By Brian Ives
As co-host Chelsea Handler said early in the day, the Global Citizen Festival celebrated its “wood” anniversary yesterday: for the fifth year, the festival took over Central Park’s massive Great Lawn with a day’s worth of superstar performances, celebrity speakers and activists. (And shout-out to Handler for wearing a cool Judas Priest Defenders of the Faith t-shirt! And to co-host Hugh Jackman for enduring calls from the audience to “do Wolverine!”) The event is always free; fans “earn” tickets to by performing specific actions, including signing petitions, sending emails or tweets to world leaders in regards to specific causes that work towards ending extreme poverty by the year 2030. You can learn more about Global Citizen at their website.
This year, the lineup was more diverse than ever, with Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Metallica, Demi Lovato (filling in for Selena Gomez) and Major Lazer headlining, with shorter sets by Ellie Goulding, Yusef (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens), Usher with Ruben Blades, and a superstar duo mini-set by Chris Martin of Coldplay (the curator of the Global Citizen concert lineups) and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. This resulted in the general admission show seeing Rihanna’s pop audience rubbing shoulders with Metallica’s older metal crowd; Demi Lovato’s fans next to Major Lazer’s. Everyone seemed to have their own favorite act, but everyone seemed excited to see Kendrick Lamar.
There were, as always, lots of great moments. Here are ten highlights.
Major Lazer with MØ open the show with “Lean On”: Diplo and co. kicked off the music at 4 pm ET with last summer’s smash hit, featuring MØ on vocals; the audience immediately started dancing, ignoring the early autumn heat. ML was later joined by Ellie Goulding (who did her own surprise set later in the day) for “Powerful”, and MØ would return for the end of the set, to sing “Cold Water.”
Demi Lovato owning her set time: Lovato wasn’t originally scheduled to perform; she was a late replacement for Selena Gomez, who recently announced a career hiatus. Lovato stunned the audience with her pipes, steamrolling through the full-band opener “Confident,” but also doing a stripped down “Stone Cold” accompanied only by a piano player. If that wasn’t enough, she also covered “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” and actually pulled it off.
Usher, Ruben Blades and the Kenyan Boys Choir Team Up: Usher performed but one song, teaming up with the Panamanian legend Ruben Blades, who has over 40 albums to his name, but some may best know him as a cast member of Fear the Walking Dead. They sang “Champions,” a song from the soundtrack of Hands of Stone (which Usher co-stars in). Usher, who also appeared in a pre-taped video with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has become more politically active in recent years, and was wearing a shirt that said “SILENCE IS CONSENT,” mentioning that “If you see something wrong going on and you don’t say something, it is consent.”
The Kenyan Boys Choir Cover Selena Gomez: As mentioned, Gomez was originally on the bill, and had to drop off. In a cool and classy move, the Kenyan Boys Choir returned to the stage after performing with Usher to cover Gomez’s song “Kill ‘Em With Kindness.”
Yusef, aka Cat Stevens, sings “Father to Son” with Eddie Vedder: Last year, Vedder played Global Citizen with Pearl Jam, and clearly he enjoyed the experience, because he returned this year; he was beaming while performing with Yusef, who did a brief four-song set. The British folk-rock legend had one of the quotes of the day, noting that “The globe is big enough for all of us.”
Priyanka Chopra References Game of Thrones: “Just like ‘Winter is Coming,’ change is coming!” the Quantico star said, while surrounded by young women from Google’s “Made With Code” initiative. That initiative works to get more girls to study computer science in school. For more information on “Made With Code,” go to their website. Meanwhile, we have to wonder if that quip will get Chopra a role on next season of Game Of Thrones.
Metallica: “Caring Comes in All Kinds of Volumes!” At last year’s festival, the more pop-friendly acts — Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Beyonce — played before Pearl Jam brought their brand of heavy rock to the stage, which resulted in a a small exodus after Queen Bey’s set. This year, Metallica played in the middle of the day, and their brief five song set surely just whet their fans’ appetite for their forthcoming tour. However, it may have been punishing to those not versed in metal. But at the end of their second song, “Master Of Puppets,” frontman James Hetfield reminded the audience that “Caring comes in all kinds of volumes!” For the Metallica fan, their set — “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “Master Of Puppets,” “One,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman” — featured songs that they always play, but this was their first New York show in years, and the fans were amped to see them. And while nothing about the band is subtle, the messages behind “Puppets” (the dangers of drug addiction) and “One” (the horrors of war) were appropriate given how drug addiction and wars effect those in poverty.
Kendrick Lamar’s Entire Set: The Compton MC is clearly in his moment, and he got the biggest reaction from the audience as a whole. From his opening number (track seven from his recently released untitled album) he had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand. His set included “m.A.A.d. City,” “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “King Kunta,” “i” and “Alright,” the latter of which seemed to take on added weight in light of recent events (and the fact that it’s an unofficial anthem of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.).
Nancy Pelosi’s Mic-Drop Line: Congresswoman and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was introduced by FUBU founder and Shark Tank co-star Daymond John as “the highest ranking female politician in American history.” Congresswoman Pelosi responded, “But not for long!” While the event seemed intent on being non-partisan, that comment got cheers from the audience.
Eddie Vedder and Chris Martin’s Duo Set: The Pearl Jam and Coldplay frontmen teamed up to perform three songs as an acoustic duo: they covered Crowded House’s classic “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Pearl Jam’s “Nothingman” and Patti Smith’s timeless “People Have the Power.” During the latter, Vedder referred to the crowd as “incredibly diverse crowd of likeminded, intelligent activists.” Like Congresswoman Pelosi, he also referenced the upcoming election: “When you see certain political candidates, an uprising of racism, of homophobia, of sexism, of bigotry, all these things raising their ugly heads. Their moldy, ugly, rusty heads, it’s a sign, and it’s a good sign: this is one last gasp. They know that these are antiquated ideals that are going away, and I think that’s why you’re seeing this last rise, because these ideals are being held in a skeleton hand. And these antiquated ideals, there’s no longer room for them in this modern world of communication, of acceptance, and understanding of others. So we can rise to the challenge, and these are challenges that, if we’re united, if we’re together, if we support organizations like this, if we look after gun control legislations in our own cities and towns… look at you! Look at you together! You have the power! We have the power! Stay active! Stay energized! Use your voice! Use your votes! And together, we can use our power for good!”
Chris Martin Covers Prince for Rihanna: Minutes after Vedder and Martin’s set, the Coldplay singer was called back to the stage, because Ri Ri just wasn’t ready to go on stage. So, he played a cover of Prince’s “Rasberry Beret,” which he had to extend, because she still wasn’t ready. “How are we doing with Rihanna?” he asked, during the song. “I don’t know any more verses!” So, he added one: “Well I was waiting for Rihanna at Central Park, waiting for her to do her show/I was assured by the producer I’d only do one song, and I ain’t got too long to go/ Maybe she’s doing her makeup, or doing her hair/or making sure that she looks nice/And if she takes too long, I’ll repeat this song/I’ll play ‘Rasberry Beret’ twice!”