How Global Citizen Is Making Superstar Music Live-Streams a Daily Phenomenon

In just 10 days, the "Together at Home" series has already featured John Legend, Chris Martin, Camila Cabello & Shawn Mendes, Jennifer Hudson, Miguel, Hozier, Niall Horan, H.E.R., Common and dozens of others.

Global Citizen Live Streams John Legend
Courtesy of Global Citizen / Instagram

If you’re a big music fan, there’s a good chance you’ve seen more live music in the last week or two than you have in months. That’s if we put “live” in quotes, anyhow, and allow it to apply to the sudden phenomenon of pop-up web concerts that have replaced the local venue experience in the brief time since every stadium, theater and club in the country got shut down due to the pandemic.

While hundreds of artists have independently taken to their own social media accounts to connect with fans with acoustic performances, the vast majority of live-streams from big-name artists since March 16 have fallen under a single banner — that of the Global Citizen organization’s “Together at Home” program. In just nine days, Global Citizen has sponsored about 30 real-time performances by the likes of John Legend, Chris Martin, Jennifer Hudson, Niall Horan, Brandy Clark, Hozier, Miguel, Lindsey Stirling, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Ziggy Marley, Christine and the Queens, Evanescence, Rufus Wainwright and Kirk Franklin, among others. They even made news by spurring the first real joint performance between Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabillio that wasn’t just a one-off. And the “Together at Home” series seems on pace to keep going with about a half-dozen fresh live-streams every day, indefinitely.

The name brand is familiar to fans from the Global Citizen Festival that started in 2012, in international locations that include New York’s Central Park, with Coldplay’s frontman as the fest’s curator, supporting concrete initiatives that support a “vision (of) a world without extreme poverty by 2030.” In some ways, the “Together at Home” series is an even more ambitious undertaking, though it began completely spontaneously.

“It all came together in 48 hours,” explains Hugh Evans, the Australian-bred philanthropist who is the co-founder and CEO of Global Citizen. “We got a phone call from the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, one evening, and then the following morning got a phone call from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, asking for Global Citizen’s immediate assistance. And they asked us if we would reach out to Global Citizen’s artist ambassadors to help launch an urgent campaign in support of the WHO’s efforts to combat Covid-19. That same day, I was in Los Angeles and spoke to Chris Martin, and Chris has been a huge supporter of Global Citizen over so many years, and he said immediately that he wanted to help,” Evans says.

“And so the following day, literally on that Monday (March 16), he decided to go live on Instagram. At midday, we quickly developed a format of how the show would take place and how we would drive the right sorts of calls to action on three big objectives we have for the campaign. He went live, and then all of a sudden it took off. John Legend did the next day, and from there we had just extraordinary support from artists like Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes and Common and Rufus Wainwright. Now, there are artists participating every single day, and it’s creating an extraordinary number of actions that are being taken at globalcitizen.org/coronavirus to drive people on both personal behavioral actions, but also on systemic actions that they can take to tackle coronavirus.”

The org does have people devoted to talent outreach to keeping the performances going at that high a volume, but in the first few days, it was more a matter of playing tag.

“Chris invited John, and then artists started tagging other artists, organically” on their social media, Evans says. “So Charlie tagged Common, and then Common tagged OneRepublic, and  they just invited each other to be part of it. So it created an organic growth through them inviting each other. And then since then, our artist teams and our global team — including Katie Hill, Milan Schure, Daniel D’Amico and Xiomara Small —have been inviting the artist community. But great promoters like Live Nation and labels like Universal and Republic and others have reached out saying they want to do more and asking how can they use this time to make a real impact. Because it’s not in anyone’s interests for the live music industry to have to be suspended for a very long time.

“We all want to be able to go back very soon and be able to enjoy the power of live music, and we believe that the best way to do that right now is to make sure that everyone is social distancing and everyone is testing, so that the WHO and the CDC can control where the virus is and make sure that it’s under control so we can return to a normal way of operating our lives.”

Evans hasn’t had a chance to watch all the 30-plus segments that have gone out live so far, but he does have a few favorites.

“I’m biased because I’ve been behind the scenes,” he says, “but I loved when Chris kicked it off, because iI know how much heart he put into it, and so I thought that was really beautiful. I loved John Legend the following day. I thought Camila and Shawn’s was wonderful because they did something really special. I love when Steve Aoki did his trampoline the other day — I thought that was amazing.” (The thought of a bounding Aoki is the one thing that brings a carefree laugh to Evans amid all this pressure-filled pandemic talk.)

“But,” he says, emphasizing his particular love for the acts that come to the program already known for their social consciousness, “I also love how Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic clearly drove the call to action. Common really pushed the call to action. He even rapped — he was rhyming about the issues, which was extraordinary. So I love the creativity that people are bringing to it, because I’ve got to believe that it helps young people who are grappling with this very real and new circumstance that they are at home and they cannot leave. And so I’m hoping that it gives people a bit of hope and a really clear sense of what they can do in these times.”

Evans also emphasizes that the series isn’t bringing in 100% music acts. “We just had Priyanka Chopra and Kerry Washington on (for a conversation), and the interesting thing about it is, it’s evolved beyond artists to even have incredible chefs that have joined, and fitness groups that have been all part of ‘Together at Home.’ So it’s not just virtual concerts. We just had Katie Couric” — although the newscaster did come on in the guise of musical artist, taking live requests off the scene for her almost impromptu home piano recital.

The goals for Global Citizen, with so many pop fans’ eyes on them, to the extent that the performers pump up the cause? “This has to be a global effort, because as we’ve seen with coronavirus, a disease anywhere is a disease everywhere,” Evans says. “And so you can’t treat this as just a country by country or a state by state thing. … Now more than ever, we need particularly young people, but really everyone, to be at home. And I think that artists can lead the way to demonstrate that they are at home, and that that doesn’t mean that we still can’t be in touch with one another and still build community. We’ve just got to find a different way to do it.”

Beyond social distancing, “we need people to actually advocate that their governments very quickly provide testing for free to every person on the planet, because if you don’t know where the virus is, you can’t fight it. It’s invisible, so the only way to do that is using a short diagnostic test like the one that was developed in South Korea that is a 15-minute time window, or the one that was just approved by the FDA in the United States, which has a 45-minute time window. That’s the first thing. We’ve got to advocate virtually for proliferation of testing across the United States immediately.

“The second thing is we need people to know that locally, you can support your local food bank and support vulnerable communities that are the most effective at a time like this. Globally, you can support the WHO’s solidarity fund. We were part of the team that, alongside the United Nations Foundation and the WHO, launched the solidarity fund this past week and it’s already raised over $66 million from donations. But we also need governments to contribute to the WHO.”

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Scott Roth/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

“This whole campaign really should be a moratorium on making sure that this does not happen again. The reason why this happens is that we have weak investment in public health systems. And we need to demonstrate to governments through citizen action that they need to invest in public health systems, or there very well could be another virus that emerges next year, and we won’t be equipped to tackle it at the same time. This has to come from a government approach, because the private sector and citizens alone cannot develop adequate health systems. So we need the government to step up at a time we need them most.”

Here’s an archive of some of the “Together at Home” performances that have already transpired: