‘One World: Together at Home’: Celine Dion and J.Lo Serve Vocals to Save the World
Saturday’s historic telethon-esque event, curated by Lady Gaga, incited a second global pandemic of chills—those vocals!—alongside its heartwarming message of hope and solidarity.
There are so many things that one could never have predicted when all this started, but, as an entertainment writer, I have to say that the sheer amount of time spent watching celebrities sing to me in grainy videos self-shot from their homes ranks high on the list.
They’ve become almost nightly visitors to my living room, a surprise in the midst of the pandemic. They were back again on Saturday. Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, Amy Poehler… It was a full-house of A-listers—some singing, some delivering PSAs, some doing interviews, and all uniting under one message: Coronavirus? It really sucks! But humans? Together, we’re gonna get through it.
The scale of One World: Together at Home, the two-hour broadcast Saturday night that virtually gathered the celebrities from across their quarantines, is monumental.
Reflecting the new reality of our content-viewing habits, it not only was broadcast on major TV channels in the U.S.—ABC, CBS, The CW, NBC, MSNBC, National Geographic, Univision—but on networks across the world, while also simulcast in digital streams on platforms like Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch.
In addition to the two-hour primetime broadcast that featured performances from the likes of Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, and the Rolling Stones, there was a six-hour livestream leading up to it that was brimming with celebrity appearances and musical acts. (The pettier among us could entertain ourselves by assessing the fame hierarchy that determined which performers were relegated to the six-hour opening act and who got to be part of the main event.)
Written by Andrew Kirk and Melissa Wong, the goal of the special was to motivate viewers to take action against the coronavirus and support Global Citizen and the World Health Organization’s Together at Home campaign. Lady Gaga curated the broadcast, making the point while promoting it that the goal was to do all the fundraising before the big show so that Saturday’s event wasn’t a just a maudlin pledge drive, but a legitimate entertainment treat to spice up our quarantines. Bring the world together with a little bit of fun.
Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen “Jimmy” Colbert, as he joked, all co-hosted together, a symbolic gesture indicating that the dire state of the world right now is, finally, the one thing that trumps network TV rivalry. Introducing the various celebrities appearing throughout the broadcast, they struck the right tone—more somber than usual—of silliness meets seriousness, with a wily streak.
There were references to Tiger King and toilet paper shortages. There were countless expressions of gratitude and reverence to those working the front lines to beat this thing. Prior to broadcast, the event had raised $50 million. “And half of that was just from turning Jeff Bezos upside down and shaking him for loose change,” Fallon joked.
Lady Gaga set the intention of the night, which was “smile” and “vocals.” She performed “Smile”—the go-to telethon song of the moment—but with a snappy, jazzy arrangement that, refreshingly, resisted temptations toward the treacly. (Other performers were not so successful.)
The star and organizer was in fine voice. As was Stevie Wonder, who performed a tribute to Bill Withers with a sunniness and joy that only made things more emotional. There was Paul McCartney and Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift. Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello performed together from their shacked-up isolation. John Legend and Sam Smith duetted from their separate ones, inciting a new global pandemic of chills with their version of “Stand By Me.”
Elton John performed “I’m Still Standing” in honor of health-care workers, an excellent song choice, revealing in the process that Elton John has a piano outside in his backyard. Keith Urban was cleverly edited into three Keith Urbans on three different instruments for his performance. The Rolling Stones performed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in one of those Brady Bunch-esque Zoom setups from their separate homes, and it was just really damn cool.
In between performances, the hosts and different celebrities educated viewers on certain aspects of the crisis and spotlighted human interest stories from across the world. There were interviews with health workers, world leaders, members of the World Health Organization, essential workers, and teachers. Former first ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush united for a message of thanks and hope.
The two hours were purposefully part-educational, part-inspirational, and part-entertainment. To that latter point, there are two performances that stood out.
Jennifer Lopez, the firecracker known for her crackling live performances and athletic dancing, if not necessarily her vocal prowess, made the huge swerve of performing “People,” the ballad popularized by Barbra Streisand. Perhaps it was sacrilegious. Perhaps it was a baller move. Did she measure up to Streisand? That’s not possibly a serious question. But she impressed me.
Sitting in front of a tree outside wrapped with mood lighting and floating candles—J.Lo knows how to put on a show—she ended the performance by declaring “I miss you.” You know, the people.
Then there was the grand finale: Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, John Legend, Lady Gaga, and Lang Lang all performing “The Prayer” together. It was as gorgeous as anyone who reads that sentence could imagine. There’s not much more to say.
One World: Together At Home was an unprecedented effort elevating an onslaught of unprecedented efforts that have improvised and performed miracles of logistics in order to stage televised and livestreamed fundraisers and specials while everyone involved, from the talent to producers and editors, are all sprawled across separate isolations. They’re almost review-proof outside of the slack-jawed awe in the amount of work and will it took to pull them off. Inherently, they’re inspiring.
These kinds of telethons tend to always be well-intentioned, but also...kind of bad. They’re profound, but a little awkward. Moving, but corny. Impressive, but unengaging. All of that plays differently when the typically overwrought production—and with it, the accompanying pretension and bombast—is stripped away.
I wouldn’t say that something organized by one of the largest and most well-connected charitable organizations in the world and curated by Lady Gaga is scrappy. But stripping an initiative like this back to something so bare-bones, by necessity, makes its impact louder.
The global nature of things meant a dearth of America-specific screw-Trump messaging, which will be welcome to people looking for a distraction from the country’s current political dumpster fire and frustrating for others craving an outlet for their rage and for specials like these to confront that reality. And the gravity of circumstances meant everyone was on their best behavior. No “George Bush hates black people” moments here. (It also helped that it wasn’t shot live.)
Together at Home didn’t have the energy of, like, a Live Aid, because that would be circumstantially impossible. And it didn’t have the bombast of the telethons that aired after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. But it was just right for this moment, which is the best that can be expected from these things. Plus, it made a ton of money for a good cause.