Global Citizen’s virtual benefit concert

The 24-hour charity live stream was a financial success, but here’s why it was a cultural failure

Last weekend, Global Citizen launched Global Citizen Live — a 24-hour long live stream benefit concert. All over the world, artists based in the music industry have come together under Global Citizen to raise awareness and put a stop to current issues such as poverty, world hunger, environmental crises, and inequity.

Global Citizen is an organization “of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030.” The movement is dedicated to educating people around the world on pressing issues, “that are impacting the masses.” Founded in Australia, they have spent over a decade working towards ending world hunger, and since then have set their sights on more contemporary issues, one of them being COVID-19.

The 24-hour live concert started on Sept. 25 with an introduction by Hugh Jackman who listed out all the cities that were hosting the live stream, tallying up to 15 major cities. Each city accommodated multiple artists from a wide variety of genres: Stevie Wonder, Ed Sheeran, Duran Duran, Kylie Minogue, and then some. The first city to perform was Paris, which was hosted by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Denis Brogniart. 

To kick off the live event, France took the lead in hosting Elton John as their primary artist. The Eiffel Tower overlooked the crowd as he started his set with a stripped version of “Tiny Dancer”, a fan favourite hit. The British star went on to play another single, “Rocket Man” and a new song with Charlie Puth called “After All.” 

On the other side of the pond in L.A., the crowd started to cheer when Stevie Wonder performed “Superstition” with artist H.E.R. In New York, Coldplay, Billie Eilish, and her brother FINNEAS played the former’s song “Fix You” to an audience count of sixty thousand people. The Coldplay hit has been used by many charity organizations for their promotional videos and adverts, evoking uplifting feelings of hope.

Since 2008, Global Citizen (GC) has amassed and distributed $35.4 billion to the impoverished. Just from the 24-hour live stream, GC raised $1.1 billion. Recently they unveiled what they call “A Recovery Plan for the World,” a 40-page report outlining how to “end COVID-19 for all and kickstart a global recovery.” The report is split into five pillars or categories explaining how the organization will help the World recover in different spheres, such as advancing education and protecting the planet.    

Music-related benefit initiatives like Live Aid, the “We are the World” Single, Rock Aid Armenia, and the Tibetan Freedom concert always felt more intimate and have remained iconic to this day. Take Queen’s performance at Live Aid for example — people remember them because they focused on a specific issue (for example, raising money for famine relief in Ethiopia). The main advantage to live concerts nowadays is how easy one can donate money online, whether it’s via Instagram, Facebook, or even the main site of the live stream itself. Live Aid was able to earn $127 million with over 75 artists and 2 venues while GC’s live concert amassed $1.1 billion around 70 artists and 15 locations.    

Unfortunately, Global Citizen’s impact could have hit a little harder; while the GCRP aims to do a lot of good, it focuses on one too many issues and spreads itself thin. A good approach right now would be to direct their energy to COVID-related issues, especially in countries that were hit the hardest like India and Iran.

Even with modern-day technology and using a live stream, the event was not spoken about fervently across social media platforms. All that was heard were criticisms about the celebrities that took part in the “woke fest” last weekend. People like Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were chastised for telling the public how to change their habits towards being environmentally friendly, when they had chartered a private jet to New York to watch artists like Billie Eilish, Coldplay, and Lizzo perform.

In between songs, Elton John said it best: “It’s an enjoyable thing to take part in raising awareness.” But at the same time, if you listen to some of the celebrities’ speeches, how many of them are practicing what they preach? What makes Bono more special than the average hard-working citizen, that he can charter a private jet to retrieve his misplaced hat from a previously attended U2 show while still talking about environmental concerns?

Since COVID hit, there have been multiple online concerts that have taken place over multiple genres of the musical spectrum. One of the most memorable of said shows was the Post Malone “Nirvana Tribute” which he hosted with Blink 182s drummer Travis Barker. Since then there have been artists like Erykah Badu, Jacob Collier, and Gojira & Deftones gig that took place throughout 2020 and this year. Global Citizen coordinated 15 host cities with a plethora of artists, especially during the pandemic. Health safety measures had to be taken place for the in-person audience as well as the online audience. 

The actuality, however, like every online concert, is that it is just not the same as being there in person. There’s a certain feeling that the audience gets to experience when the artists look their way and wink at individuals while taking part in their antics, leaving the show having felt like they were a part of something special. Online shows unfortunately have yet to perfect this, and maybe never will.

While these events are made with the best intentions, they could work to be less superficial. Global Citizen put together this event not only for people to enjoy watching their favourite musicians live, but also to educate and bring light on the issues that the public likes to shy away from time and time again. This is no small feat, and yet, there is still room for improvement in the way that celebrities use their voice for the betterment of the world.


Feature Graphic by James Fay

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