Two weeks after undergoing foot surgery that he likened to 70s TV series “The Six Million Dollar Man”, Usher had an important message for Global Poverty Project / Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans. “I might be a little injured, but I wanna make it here for you…Listen, I wanna come in style if that’s OK with you.”
Sporting a solid gold crutch, Usher impressively hopped and hobbled his way through a two-part 45-minute set halfway through the first Global Citizen Earth Day concert at Washington DC’s National Mall on Saturday (April 18), an outdoor concert where My Morning Jacket, Train, Fall Out Boy, Mary J. Blige and closing headliners No Doubt played to an audience that was estimated to exceed 300,000 people. At several points, the “I Don’t Mind” singer even bunny-hopped on one foot to properly turn up for his dance hits like “Without You” and current collaboration “Don’t Look Down” featuring Martin Garrix, who flew in to appear during Usher’s set.
The event coincided with the 45th anniversary of Earth Day (which takes place Tuesday April 20) as well as the spring meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund. Additionally, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation held a policy planning meeting in Washington on Friday (April 17) where artists like Fall Out Boy and Global Citizen’s 15-year curator Chris Martin were in attendance.
Though Global Citizen Earth Day was in the White House’s backyard, the Obamas were not in attendance. However, Global Poverty’s Evans told Billboard, “We met with [senior White House adviser] Valerie Jarrett yesterday and it was very funny – the President could hear our rehearsals and asked to turn the sound down. So he’s very familiar with our event, and the administration has sent some of their most senior officials here today.”
The daytime event was powered partly by solar energy, and marked the first proper union of The Global Poverty Project with the Earth Day Network since the event’s March announcement. Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, said the event was a crucial step on the way to the 2015 Climate Change Conference, to be held in Paris in December after the United Nations agrees upon its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to eliminate global poverty by 2030. “This was a way to bring the poverty and climate people together. We want to bring energy to all, and we also want to bring sustainable food. There’s so many things that connect with what we’re doing, and we’re excited by the challenge.”
Among the dignitaries on the stage and in the crowd: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and his special adviser Amina Mohammed; World Bank president Jim Yong Kim; International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde; former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and senior officials from Denmark, The Netherlands, NAACP National Voter Fund, United HealthCare, Oxfam, and the ONE campaign. The World Bank was also expected to detail the specifics of its $3 billion pledge for accelerating access to clean water and sanitation worldwide.
With so much “pop and policy,” in Evans’ parlance, colliding all day, here are some minute-by-minute highlights of the inaugural event.
12:53 p.m. — My Morning Jacket takes the stage for its live performance in support of forthcoming studio album The Waterfall, which frontman Jim James later tells Billboard will have its own philanthropic component. “We’re going to donate a portion of ticket sales from each show on this tour to a lot of different causes, and we’re working with RPM Productions to identify which one in each city.” The album title may also be a hidden TLC reference, as drummer Patrick Hallahan joked, “We knew that was gonna come up in every interview.”
1:44 p.m. — Train’s Pat Monahan leads the Mall in a voluminous row of swaying arms to anthemic hits “Hey, Soul Sister,” “Angel In Blue Jeans” and “Drive By.”
2:40 p.m. — Brooke Lynn in the building! Mary J. Blige, sportily dressed in a white jump suit with her signature hoop earrings and convertible shades, brings out her rap pseudonym for an opening performance of fan favorite “Enough Crying,” before ripping into other jams like “The One” and “Just Fine.” Mid-set, she slows things down to perform “Doubt,” a showcase ballad from her current album The London Sessions. “This is about the most different thing I’ve done in my career,” Blige says of the project, “and to all my fans: thank you each and every one of you for your support.”
3:28 p.m. — Patrick Stump’s songs may know what you did in the dark, but Fall Out Boy lit up the National Mall with an electric and socially conscious set. He told Billboard earlier, “It can be overwhelming, we don’t have time in our brains beyond thinking, ‘I know I gotta give money, but what else can I do?’ We hope there’s one kid in the audience today who comes up with this amazing idea to drive that next big change.” The band’s Pete Wentz also says the band will keep its upcoming tour with Wiz Khalifa greener by planting trees on the road, and offsetting its trucks’ collective carbon footprint with fewer resources.
