You have to admire the spirit of the organisers of last weekend’s One World: Together at Home concert. To put on an event that seemed to last longer than lockdown itself is the sort of can-do attitude we love to see. The main event — the really star-studded portion that was shown live on Saturday night on the big three US networks, and then adapted for the UK and shown on BBC1 on Sunday — began only after six whole hours of preamble from slightly lesser turns. Six hours. That’s an awful lot of watching people sit with an acoustic guitar in front of their webcam. Or sometimes not even sit with an acoustic guitar — Jessie J appeared to be doing karaoke with her own CDs and singing over the top of them. These are straitened times, yes, but perhaps a little more effort, if we ever do this again?
One got lost not in the music, which was sometimes interesting, sometimes fantastic and often a little dull, but in the details. What happened to Billy Ray Cyrus in his childhood to make him unable to say the word ‘woman’? He dedicated ‘Sunshine Girl’ ‘to all the girls’ — it’s women, Billy— ‘all the females’ — it’s women, Billy — ‘and all the ladies out there on the frontline’.Still women, Billy. But, yes, let’s hear it for the girls, females and ladies. Why was Elton John’s piano in his garden, and why had he gargled with Domestos before starting to sing? Why had the early presenters — Jameela Jamil and Matthew McConaughey among them — been told to tell us Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, that we are all equally vulnerable, only for Beyoncé and Alicia Keys to trample on the script by pointing out that African-Americans have been hit disproportionately hard?
There were those who broke the unwritten rule of charity/awareness-raising concerts: yes, we know you’re hoping people will flock to your recordings off the back of this, but don’t be obvious about it. That means you, Liam Payne, late of One Direction: ‘My first song is my latest single, “Midnight”.’ Oh, really? That means you, too, John Legend, with your agreeably inventive, multi-window presentation of ‘Bigger Love’, which — oh! — you happen to have released as a single the previous day. Lads, you had one job: lift the spirits of Our Troubled World. Forget the sales pitch, eh?
Getting the right mix of artists was a problem, too. Fill the line-up with US and UK stars and it’s not much of a global event. But pack it with domestic stars from around the world and — as Twitter on Saturday evening proved — you end up with an awful lot of people asking ‘Who?’ What do you mean, ‘Who?’ This is Belgium’s premier electropop chanteuse! This is the first Emirati balladeer to have played the Vatican’s Christmas concert! This is — checks notes — sorry, no idea.
And through it all, occasional glimpses of magic. Liam Payne and Rita Ora were young and beautiful and managed to look sincere as they sang ‘For You’: that had the essence of pop. The Rolling Stones were thrillingly approximate as they stumbled through a ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ that was part live, part prerecorded. And full marks to Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam for deciding that what would really perk up the doctors and nurses on a Saturday night would be him playing ‘River’s Cross’ (a cheerless song to start with), alone at the harmonium, the only instrument that sounds like antique medical equipment. And the musical highlight: Luis Fonsi performing the still-glorious ‘Despacito’ with an acoustic band. But Luis? Why are all the band in the room with you? Luis, don’t you know there’s a pandemic on? Oh, for goodness sake…
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