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One World concert unites world through music

April 19, 2020

Despite social distancing forcing people into isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the "One World — Together at Home" concert united millions of people in a celebration of life through music.

Together At Home concert Lady Gaga
Pop star Lady Gaga was the curator behind the concertImage: Getty Images for Global Citizen

Staying in is the new going out — or so we have been telling ourselves, to present the current situation around the globe in a somewhat palatable framework. But for one night, the hottest ticket in town — in fact, in the world — was indeed for an event which conveniently took place right in our living rooms.

Organized by the crown princess of pop, Lady Gaga, and the Global Citizen movement, the One World — Together at Home concert had some of the biggest names in the music industry lined up, performing live for 8 hours nonstop. While the show was broadcast on various television networks in the US and around the globe, its biggest distribution channel was online via live-streaming, reaching millions of households globally.

The concert is believed to be the first-ever mass concert with a live in-person attendance of zero, thanks to the marvels of streaming technology.

Together At Home Elton John
By the time Elton John was playing from his garden, people around the world were dancing in their living roomsImage: Getty Images for Global Citizen

Read more: How Hollywood stars are responding to the coronavirus

In an unusual approach, the event was not put together to raise funds but as a response to and a sign of gratitude for money already raised for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its Solidarity Response Fund in their ongoing fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus and its resulting disease, COVID-19. In the lead-up to the event, sponsors and donors had already raised more than $50 million (€46 million) in the fight against the pandemic.

The performance of over 100 superstars also highlighted the importance and sacrifice that frontline health care workers are making in the fight against the pandemic, drawing attention to the perilous conditions under which they tirelessly continue to care for victims of COVID-19.

Read more: What does Trump's funding freeze mean for the WHO?

From their living rooms to yours

British actress Jameela Jamil led through the opening of the event, calling it "a moment of respite" to "celebrate our true heroes" in the current crisis, referring to essential workers in all professions ranging from nurses and doctors to teachers and delivery drivers. 

Other presenters throughout the show also stressed the importance of unity and support through the pandemic, including concert curator Lady Gaga herself, who said that in that past few weeks, "we have witnessed unbelievable acts of bravery, courage, and kindness all around the world in response to this global pandemic."

"It’s our love-letter to the world," Lady Gaga said on behalf of all performers taking part in the show.

A trip around the world through music

You might expect that such a star-studded line-up would be led with biggest of names from the start. But because the event was streamed and broadcast live around the world and across all time zones, the One World concert started with a unique 6-hour pre-show before moving on to the 2-hour main event, giving viewers a tour of the world through music.

Performers from various parts of the globe served as virtual "warm-up bands" in a country-hopping multilingual show that would last several hours, taking the audience on a journey to places like India, France, China, Colombia and more.

Not only did this draw unprecedented global attention to musical talents from around the world, but it also helped to highlight how countries are united in solidarity in the fight against COVID-19. From blues to dance to musical theater to rap and reggaeton, there were musical flavors to cater to all tastes, and help people to take their minds off the massive challenges posed by the pandemic, if only for a little while.

Together At Home Celine Dion
Intimate moments with Celine Dion: the Canadian singer was one of the last performers to sing during the eventImage: Getty Images for Global Citizen

Powerful voices united against corona

The opening act of the 8-hour show was American singer-songwriter Andra Day, whose performance of the ballad "Rise Up" sent a positive message into the evening.

The first hour of the show already included some pre-recorded highlights such as US singer Adam Lambert's rendition of "Mad World" (originally recorded in 1982 by British pop group Tears for Fears) and US singer and actress Jennifer Hudson's performance of "Memory" from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. Hudson later also delivered a touching version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," saying it was her favorite song, during which she was joined by several others, harmonizing with her from disparate locations.

Other acts that mesmerized crowds around the world early on included US actor Ben Platt's version of the Beatles hit "I want to Hold Your Hand," hitting an impossible-sounding high-D in his signature pitch-perfect style, and British singer Annie Lennox, sharing her Eurythmics 1999 hit "I Saved the World Today" and the 1985 track "There Must be an Angel." She was joined by her daughter, Lola, for the latter. 

Lennox also stressed in her message that lessons have to be learned from the current situation to prevent future pandemics from happening: "In this unprecedented moment in history we have a collective responsibility to make sure that global health systems are strong enough to identify and prevent future pandemics before they happen again."

There was even a musical shout-out by country singer Billy Ray Cyrus with his song, "Sunshine Girl," encouraging the global community to look forward to better times. But despite the overall reflective and somber tone, the One World — Together at Home concert was nevertheless still a global celebration. 

Performers like British singer Jessie J drew attention to this fact, saying "please bring out your inner diva, dance wherever you are, and let's have some fun" as she lent her vocal cords to her hit "Bang Bang."

Biggest names in entertainment

The last two hours of the concert event were presented by US late-night show hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, who after briefly greeting their global audience in several languages led through the show with humor and grace, speaking to experts and health care professionals in short interviews broadcast between the outstanding musical performances.

Together At Home Rolling Stones
Saturday night with the Rolling Stones - in the comfort of your homeImage: Getty Images for Global Citizen

Lady Gaga shared her message of hope with her rendition of the American Songbook standard "Smile" before passing the microphone on to Stevie Wonder, who belted his way through the Bill Withers hit "Lean on Me,"  honoring the African-American songwriter who had passed away just three weeks before the concert.

The rest of the line-up reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry, including performances by Shawn Mendes, Taylor Swift, the Rolling Stones, Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney, Celine Dion, Elton John and Jennifer Lopez. 

Each audience member around the world will likely have a different opinion of what moment may have been their favorite in the 8-hour streaming marathon, but one of the undisputed highlights of the event was Kacey Musgraves, who sang her moving song "Rainbow," referencing all the drawings of rainbows by children around the world, which have become a symbol of hope amidst the coronavirus crisis.

And there were even appearances by Sesame Street characters Oscar the Grouch and Abby Cadabby, who said she felt comforted during times of social distancing and isolation by giving herself "a nice big hug."

Using celebrity influence to turn spotlight on global pandemic

The event also lent a platform to celebrities outside the popular music world, from actors like Jack Black, Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Jessica Parker to supermodels like Heidi Klum to classical musicians like Lang Lang, some of whom shared short notes and signs with encouraging slogans while others simply offered their artistic interludes, sharing their gifts with the world as part of the global event. 

While many of those messages were of a generic nature, some drew attention to specific people and places in the frontline against the pandemic, highlighting the crucial work of places like the Elmhurst hospital in New York or health care workers in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Together At Home Lady Gaga
Thanks to streaming technology, millions of people could follow the concert live on their mobile phones around the worldImage: Getty Images/C. Jue

But there were also words of encouragement from everyday people, showing how they are resorting to ingenuity and creativity to get through these difficult times — whether celebrating birthdays from a safe distance, holding weddings in small circles with the use of conferencing apps or sharing the perspectives of senior citizens who have been through war and destruction. Corporate sponsors of the events also got to share clips of how they are contributing to fight the global pandemic.

The "One World — Together at Home" event brought people together whose paths only a few weeks ago would never have crossed. In its show of appreciation for the essential frontline workers of the pandemic, it brought home a message of heroism, humility, and humanity. During the show, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a heart-felt appeal to the world, saying that in order to overcome the threat of the virus, the world needed to unite.

And for one night, through the power of music, it did.

Sertan Sanderson Moderation
Sertan Sanderson DW journalist & human seeking to make sense of the world and understand what motivates other humansSertanSanderson