60,000 lights glittered the expanse of the Great Lawn and illuminated the 8:03PM navy sky. Alicia Keys, complete with her wide brimmed hat and sleek piano by her side, is on stage, addressing the crowd: “We believe in love, we believe in change, we believe in greatness!”
Observing it from a distance, it is a beautiful sight: a sea of light, shimmering for change. And it is not a figment of imagination, either. Only days ago did thousands of spectators flock to Central Park’s Great Lawn to fill out the space for the 8th Global Citizen Festival to take place there.
The event is annual and happens in New York City, and as common as that sounds, Global Citizen is anything but. The festival gathers a variety of attendees, from the socially conscious, to world leaders, to some of Hollywood’s brightest stars. They may come from all walks of life, but every year all roads lead to New York to unite and fight extreme poverty.
By completing a quota of “actions“—which include but are not limited to: emailing senators and taking quizzes to be informed on certain topics—Global Citizens become eligible to enjoy the spectacle that is the yearly festival. This year’s lineup of performers included headliners Queen and Adam Lambert, Alicia Keys, Pharrell Williams, One Republic, and Carole King, with special guests David Gray, French Montana, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, Ben Platt, and K-Pop phenomenon NCT 127.
French Montana and Jon Batiste & Stay Human opened up the show; Batiste, who would be back to feature on later sets, sang the upbeat “Tell the Truth”, while French Montana did a mini-medley of his songs such as “Unforgettable”, “No Stylist”, and “Pop That”. Promoting his recently debuted first studio album, Ben Platt was the next artist to take the stage, singing heartfelt renditions of “Bad Habit”, and non album single, “Rain”.
Thousands upon thousands of voices in the audience belted the lyrics to One Republic’s nostalgia inducing hits like “Secrets”, “Good Life”, “Apologize”, “I Lived”, and “Counting Stars”. In the middle of the set, lead vocalist and multi-faceted producer Ryan Tedder brought out a stunning rendition of Beyoncé’s 2009 pop-ballad “Halo”, which was written and composed by Tedder.
Legendary singer-songwriter Carole King showed her talentry with “You’ve Got a Friend”, an energetic presentation of “I Feel the Earth Move”, “Beautiful”, and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman”. The latter performance was especially sentimental, with emotion painted on her face as she sang her heart out; a video of King’s guesting on London’s BBC Four in 1971 and introducing “Natural Woman” plays in the background. Lastly, special guest Kelly Clarkson joined King on stage to perform “Where You Lead”.
The epitome of chicness with tinted sunglasses and large hoops, Grammy award winner H.E.R. (which, if you are curious, is an acronym for Having Everything Revealed) made her way to the stage to show the audience just why she was one of the headliners. She showcased not only her wondrous vocals with beautiful runs and falsettos, but her incredible talent with instruments, playing a stunning bass solo in her covering of “Fate”, the electric guitar in “Make It Rain”, and in “Carried Away” utilizing both the bass and the acoustic guitar.
Undeniably drawing a large amount of fans to the event, the next artist announced caused those in the audience who’d been anticipating them to buzz with excitement. The instruments that had occupied half the stage had disappeared behind maroon sheets, and the barricade noticeably surged forward as their blue-lit silhouettes adjusted their formation before the crowd. The dreamy melody of NCT 127’s “Highway to Heaven” filled the space and lead and main vocalists, respectively, Kim Doyoung and Moon Taeil began the song. “Highway to Heaven” is the English version of NCT 127’s latest Korean single of the same name. It peaked at 5 on the US World Digital Songs and was played on Top 40 Radio on the duration of its U.S. release period.
NCT 127 Performing "Highway to Heaven" at Global Citizen Festival
When the shimmering chords of “Highway to Heaven” came to a close, NCTzens (NCT fans) roared with delight as the electropop “Superhuman” was next. The beat is entirely infectious, with eye-catching choreography as a fabulous add on—particularly the ending pose, with the members gripping the lapels of their jackets and peeling them back only slightly, a blatant nod to Clark Kent. By all standards NCT 127 had nailed their second, and to the disappointment of many if the mass exiting of fans is anything to take into account, and last performance of the night.
“Am I in New York City tonight?” is what Alicia Keys asked the crowd as she sat on the piano bench on stage, brilliant smile on her face. Lighting up Central Park, it is obvious that Alicia Keys is an artist of an entirely different caliber, gracing the stage while having an infinite amount of fun. She debuted her new single “Show Me Love” ]especially for the Global Citizen Festival crowd, remixed her hit “No One” by making it more fast paced, and belted the very fitting “Empire New York State of Mind” as a projection of the city played behind her. Keys invited H.E.R. back onto the stage, and as one of the highlights of the entire night, the two performed an electrifying, intense, and empowering execution of “Dream On”.
The ever-cool Pharrell Williams had a fairly short time on stage for being a headliner, but did not fail to impress with set opener “Freedom”, uptempo soul hit “Happy” and a soulful performance of “Letter to My Godfather” with his special guests the Voice of Fire Choir. British singer-songwriter David Gray appeared to perform his top 5 UK Single Chart hit “Babylon”.
The main attraction of the night came in the form of the collaboration of Queen and Adam Lambert. The performance collectively was show-stopping, with Lambert flexing his vocal poweress while longstanding members Brian May and Roger Taylor accompanied him on the guitar and drums, respectively. The crowd sang along passionately as the band performed a variety of career favorites such as “Now I’m Here”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love”, “I Want It All”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Love of My Life”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Under Pressure”, “Who Wants to Live Forever”, and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Even with all the greatness, perhaps the undeniable highlight of the night was found in the festival’s conclusion with Queen and Adam Lambert’s encore performance.
Illuminating the darkened stage is the late Freddie Mercury, donned in his iconic yellow Wembley jacket chanting with the crowd. The screen fades, and Brian May skillfully played the guitar riff in the intro. Adam Lambert, appearing as the face of poise strutted back onto the stage with the grace and look of a true royal—and with a crown to prove it. “We Will Rock You” was the perfect culmination to yet another Global Citizen Festival.
However, while the concert was an amazing event to attend, all of this was for a cause. Global Citizen Festival 2019 brought 18 commitments from world leaders which totaled to $932.1 million dollars, and will affect the lives of 7.6 million people. Some highlights of the night were feminist foreign policies being adopted by Mexico, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway graciously donating money towards both the fight of autoimmune diseases and the right for education, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg announcing the company would bring 5G technology to over 100 schools in the U.S. in the upcoming years, and the governor of Lagos state Babajide Sanwo Olu pledging $100 million dollars to improve water sanitation while also announcing to end open defecation by 2025.