartney, Elton John, Taylor Swift, the Rolling Stones, Eddie Vedder, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Lopez.
On Saturday, Global Citizen will present the all-star concert “One World: Together at Home,” to air on CBS, NBC and ABC. It has already raised $40 million for the WHO.
Leading up to the global broadcast special, which will be streamed live at 5 p.m. PT (but broadcast on TV on the West Coast at 8 p.m.), there is a six-hour pre-broadcast series of performances and appearances.
You can watch the six-hour pre-show and two-hour concert on your laptops and portable devices via YouTube, Instragram, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Prime Video, Apple, Roku and many others streamers.
The LA Times’ music team will be checking in throughout the afternoon bringing you updates and analysis of the pre-show performances, and then back in full force for the broadcast, beginning at 5 p.m. PT.
Now at least we all have something to look forward to today...