The Recording Academy didn’t have to worry whether or not the tony crowd that usually shows up for MusiCares’ annual dinners would tune in for the virtual version put on as a ticketed event Friday night. There may well have been at least some of the usual black-tie crowd in the online audience for MusiCares’ “Music With a Mission” fundraiser, but what was clear from the chat stream was that the vast majority of attendees seemed to be BTS ARMY members flocking to the event to see an exclusive performance of “Dynamite” by the K-pop sensations.
Also contributing original performance clips were Grammy Awards favorites Haim, Jhene Aiko, H.E.R. and John Legend… all of whom passed the ARMY’s impatience test with flying colors, with “Where’s BTS” demands in the stream eventually giving way to respectful and even enthusiastic praise for the other stars.
The rather abrupt demographic shift in the audience for a MusiCares event was made possible by the price of admission being lowered for the online event from the usual high hundreds or thousands of dollars it costs to attend the in-person dinner to a $25 ticket fee. A counter on the live video showed more than 18,000 viewers tuning in, indicating that MusiCares had brought in close to a half-million dollars from the broadcast from ticket sales alone, before donations were figured in.
Apart from the five freshly recorded performances, the nearly 90-minute show featured highlights from past MusiCares dinners, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty performing at their own tributes, Lady Gaga saluting Carole King, the Jonas Brothers covering Aerosmith and Usher repaying his debt to Lionel Richie.
Of the numbers recorded especially for the show, Aiko’s stripped-down version of her “Love” song, accompanied only by an acoustic guitarist and conga player, was mesmerizing enough to palpably turn an impatient ARMY into a crowd of adoring peaceniks.
John Legend also kept it mellow and, in his case, solo, sitting at a white piano under shelves full of Grammys — a setting familiar to anyone who watched more than one or two charity livestreams in the last year — to sing “You Move I Move.”
The other two freshly recorded performers brought full bands together for their tapings. Haim, the sister trio that will be seen in presumably more elaborate fashion on Sunday night’s show, performed an album-faithful rendition of their ode to romantic miscommunication, “Don’t Wanna.”
And H.E.R., who’s been on the awards circuit for her Oscar-shortlisted song from “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Fight for You,” assembled a band to recreate that anthem’s late ’60s/early ’70s-redolent qualities.
Other stars popped in to make pitches for MusiCares’ endeavors to help musicians and music industry workers in poor health or financial distress or suffering from addiction — among them, Elton John (who said, “This year’s mission feels more urgent”), Shakira, Ringo Starr, Mick Fleetwood, Bonnie Raitt, Gloria Estefan and Macklemore (who said, “For me recovery is the most important thing in my life. Without it, I lose everything else”).
Testimonials were also offered by tour workers who’ve fallen on hard or harder times as a result of the pandemic putting a halt on live activity. One crew member verged on tears as she described the suicides of several friends in the industry this past year amid her own struggles to get by.
Amid all this serious and sometimes literally sobering talk, there was a good deal of entertainment value in the often sweet interactions of BTS fans in the chat area, which scrolled by at such speed that it sometimes seemed as if all 18,000-plus viewers were chiming in at once. Expressions of restlessness about BTS being held back till nearly the end of the webcast were often met with reactions like “Let’s make our boys proud by respecting other artists, too” (which were in turn sometimes responded to with: “Guys, it’s okay, it’s just ARMY in here”).
Although some fans who’d hoped for more than one song felt let down — although not that let down, with the promise of an even bigger production number coming on the Grammys in two nights — enthusiasm for “Dynamite” was predictably ecstatic, even if the seated choreography was on the calm side by BTS standards. MusiCares reps declined to say where the performance was filmed, but fans quickly pegged it as the Kyunghee University Grand Peace Palace in Seoul, a location destined to go down in BTS lore as the spot where Jungkook rocked the drums and blue hair.
After the video made its premiere with MusiCares, BTS uploaded it to the group’s own YouTube channel, where it racked up more than 650,000 views in its first three hours of being live.
The full MusiCares show can be seen on demand through March 21 at https://support.musicares.org.