It was a monstrosity then, and it’s a monstrosity now.
When the 1985 benefit single “We Are The World” dropped in support of African famine relief, it represented a charity effort as yet unmatched in scale, profile or sheer luminosity — a total of 43 stars were included as either soloists or extras on the recording. The historic track was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian and was attributed to a collective supergroup called “U.S.A. for Africa,” banded together exclusively for this one recording.
The stars recently aligned — or convened, rather — for another such well-intentioned industry behemoth. On Feb. 1, only four days after the 25th anniversary of the original recording of “We Are The World,” mega-producer Quincy Jones repurposed the already planned recording to benefit Haiti in the wake of its devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Among the featured artists were resident martian Lil Wayne, jail-bait sensation Justin Bieber, Oscar nominee Jeff Bridges, Canadian rapper Drake, Akon, the incomparable Barbra Streisand, Miley Cyrus, Snoop Dogg, P!nk, Usher, Josh Groban, the performing Jonases, the remaining Jacksons and — dizzyingly enough — many, many more. It is going to be a white-hot mess: how could it come together as anything but?
Anglophiles will delight in another British victory in tastefulness over those brash, rude Yanks. Simon Cowell has produced an all-star charity cover of R.E.M.’s somber “Everybody Hurts,” with proceeds being funneled toward the same end as America’s “We Are The World.” The comparatively less jubilant-sounding “Everybody Hurts” features more than 20 recording stars including Mika, Michael Bublé, Leona Lewis, Kylie Minogue and Cowell’s sweetheart, Susan Boyle.
The video for the song primarily comprises a montage of particularly heartrending footage from the Haitian aftermath, interwoven only occasionally with black and white video of the stars recording their parts in studio. Unlike its showy American counterpart, the emphasis of the British track is on the tragedy, not the celebrities. Overwrought and underdeveloped media-stunts like this generation’s as-yet-unreleased “We Are The World” have long since become the norm, with “let’s-see-how-many-famous-people-we-can-fit-in-one-room” taking precedent over any sort of event with a genuine message. By putting the spotlight on the earthquake’s survivors themselves, “Everybody Hurts” makes Haitian relief seem like a real cause, not just the cause of the hour.