Jay-Z headlining the Global Citizen Festival was always going to be a major drawcard. So too, the prospect of seeing No Doubt together again on stage, joined for a track by Sting. Adding Carrie Underwood, The Roots and Tiesto to the mix made Saturday’s line-up appealing enough to take on the Global Poverty Project’s initiatives to win tickets to their concert in Central Park. Beyond, of course, the aim itself of ending extreme poverty by 2030.
It made sense that Jay would have started his set with Empire State of Mind – as he did, after opening with a mash of Gil Scott-Heron’s NY You’re Bringing Me Down, Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind, and Sinatra’s New York, New York. But I didn’t expect just how magnificent the sound of 60 000 people singing along, hands up in the air, would be – an anthem for the Big Apple, performed live in the heart of the city that birthed its creator. A moment too big for even the fanciest of phone cameras to capture. So too, was Sting roping in No Doubt for Message in a Bottle, his voice harmonizing with Gwen Stefani’s, as that familiar bass-line reverberated through the trees, and the sliver of golden moon grew brighter against the backdrop of the NYC skyline. Ridiculously perfect.
I’d always hoped to see No Doubt perform live. Even before their wedded union, Gwen and hubby Gavin Rossdale, with his band Bush, together helped get me through many moments of teenage angst. I remember watching videos of Stefani jumping around the stage, sweat glistening from her perfectly-sculpted abs. Twenty years later, she wasn’t rolling around on the stage but the band still energetically spun through their back catalogue, from opener Hella Good to prize possession Don’t Speak and the ska-fuelled Hey Baby. Stephen Bradley on trumpet and keys helped keep that vibe lifted, literally jumping up and down all through the set.
When Jay took over the reigns, the hood of a Global Citizen Festival sweatshirt framing his face, he bounded through his hits, one after the other, Izzo (H.O.V.A), Big Pimpin’, I Just Wanna Love U, Tom Ford, in between thanking the crowd for coming out for “a beautiful cause.”
“If you believe in this movement, make some noiiiise,” he urged.
And the crowd obliged.
Jay’s was the only set that wasn’t interspersed with messages from Global Poverty Project ambassadors, Elmo or Hugh Jackman (oh, how we love Hugh) explaining the various problems exacerbating world poverty right now and what is being done to help, or the challenges being issued to world leaders and, in many cases, the positive responses issued to these. In between The Roots, fun. and Carrie Underwood, who all performed to fans who’d filled the park, were snippets of info and stats to go along with that. It helped the medicine, so to speak, go down a lot easier than the first year a concert was held when so many of the messages were dragged down by being too long and overwhelming.
Jay was impressing just fine, but then he pulled out the Bey card, and his wife came out to perform Holy Grail, singing, as she did on their On The Run tour together, the part of Justin Timberlake. If Central Park had a roof, it would have been blown off, such was the excitement at Beyonce’s arrival on stage. Together, they ended the show, once again, how they ended their tour, with Young Forever and images of their life together playing onscreen behind them. It was another one of those ridiculously perfect moments, when those 60 000 voices sang the Alphaville chorus, cellphones – and one or two lone lighters – illuminating the night sky.
Like, I said, ridiculously perfect.
What’s not perfect, as we know, is the state of the world right now. Many of the problems the Global Citizen Festival highlighted seem insurmountable, like the fact that 2.5 billion people in the world still don’t have access to proper toilets. But Saturday’s concert and the actions its presenters – from actress Olivia Wilde to Madiba’s grandson Ndaba Mandela – asked its audience to perform, made those problems feel a little less so. It’s like, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Our world needs solar power and wind power, but I believe in an even stronger source of energy – people power.” After this year’s Global Citizen Festival, I’m a believer too.