More Than Music: The Global Citizens Concert review

As we're all kept apart by the current pandemic, Lady Gaga and a host of artists the world over proved that there are still ways we can come together in support of our key workers.

Last Saturday saw the 8-hour live stream of the Global Citizens Concert, featuring artists from all around the world such as Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, The Rolling Stones and many more. Akin to the 1985 LiveAid concert, it serves as a beacon of hope in this time of adversity. I’m not sure how many people watched the full 8 hours, but on skimming through I enjoyed performances from some of my personal favourite artists, but also from artists I don’t usually listen to, which I’m sure was the case for many people. Curated by Lady Gaga, the aim of the concert was to say ‘thank you’ to all healthcare staff and key workers who are working tirelessly in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Here, I’ll look in more detail at the different performances that make up the concert which will, no doubt, go down in history.

Firstly, the line-up is something that should be noted, with a surprisingly high number of performances from non-Western acts, in my opinion. Then again, the ‘global’ aspect of the name does hint that this may be the case. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised to see representation from musicians from a huge variety of different countries across the globe, singing in their native language. I think the concert offered a necessary exposure to global acts that some of us may never have heard of. An example that stands out to me is Luis Fonsi. As a student who studies Spanish, I’m not unfamiliar with Fonsi’s music, but most of you will know him as ‘the guy who sang Despacito’ (before, I might add, Justin Bieber jumped on the bandwagon and stole the limelight). But his tender rendition of Yo No Me Doy Por Vencido (I’ll Never Give Up) was a visibly impassioned performance. Not only would this song appeal to his large fan-base in Latin America, but I felt that you didn’t necessarily have to understand the lyrics of the piece to feel the strength of his heartfelt delivery, beautifully accompanied by soft acoustics.

Lisa Mishra from India also delivered a sweet performance of her song Sajna Ve which she dedicated to ‘all the lovers who are away from each other right now’. Again, I think this is a great example from the concert of a song that you can gage so much of the meaning of just from the way Mishra sings the piece. Her high pitched, soft vocals were like a lullaby of perfection. I thought her runs were subtle, but very well executed. When comparing it to the original, her vocals are definitively softer and sweeter down to her lack of vocal effects; I would even go as far to say that I preferred the more mellowed out rendition of the piece she did for this concert. She was an artist I, personally, hadn’t heard of before this, and even though I couldn’t understand the lyrics I am definitely a fan of her performance.

'Akin to the 1985 LiveAid concert, it serves as a beacon of hope in this time of adversity'.

I would be remiss not to talk about Taylor Swift’s performance at the gig. Although I am not much of a fan of Swift’s music, I was moved by her emotive performance of Soon You’ll Get Better, a song released on her 2019 album inspired by her mother’s struggle with cancer. Given the already extremely emotional subject matter of the song, you can hear the pain in Swift’s voice during her delivery, but this only lends her performance an extra display of vulnerability, leaving me teary eyed by her final chord. As I’ve said, I’m not a massive fan of her plucky pop ballads, but this performance has made me respect her so much as an artist by showing the world this side of her. Not only is the song applicable to Swift’s personal life but has a message that I’m sure so many people can relate to in the midst of the current crisis.

For obvious reasons, the gig was largely acoustic, however for many performances this did not take away from the quality of the song. Some of the most effectively ‘acoustified’ songs of the concert came from Ellie Goulding, who toned down two of her pop hits for a more chilled performance. Some artists chose to perform some of their softer songs, such as Jack Johnson’s Better Together or FINNEAS’ Let’s Fall in Love for the Night. However, other artists decided not to go down the route of changing their song to a softer version, for example Jess Glynne’s rendition of I’ll Be There or Adam Lambert’s Superpower. Despite these not being my favourite acts of the group to start with, I still thought that their choice to use a backing track and drumbeat was not as emotive as the musicians who converted their songs for the purpose of the gig like Goulding. However, it did give the eight-hour long concert a bit more variety, I have to say.

Unfortunately, in the case of some of the songs, converting the songs for this gig was not done so effectively. Mr. Brightside is obviously a classic beloved by all, but in this case, the strange guitar effect and single notes played on the synth just did not do the song any justice. Still, I’m sure we can all appreciate the difficulty in changing a song usually performed with live instruments to suit the gig. Obviously, there is also the purpose of the concert to remember when criticising these artists for making do with what they had in their homes.

'Unfortunately, in the case of some of the songs, converting the songs for this gig was not done so effectively. [...] Still, I’m sure we can all appreciate the difficulty in changing a song usually performed with live instruments to suit the gig'.

