Chris Martin has spent the last 15 years as the frontman of Coldplay, the most successful British rock band of the millennium with 18.2 million albums and 33.6 million song downloads sold in the United States (according to Nielsen Music). But the group’s future is uncertain after the planned release of its final (for now, anyway) album A Head Full of Dreams on Parlophone/Atlantic later in the year, and a stadium tour tentatively set for summer 2016, Billboard has learned. Still, Martin has a plan for his next 15 years: to become the next Bono.
“Everything I do is a Bono move — surely that’s clear after 15 years,” Martin says with a self-effacing chuckle. “But I’m not going to start wearing shades.”
Beginning in September, Martin will become curator of the Global Citizen Festival, joining advisory members like Universal executive vp Michele Anthony, Translation’s Steve Stoute and Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis to book an annual charity concert held on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park that raises funds toward eliminating global poverty by 2030. As part of his role, Martin will use his rock-star stature to spread word of the United Nations’ 17 “sustainable development goals” — a list of actions (including improved sanitation, and youth and adolescent rights) to help the estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty — and to help the festival expand to other international territories in the coming years. “We needed someone who could inspire other artists to make a long-term commitment to being involved,” Global Citizen co-founder/CEO Hugh Evans tells Billboard. “Chris really wanted to take on a leadership role in that.”
At a Feb. 13 luncheon announcing the partnership, Martin, 37, sounded equally at ease reeling off global poverty statistics as he did name-dropping his powerful Rolodex, citing Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as examples of famous friends he might enlist to perform politically relevant songs and deliver calls to action.
In fact, it was only the mention of his own band that gave him pause, when he was asked whether he might be involved as a performer each year. “No, God no — I don’t want to upset everyone in the world,” Martin said with a laugh, having consciously recoupled with the media this year after a press-free campaign for 2014’s Ghost Stories. “Our group will show up and play if nobody else says yes, but my hope is that we don’t have to play at all. My strength is to call up my friends, and to work out which German pop star will sound most convincing in ending extreme poverty, or bringing sanitation to Kenya or whatever it might be. I love playing, of course, but it’s not like we have to.”
Instead, Coldplay’s farewell trek will be the band’s first proper world outing since its Mylo Xyloto Tour, which grossed $186.9 million from 77 shows in 2011 and 2012, according to Billboard Boxscore. Though collaborators for the new album have been kept secret, the project is expected to have a more upbeat, anthemic feel compared with the more intimate, Paul Epworth-helmed Ghost Stories.
Still, Martin’s work with Global Citizen will differ crucially from that of Bob Geldof and Bono — rockers who have spearheaded cause-based organizations Live Aid and (RED), respectively. In lieu of charitable donations, Global Citizen focuses on unlocking government funds (the World Bank dedicates more than $65 billion a year to poverty relief). Evans says Martin will be tasked with orchestrating pairings like No Doubt‘s announcement of Norwegian Prime Minister Irma Solberg‘s $1 billion pledge at the concert in 2014. “It shows the power of pop and policy coming together in the last few years,” Evans says. “With the advent of Global Citizen, we’ve had the ability to gamify [activism] through social media. If social media existed before Live Aid, they would have gamified it as well.”
This article first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of Billboard.