4 Celebrity Stunts That Disproved the Healing Power of Music
Music is powerful stuff. It has the power to affect mood, the power to affect productivity, the power to ruin a wedding. So it’s no surprise that music is a common tool to combine with a political movement. One that’s proven effective time after time throughout history. Woodstock, removed from all the weed smoke and public hand jobs, was still a massive counterculture event.
Of course, for music to be this effective, it does have one very important bar to clear — it can’t objectively suck shit.
Nevertheless, plenty of celebrities have tried to manufacture a cultural anthem with the power to move the masses. In fact, most of these songs seem to have been written and recorded with an unfounded, unwavering belief that they’re already loved. That, or they wrongly assume that just because a song is about stuff that’s generally popular, like not killing people, that no one will dare shit-talk it. Not only is that inaccurate, but music about killing people is historically very popular, whether it’s Johnny Cash or Chief Keef.
Here are four celebrity music events that were unsuccessfully crammed down our auditory canals...
‘Imagine,’ But Worse
Look, although it’s not quite over, we can look back and admit that in the meat of early COVID, we were all navigating our own personal mental breakdown path. Some people adopted dogs they didn’t want, some people got really into sourdough and some celebrities decided that what the world needed was them, badly singing the song “Imagine.” Everybody’s favorite people, singing everybody’s favorite song, by everyone’s favorite artist, how could it go wrong?
Well, there were a couple problems. First of all, the celebrities made the mistake of telling themselves that everyone always wants to hear from them. I’ll forgive it, since this particular brain worm is pretty much required to pursue a career in acting in the first place. So, from square one, there’s a solid base of intolerable naivety. This only got doubled by choosing the song “Imagine.” I’m not enough of a contrarian to act like the Beatles are overrated, and I’m not up my own ass enough to think pointing out that John Lennon beat his wife is any revelation, but I do think it’s worth admitting that objectively, “Imagine” fucking sucks.
Lyrically, it’s the sort of thing you’d see on a corkboard outside a kindergarten classroom. “Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too”? Damn, Johnny, you must be getting your acid straight from Timothy Leary’s lab to even process that level of radical thinking. It’s a sentiment that would be considered a cop-out in most beauty pageants. So when 22 people who could hit you with their car and walk away with a ticket sing it while making direct eye contact, it rings a little hollow.
Hillary Clinton ‘Hallelujah’
Saturday Night Live is a sketch comedy show, purportedly. Beyond that, they’ve become a central part of the cultural discussion, and that extends to politics. After all, to hear a stand-up comedian with between zero and three years of open mics under their belt explain it, it’s the one place you can speak truth to power. The jester was the only one who could insult the king, they’ll explain, and so on and so forth for the rest of the runtime of a podcast that lasted four episodes before going “on hiatus.” Anyway, I guess political pollsters see some sort of swing from Joe Biden fist bumping Lizzo in a sketch about a weird waiter, so we’re stuck with it.
Usually, though, comedians who are tackling the Big Issues at least get to glisten up with the veneer of it being a joke. Even comics who just basically state popular opinions are savvy enough to add a “maybe that makes me crazy, I don’t know” at the end. With one particular cold open, though, directly after the sucker punch of the 2016 election, SNL went full-on earnest, hoping, I suppose, to provide some sort of musical salve to a hurting nation. Instead, Kate McKinnon inexplicably singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton felt more like a musical theater kid trying to give CPR to someone with a sucking chest wound.
‘We Are the World,’ Round Two
The original “We Are The World” was an unmitigated success by pretty much any metric you could pick. It bent the Billboard charts over its knee, and provided an incredible amount of financial support to victims of famine in Africa. Even for the most jaded critic of celebrities and fame-centric philanthropy, it’s hard to shit on without sounding like an incorrigible dick. Not to mention that the collection of stars involved is the sort of lineup we’d put on for an alien landing to show them just how hard Earth music slaps.
So, as with anything that survives the test of time, people couldn’t leave it well enough the fuck alone. Somebody decided that a massive earthquake in Haiti happening right around the 25th anniversary of the song wasn’t due to the fact that bad stuff is constantly happening all the time, but some sort of haunted serendipity, and that it was time to squeeze some extra juice from that peacefully resting corpse. Look, I understand that it was done in good faith, but as soon as you leave the original idea of “helping Haiti,” the whole thing stinks of publicist-heavy email chains.
Unfortunately, outside of some early traction, the follow-up, “We Are the World 25 For Haiti” failed to do much outside of gum up the original’s Google results. Case in point: It earned an ignominious mention in NPR’s “Worst Ideas of the 2010s.”
U2 Putting Their Album on Everyone’s iPhone
Usually, even a particularly terrible song doesn’t have the power to ruin the day of the whole population, since it’ll most likely die out quickly, and most people will choose not to listen to it. U2, along with Apple, found a way around this, by forcibly downloading their album to the iPod of every iTunes user on Earth. If you need any evidence how mad this made everybody, just look at the graveyard of articles specifically explaining how to remove it.
Maybe the album’s actually good. For all I know, my favorite song ever is hiding somewhere on the tracklist. I don’t care, and I’ll never find out. After all, a foie-gras duck doesn’t care how good the food you’re piping down its throat tastes.