4:30 p.m. — “DC!” Usher exclaims after a kinetic opener with “OMG.” “I’m here to tell ya: one foot don’t stop no show…I made it here to be with you guys today. I wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world. This is about hope, this is about togetherness, this is about peace…” And just as the band cues up his 2004 crunk-and-B hit “Yeah!”, Usher adds, “Peace up! A-town.” Though he’s leaning on a gold crutch, Usher is still admirably mobile enough to work the runway and hype the crowd while dancing with one leg.
4:36 p.m. — Usher is on fire with the seamless transitions and Global Citizen plugs that also come off like dad jokes. “This event would not be possible without all of us united in this entire day and global effort. And speaking of collaborations, I collaborated with an incredible young man not too long ago. You may know him he’s my homie…” And before anyone can gasp at a surprise Bieber appearance, Usher exclaims, “It’s Martin Garrix!”
4:46 p.m. — A visibly moved Usher gets into an intimate version of John Legend’s Oscar-winning Selma song “Glory,” during which Common makes a surprise appearance. The two musicians then switch roles for Common’s hits “Go” and “The Light,” with Usher tackling hook duties in lieu of John Mayer and Erykah Badu, respectively. The crowd reaches new levels of hype-itude as the lawn spills past the 250,000 mark.
5:10 p.m. — Usher announces that he’ll be donating his gold crutch to the first person who can download the Earth Day app and complete the five actions necessary to help stop climate change. “I’ma give you the crutch off my arm, and I’ma give you the shirt off my back.” But before the ladies get too loud, Usher laughs. “I wanted to just test to see if y’all were ready for met to take my shirt off.” Amid pleas to do so, Usher waves it off. “No home training. Maybe I’ll take it off a little later.” Though he strips down to a tank top after covering U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Usher otherwise remains shirted.
5:27 p.m. — Rovio announces a new version of “Angry Birds” that will debut in September ahead of the Climate Change Conference that will raise awareness for saving wildlife and improving the environment. Already a fan? Prince William, who is seen playing the game in a promotional video announcing the game, which in previous versions has been downloaded more than 2.8 billion times worldwide – more than any other mobile app in history.
6:47 p.m. — Global Citizen curator Chris Martin makes a surprise appearance to formally kick off his new role with the organization, and engage in a little harmless rumor-mongering. “Thank you for all being here in this amazing event here today. We’d like to work together so we can woo Justin Bieber into joining One Direction…Wait is that not what wer’re here for? Shit. Oh well, that should happen anyway.” He then introduces “Adrian, Tony, Tom and Gwen,” better known as No Doubt.
6:51 p.m. — “I command every single person to jump in the air with me!” a beaming Gwen Stefani says, whipping a rope of platinum blonde ponytail as she pogoes across the stage in a camo-green jumpsuit to “Hey Baby.” “Seriously right now: the feeling, the energy, the love, the unity that you are giving me right now is so beautiful. Thank you so much,” she says. The band then pummels through three more hits – “It’s My Life,” “Push And Shove” and “Sunday Morning” before taking a brief interlude.
7:21 p.m. — Cohost will.i.am is reflecting on the magnitude of the National Mall and its history. “Martin Luther King stood right over there, toward the Lincoln Memorial, and reminded us we should not forget the true importance of what we have now and how we can change it.” Though 1.2 billion people currently live in poverty globally, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals will help put new actions in place to help eliminate poverty by 2030.
7:40 p.m. — No Doubt finishes off the event with a one-two punch of “Spiderwebs” and “Don’t Speak.” Though the sun is just beginning to set on the National Mall, No Doubt’s 2015 comeback is just beginning: the Global Citizen Earth Day event is the first in a planned series of nearly a dozen festivals for the band this year.