On Saturday night, a multigenerational who’s who of hitmakers, including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift, performed for an audience of nearly 21 million people as part of Global Citizen’s One World: Together at Home. The last two hours of the eight-hour livestreamed event simultaneously aired on three major TV networks and a number of cable channels, with the event raising nearly $128 million from corporate donors for a variety of coronavirus-related charities.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle that it came together,” Global Citizen’s CEO and founder, Hugh Evans, tells Rolling Stone. “If you asked me three weeks ago, whether we could pull off an event that was that was going to be broadcast on 60 global broadcast networks in 175 countries and across all the major digital platforms, I would have laughed and said there’s not a chance.”
The idea for rallying musicians to help raise money and awareness for COVID-19 causes originally came from the United Nations’ Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, who asked Evans to mobilize various artists he worked with, including Chris Martin, Niall Horan, and Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. Evans spoke with the World Health Organization’s Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, who called Cynthia Germanotta, Lady Gaga’s mother who serves as the ambassador for mental health at the WHO. When Germanotta said Gaga wanted to take these videos to “a whole new level,” Evans soon learned she wanted to organize an event within two-and-a-half weeks.
Assembling a cohesive show proved to be daunting, since, like Global Citizen’s live events, the broadcast featured much more than performances. It also featured hosts — Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert — non-musical advocacy moments with artists like Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, segments with two former First Ladies, stories about everyday citizens and their battle with the virus and underwriting from nearly two dozen corporate and philanthropic sponsors. “There were probably, like, a thousand hurdles to make this show,” Evans says.
Although Lady Gaga had already reached out to McCartney, Elton John, Lizzo, and many others for the initial announcement, the Rolling Stones waited until the Thursday before the broadcast to commit to the show. Their four-screen, socially isolated rendition of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” became the show’s most talked-about performance. Part of the delay for the Stones was that Mick Jagger wasn’t able to discuss the commitment with his bandmates until the last couple of days before production. The Stones assembled their video of the course of four or five days, and then confirmed their involvement with Evans. “Someone said to me that they were sad they missed out on being a part of Live Aid, and they didn’t want to miss this opportunity,” he says. “That was a real encouragement.”
Evans laughs when asks about Charlie Watts’ supposed air drumming during the performance. “I don’t think he was entirely air drumming, because when I saw the initial cuts, he just didn’t have his drum set with him, so he had to improvise, but it’s not entirely air drumming,” Evans says. “I don’t know. That’s not my expertise; my focus is poverty alleviation and economics, so I can’t tell you if Charlie Watts was air drumming. Even if he was, it’s still pretty funny. What I do know is that he brought in all those bits and bobs from across his house and the lady who helps clean his house held up the iPhone to film it. So it was very much a team effort.”
Despite all the head-turning A-list support for the show, Evans kept his focus on what he wanted to accomplish with the event. “You want to do something that, when you think about how many people have lost the lost their loved ones and how many people have lost their jobs and how hard healthcare workers are working right now, they’re the heroes of this story,” Evans says. “So I always felt like we had to do justice for them. It’s not just about doing a nice show; it has to do justice to the injustice. So many people are dying, so many people have lost loved ones, so many people are out of work, and how do you possibly capture that at such a hard time? And I’m sure we did a very imperfect job at that. But I wanted to do our best, so we had to pour everything into it.”
Evans says the millions the organization raised at the event will be disbursed in the next month. The WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund will receive $55 million and will provide personal protective equipment — goggles, masks, face shields — to health workers. Another $72 million will go to local charities around the world that will help homeless and vulnerable people.
He also voiced support for the WHO, which the White House has attempted to vilify in recent weeks. Last week, President Trump cut funding to the organization. “The WHO is the only organization with the full support of the UN general assembly,” Evans says. “There is no alternative WHO to respond globally.
“You can’t reopen the U.S economy fully until this has been dealt with globally,” he continues. “That’s because inevitably, even if you restarted international flights, we see the effects of how a virus anywhere can mean a virus everywhere. Everyone wants to go back to work. Everyone wants to have their jobs back. They want to see what the ‘new normal,’ post-COVID-19 looks like, but it’s not going to be at all possible until we address the fact that many of the poorest nations have very poor health systems that aren’t capable of withstanding the current wave of the virus and how that can therefor create the second wave for the United States.
“I like to call this our enlightened self-interest,” Evans adds. “Even if we don’t care about other nations from a charitable point of view, we should do so from a self-interested point of view in an enlightened sense. It affects your family, and it affects my family. If other nations have poor health systems, it affects all of us.”