Now in its third year, the Global Citizen Festival took its ambitious name to heart during its Sept. 27 gathering on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park. In addition to show-stopping performances from Jay Z (with a two-song finale cameo from Beyonce), No Doubt (who were at one point joined by Sting), Carrie Underwood, fun., Alicia Keys, The Roots and Tiesto, efforts to fix seemingly all the world’s problems were rampant throughout.
Celebrities like host Hugh Jackman and presenters Dianna Agron, Zachary Quinto and Erin Heatherton often appeared alongside world dignitaries like Queen Silvia of Sweden, Prime Minister Narenda Modi of India, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway and even President Barack Obama (via pre-recorded video), often interrupting the raucous adrenaline of the rock performances taking place to remind the 50,000-plus crowd and global audience tuning in via NBC/ MSNBC of global poverty as well as epidemics like ebola, HIV and dirty water. The shifts in tone wouldn’t seem so drastic if the calls to action weren’t so compelling. “You are now part of the global fight to end extreme poverty, and this is a fight we can win,” President Obama said at one point.
With many moments both light and heavy unfolding over the course of an eventful six hours, here’s 10 moments worth revisiting:
1. At most general-market festivals these days, the EDM superstar gets final billing – as evidenced by Calvin Harris’ closing set at last weekend’s iHeartRadio or Steve Aoki’s bicoastal headlining of Made in America over Labor Day. But Tiesto seemed game for playing opening act, warming up the crowd with hits like “Last Train” and “Wasted” as well as a four-on-the-floor remix of Sam Smith and Naughty Boy’s “La La La.”
— RIOT.HOUSE (@theriothouse) September 27, 2014
2. Taking selfies has become a pretty commonplace concert activity these days, but it takes on a different weight when encouraged by the uniquely Global Citizen pairing of “Glee” star Dianna Agron and United Nations Population Fund executive director Babatunde Osotimehin, who encouraged attendees and viewers to “Show Your Selfie,” the UNFPA’s visual fund.
3. Alicia Keys’ new single “We Are Here” touches on subjects the singer only hints at addressing, with thought-provoking couplets like “Let’s talk about Nigeria / and the mass hysteria” and “Let’s talk about Israel / ‘cause right it is real.” But for her surprise appearance at Global Citizen, the singer put the latter talking point to life by inviting musicians from both Israel and Palestine to perform alongside her. Given the recent streak of concert cancellations in Israel alone, ended by Lady Gaga earlier this month, it was a statement that spoke even louder than Keys’ thematically ambitious song.
— The Source Magazine (@THESOURCE) September 27, 2014
4. Alicia Keys may not have stuck around for a no-brainer duet on “Empire State Of Mind,” but Jay Z treated the crowd to a mini-redux of his just-wrapped On The Run Tour when wife Beyonce showed up at the end of his 45-minute set to sing Justin Timberlake’s bars on “Holy Grail” as well as the anthemic, set-closing “Forever Young.” Their recent HBO special may not have been a ratings smash, but for 10 brief minutes Jay and Bey once again ruled the world.
5. The information shared at Global Citizen didn’t stop on the stage. Special toilet paper stocked in the festival’s VIP bathrooms came layered with a top-sheet of global statistics about open defecation, leading with how over 2.5 billion people worldwide still live without access to improved sanitation (1 billion of whom still defecate outside.) Heavy stuff to take in during an otherwise routine bathroom break, but certainly gives a whole new meaning to “stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
6. Pregnant-in-heels Carrie Underwood wowed the crowd with her expected hits (“Blown Away,” “Jesus Take The Wheel,” a “Before He Cheats” sing-along) but saved her most compelling moment for a cover of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.”
7. A glasses-free Jack Antonoff was the surprise visual highlight of fun.’s hits-packed daytime set, which won over fans like Today’s Hoda Kotb, who was openly getting down from the tier-1 VIP section with no wine in sight. Much like the unexpected selfie moment with Agron and Osotimehin, the band was introduced (separately) by the improbable duo of Zachary Quinto and U.N. ambassador Samantha Power (with a video cameo from President Obama.)
8. The frozen-in-time members of No Doubt slay a 45-minute set as if it were January 2002, complete with a Super Bowl XXXVII-reprising cameo from Sting on their cover of “Message in a Bottle.” Though the eternally youthful Gwen Stefani was the previous hour’s highlight, Sting leaves an impression of his own on a 15-second high note that can only be described as “tantric.” Also worth noting: his fully cue-balled head has cemented his status as music’s Patrick Stewart.
9. Some more stats, as shared by Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans: In partnership with the World Bank, the festival has helped commit $2.9 billion to save 500,000 lives by 2015, part of the World Bank’s global $15 billion pledge to improve clean water and sanitation. Leaders from Sweden, India and Norway added to the pledges throughout the night.
10. The Roots‘ positively polished instruments shone in the sun as Jimmy Fallon’s house band ripped through their usual ebullient medleys, including their own “The Seed (2.0)” and brassy, sassy covers of Fela Kuti‘s pertinent “Water Got No Enemy” and Curtis Mayfield‘s “Move On Up.” Dashing around onstage in many a black t-shirt, the band members brought a whole new meaning to working hard for the money… that’s all going to charity.