For the fifth year in a row, the Global Citizen Festival brought a high-profile group of celebrities, politicians, artists, and activists to New York City’s Central Park to join the global fight against extreme poverty. Throughout the day, celebrity MCs like Hugh Jackman, Priyanka Chopra, Salma Hayek, and others introduced organizations and activists, who then spoke about their causes (building infrastructure, fighting polio, ending honor killings and other sexist laws, etc.). These were bookended by performances from pop stars new and old, making for a cross-platform celebration of international solidarity and activism. Here are the highlights.
Demi Lovato lifts up the crowd
Many of Global Citizen’s causes revolve around women; as a representative from the Caterpillar Foundation said at one point, “we believe that when you empower women, you empower the world.” Demi Lovato made sure to incorporate these themes into her early afternoon set. In addition to playing anthems like “Confident,” Lovato also covered Aretha Franklin’s classic “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman),” saying, “This song has been lifting up and inspiring women since before I was born.” Covering Aretha is no easy task, but Lovato tackled it with aplomb before finishing off her set with a pounding version of “Cool for the Summer.” Lovato is as electrifying a live performer as ever: All the prolonged high notes and blistering vocals in her Global Citizen set served as a reminder that last year’s awesome Saturday Night Live performance was no one-off.
Yusuf/Cat Stevens speaks to identity
Yusuf/Cat Stevens addressed the idea of identity after performing an Eddie Vedder-assisted version of “Father and Son”: “Like that song says, there’s too much distance between people these days … Unrest around the world is caused by people who feel their identity has been traumatized and trampled on, so they lash out,” he said. “Movements like this can remind us that the globe is big enough for everyone to share.” The performance was heightened by the fact that Yusuf only recently broke a 40-year drought of New York City performances.
Kendrick Lamar wants you to empower yourself
Self-empowerment is key to sustainable development. This belief powers a lot of Global Citizen’s participating organizations, which aim to develop infrastructure and provide people worldwide with the resources they need to go out and achieve their goals. Perhaps no one in the modern pop music landscape speaks to self-empowerment more eloquently than Kendrick Lamar, and the Compton rapper proved that during his festival set. In addition to anthems of radical self-love like “i” and “Alright,” Lamar frequently asked the audience to “give it up for yourselves,” and constantly gave shout-outs to what he calls his “day-ones,” his longtime fans. But no one feels isolated at a Kendrick show; just as he did during his awe-inspiring Panorama set this summer, Lamar made everyone feel part of his music and his celebration.
Eddie Vedder dismisses Donald Trump supporters
This year’s festival included lots of familiar faces: Michelle Obama sent a video message to provide updates on the Let Girls Learn initiative she plugged in-person last year, and both Eddie Vedder and Chris Martin returned to perform, albeit without their backing bands this time. During Vedder and Martin’s joint set, the Pearl Jam singer also took time from their cover of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” to assuage fears about the rise of Donald Trump.
Well, okay, Vedder never actually said Trump’s name, but it was pretty clear who he was talking about. “When you see certain political candidates, you see an uprising of racism, of homophobia, of sexism raising their ugly, moldy, rusty heads, it’s a sign, and it’s a good sign. It means this is one last grasp,” he said. “They know these are antiquated ideals that are going away, and I think that’s why you’re seeing this last rise. These ideas are being held in a skeleton hand, and there’s no longer room for them in this modern world of communication, acceptance, and understanding of others.”
Chris Martin stalls for Rihanna
As the day’s headlining act, Rihanna was used as a tease throughout the festival. Hosts would periodically talk about how excited they were for her set, and she even got a shout-out from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. However, when it came time for Rihanna to perform, she ended up running a few minutes late — so the producers sent the ever-game Chris Martin back onstage to play one more song while Rihanna finished prepping. Martin chose to play a Prince song since, in his words, there would be no Rihanna or Coldplay without the late pop star. Unfortunately for Martin, he only knew the first few verses from “Raspberry Beret,” which forced him to improvise a hilarious new one: “I was waiting for Rihanna in Central Park / Waiting for her to do her show / I was assured by the producer I had to do one song / And I ain’t got too long to go.”
Eventually, of course, Rihanna did come out, and closed out the festival with a mix of classic hits like “Umbrella” and recent Anti cuts like “Desperado” and “Love on the Brain.”