In Imagine Dragons’ Grammy-winning 2012 hit “Radioactive,” frontman Dan Reynolds begins the second verse, “I raise my flags, don my clothes / It’s a revolution, I suppose / We’ll paint it red to fit right in.”
The lyrics were fitting Monday night at Los Angeles’ Staples Center where the band — along with artists including Bebe Rexha, Camila Cabello, Daya, Halsey, Incubus, Machine Gun Kelly, Macklemore, Miguel, Mija, Skrillex, and Tinashe — played for thousands of people as part of WELCOME!, an ACLU fundraiser concert organized by EDM DJ and producer Zedd, who capped off the four-hour show.
The musician behind the chart-climbing, Alessia Cara-featuring “Stay” is an immigrant himself, born Anton Zaslavski in Russia and raised in Germany. He joined the revolution of people fighting President Trump’s immigration ban — it was eventually blocked by courts, as was his subsequent revised executive order — pulling together WELCOME! in just two months.
“This is probably the single most complicated and stressful thing we’ve ever done, but it’s worth it,” Zedd told EW before the event, praising the “real heroes” at the ACLU and behind the scenes who worked “endless nights to make this happen.”
Though he admits he didn’t know how feasible it would be to put on this mini “festival” in such a short amount of time, the 27-year-old is proud of the results. “Every artist did anything they could do to be a part of this,” he said. “Artists asked to be here, which is just the biggest compliment — people who want to be a part of something good and fly in and do it for free. This is pretty much the dream I’ve had.”
On stage, artists performed their most popular songs, while ACLU executives took the mic throughout the night to energize the engaged crowd, reminding everyone of the organization’s recent successes in helping stop those immigration bans, their efforts to prevent the passage of so-called Trumpcare, and more. Milck’s protest anthem “Quiet” played as the soundtrack for a video montage of images from January’s Women’s March, as well as pro-Muslim and anti-immigration rallies.
Oscar winner Jared Leto made an appearance, thanking the show organizer — “I call him Anton because he is my friend,” Leto said — and the crowd for supporting the cause, a sentiment echoed by all of the acts. A few went further, though, seizing the opportunity to make a statement, be it personal or bold.
“It does not say you have to RSVP on the Statue of Liberty,” Bebe Rexha said at the end of her lively set, before ending on a very pointed note. “F— Donald Trump,” she said, dropping the mic and throwing her hands — and a couple particular fingers — in the air, hyping the crowd as she exited the stage.
Before the show, Rexha donned a black shirt adorned with the phrase “Immigrant Daughter.”
“My father came from Albania, and I think that, obviously, if he never came I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing,” the “Me, Myself & I” and “In the Name of Love” singer told EW. “Not to say that I couldn’t coming from Albania, I just think it would have been a longer journey. I think everybody deserves that freedom to come from any country and follow the America dream.”
After a stirring performance of “Radioactive,” arguably one of the night’s most memorable, Imagine Dragons’ Reynolds took a couple minutes to get personal.
“I feel overwhelmed with so many emotions tonight. My wife bore two girls into the world five days ago,” Reynolds said, getting emotional about his expanding family. “I know it sounds corny to say, but it made me reflect, it made me think about the future, it made me think about tonight about the meaning of this. … This is not about us, this is not about any of the musicians. It’s about all of us coming together and creating a future for my little girls, for all of you, for our grandchildren, for our adopted children, for the future, for the people that come into this country seeking a home, for a people seeking refuge from war.”
He continued: “I want to create a world where my little girls see no color, they see no religion, and they don’t give a damn about any of that. They just care about love and what’s in your heart.”
Macklemore worked the crowd, walking on the hands of concertgoers near the stage, while also moving people with the message of his 2012 hit “Same Love,” which became synonymous with LGBT rights and the same-sex marriage movement.
“We all have a platform in this arena here tonight,” the Grammy-winning performer said. “We all have a platform, we all have a voice, we all have people we can reach out to. Hatred and fear can never overpower love. This is a testament to it this evening.”
While The Chainsmokers weren’t technically part of the event, their presence was felt: Daya sang her Grammy-winning collaboration with the duo, “Don’t Let Me Down,” while Halsey performed a portion of “Closer,” her hit with the group, as Zedd took the lead on production. She also joined Imagine Dragons for their “Demons.”
Rounding out the night, though, was the man responsible for the original idea. After performing some of his hits — “Beautiful Now,” “Stay the Night,” “Clarity,” and “Stay” — Zedd stepped out from behind the DJ booth and helmed a keyboard for the finale, welcoming Camila Cabello, clad in a “RESIST” shirt-dress, and Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger to the stage for a cover of Michael Jackson’s 1987 classic “Man In the Mirror.”
Zedd’s WELCOME! is his first attempt to “make the world a better place,” and he promises there’s more to come.