We Are the World. In 1985, the omniscient eyes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan and seemingly every other top artist witnessed what was obscured from our living room windows. It took Grammy winners to tear our hearts and wallets open to the struggles of starvation in Africa, to the tune of more than $60m. The artists whose voices personally shook our inner-core were the same philanthropists we trusted to enlighten us on issues larger than our own infinitesimal lives.
With the entire global population in varied stages of coronavirus quarantine in 2020, the time has never been been more opportune for our favorite artists to relieve the world once again. Unfortunately for those with blue checkmarks on Twitter and Instagram, the era of star-studded thoughts and prayers appears to be over.
When Elton John and some of biggest musicians in the world livestreamed a Covid-19 benefit concert in front of 8 million, the other 7.45 billion captive viewers opted out.
The celebrity tune-out continued on social media.
Wonder Woman Gal Gadot and her gang of fellow actors inspired a thousandfold more criticism and cringe than goodwill for their atonal rendition of John Lennon’s unifying-with-no-heaven manifesto Imagine.
Vanessa Hudgens quashed any hope for a celebrity epidemiologist to emerge when she wokefully expressed to her fans: “Even if everybody gets it, like yeah, people are going to die, which is terrible … but inevitable?”
When tips on maintaining physically safe-distanced fitness routines from their indoor pools and remote personal trainers on video chat failed to save the world, the cultural elite wised up to content people were actually seeking.
Through multiple failed attempts at prying relevance from the vice grip of a global pandemic, the celebrity industrial complex quickly pivoted its outreach strategy from unification and togetherness to one of cautious utility and ominous warning.
Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Samuel L Jackson and even David Letterman popped out of the coffin to echo World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warnings about maintaining social distance and “staying the fuck at home” with cute songs and selfies.
Driven by a narcissistic and possibly sociopathic desire to parent, what happens when no one listens to the celebrities that know best during a time of crisis? If the rich and famous are unable to guide our moral compass, who serves as the magnetic north?
To date, not one star has been able to approach the meteoric Covid-19 stardom of Dr Anthony Fauci, longtime US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director. Fauci’s press conferences and messaging have inspired trending hashtags, fan pages, memes and even bobbleheads and prayer candles. Holding his role since 1984, Fauci never had any cause to become a household name, until now.
Some of the best creative inspiration in history has come from those not born into the monopoly of creativity. Fauci, Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California, and even polarizing Donald Trump have captured the nation’s attention with their regular public responses and working solutions to the coronavirus crisis.
Where government officials and doctors are now the celebrated authorities for news and knowledge, people stuck at home are finally relying on each other for unity and entertainment. Happy hours are taking place between friends who may have never been able to grab a drink together in real life, while an entire cottage industry of backgrounds for the video chat platform Zoom has popped up.
The meme-makers on Reddit and lip-syncing dancers on TikTok are getting the nation to connect and pay attention with their daily challenges, pranks and heartfelt safety warnings. They’ve turned Covid-19 into the great equalizer, proving that it takes a good thought to have influence, not the other way around.
With no red carpet premieres or glamorous awards shows, the only stars being clapped for are healthcare workers every evening at 7pm. When Tom Hanks revealed he had coronavirus, we realized celebrities really are just like us. And that’s what’s disappointing.
It might be a reflection of not only the pandemic, but of the times in general, that celebrity influence is waning. Sure, the K-pop supergroup BTS routinely induces fans into fainting across the globe, but we will probably never have another king of pop who can rally the entire planet into caring and taking action.
Thirty-five years after We Are the World, we’re left to wonder, who actually was the we?