Billy Rae Cyrus gave us a tender delivery of his song Sunshine Girl, something which exposed a softer side to the country crooner than many will know from his 2019 hit Old Town Road. We also saw hit songs Stolen Dance by Milky Chance and Take Me to Church by Hozier, arguably both acts’ most famous hits. Trio Lady Antebellum stood out for their amazing cohesion as a band, despite not being in the same room, whilst Elton John gave us an uplifting performance of his classic I’m Still Standing. We also saw a soulful rendition of A Change Is Gonna Come from Lizzo, showcasing her versatility as a singer, and The Rolling Stones also featured with their song You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Definitely one of the oldest acts in the performance, they showed they can still rock out just like the good old days.

A major highlight for me has to be Stevie Wonder’s performance of the late Bill Withers’ Lean on Me. This may be a bit of bias on my part, considering Stevie is one of my all-time favourite artists, but I found the piece particularly moving because of Withers’ recent passing. Wonder stayed faithful to the original, but we can still see glimpses of his vocal flourishes and own unique style; he definitely did both the song, and Withers’ memory, tremendous justice.

One of the final acts to grace the screen was the much-awaited Billie Eilish, coming in at 7 hours 49 minutes. She performed Sunny with her brother FINNEAS with her usual high-pitched, mellow, dreamy vocals paired sensationally with her brother’s jazz keyboard accompaniment.

'I was pleasantly surprised to see representation from musicians from a huge variety of different countries across the globe, singing in their native language'.

More on the gig as a whole, the comic relief provided by Jack Black was also a highlight for me, as he took us through his mock ‘keep fit’ workout, clearly struggling towards the end. I think he was a great choice to include in the non-musical side of the gig, being such a lovable figure with a strong appeal to many age groups. And I’m sure no one can say that they didn’t enjoy the sweet snippets of Matthew McConaughey introducing some of the acts.

The finale was a definite high point of the concert, with the collaboration of Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Andrea Bocelli, John Legend and Lang Lang for The Prayer. By far one of the most moving songs of the concert (which is saying something), I had literal goose bumps listening to this one. Not only is Lang’s piano accompaniment beautiful enough to be a song of its own, but Celine Dion’s sensational vocals prove her skills are still as flawless as ever. Her and Lady Gaga were vocally brilliant together in this piece, and the introduction of Bocelli later on helped to build tension and create an amazing layering of voices. Dion and Bocelli’s duet in Italian hit that high note in perfect harmony – considering they weren’t even in the same country recording this, it’s a pretty impressive feat.

I loved the fusion of Lang’s flowing piano melody with Gaga’s pop runs and Bocelli’s operatic style; this really exemplified the people from many different walks of life and musical genres who had come together to create this concert. Clearly, it’s bigger than the music of one genre or one country can handle; it truly is a global effort in many ways. The harmony of the final note can only be described as blissful – the song was the perfect choice to end with.

All in all, to look at this as just another concert would be the wrong way to go about it. Even though all of us will have favourites and perhaps pieces that we didn’t enjoy so much, the aim of the project should definitely be at the forefront of our minds. As previously mentioned, the concert draws many similarities with the LiveAid concert of 1985, which also featured the top artists of the time. Although, we didn’t get a live performance as such from any of these artists, I would argue that the significance of this event perhaps trumps its predecessor, purely because there is not one inch of the world that has not been affected by COVID-19. Every age, gender and, in a more novelty sense, every nationality gets to enjoy this fantastic musical display of comradery and rallying of talent, which can be considered as nothing less than iconic.

In case you didn’t fancy scrolling through the 8 hours of footage to find performances from your favourite acts, I’ve included some of the timings of the bands I covered. However, I’d still recommend giving the thing a watch if you have the spare time (which I’m pretty sure you do). The full performance can be viewed here.

Yo No Me Doy Por Vencido – Luis Fonsi (Approx. 1hr)

Sajna Ve – Lisa Mishra (1h37m in)

Better Together – Jack Johnson (3h10m in)

Let’s Fall in Love for the Night - FINNEAS (3h34m)

Superpower – Adam Lambert (3h25m)

I’ll Be There – Jess Glynne (3h45m)

Take Me To Church – Hozier (5h03m)

Stolen Dance – Milky Chance (1h41m)

Love Me Like You Do – Ellie Goulding (2h50m)

Burn – Ellie Goulding (4h52m)

What I’m Leaving For – Lady Antebellum (5h36m)

Smile – Lady Gaga (6h06m)

Lean On Me / Love’s In Need of Love Today – Stevie Wonder (6h10m)

I’m Still Standing – Elton John (6h27m)

A Change is Gonna Come – Lizzo (6h52m)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones (7h0m)

Sunny – Billie Eilish & FINNEAS (7h49m)

Soon You’ll Get Better – Taylor Swift (7h55m)

Prayer – Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Andrea Bocelli, John Legend and Lang Lang (8h)