There was no mention of President Trump or politics. Countless high-profile figures, including Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, made cameos to deliver inspiring words or share information about the crisis.
The hosts (a late-night trifecta of CBS’s Stephen Colbert, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and NBC’s Jimmy Fallon) explained that $50 million had already been raised by corporate sponsors for the event, but asked viewers to consider non-monetary ways to help. And in the meantime, they had more than a dozen musicians ready to offer a brief distraction from the current nightmare and/or share messages. Here were some of the highlights:
The A-lister praised the “true heroes” for selfless service, including doctors and nurses. She also mentioned food industry staffers, delivery workers, mail carriers and sanitation employees. “Black Americans disproportionately belong to these essential parts of the workforce that do not have the luxury of working from home. And African American communities at large have been severely affected in this crisis,” she said. “This virus is killing black people at an alarmingly high rate here in America. A recent report from my home city of Houston, Texas, it showed that of covid-19 deaths within Houston city limits, 57 percent of fatal cases are African American. Please protect yourselves. We are one family.”
Taylor Swift’s solemn song
Swift has previously said she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to perform “Soon You’ll Get Better” live, as the emotional ballad (a collaboration with the Dixie Chicks) is about her mother’s cancer battle. Sitting at her piano, she got through the song, even though at times it looked like she was on the verge of tears.
Lady Gaga’s multiple performances
The pop star, who helped curate the lineup for the special, appeared twice. She kicked things off as the first performer: “I care so much about all of the medical workers that are putting their lives at risk for us right now. I think of them every day, I pray for them every day. And I’m also thinking about all of you that are home who are wondering when this is all going to be different. What I’d like to do tonight, if I can, is just give you the permission to, for a moment …” she trailed off and segued into Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” made popular by Nat King Cole. At the end, she returned to belt out “The Prayer” with Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, John Legend and Lang Lang.
Twitter’s favorite moments
The telecast, broadcast over a variety of channels and streaming services, made up many worldwide trending topics on Saturday night. Some of social media’s main takeaways:
The Rolling Stones, playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from four different homes, was only made more entertaining by a) The sight of Charlie Watts playing drums in the air and b) Guessing the contents of the enormous book in front of Keith Richards. (In reality it is “The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.”)
bold move of Keith Richards to have his book of spells and incantations just sitting there on his "coffee" table for everyone to see— ryan seaquest (@hackettology) April 19, 2020
Elton John’s basketball hoop behind his piano as he sang “I’m Still Standing.”
Three Keith Urbans singing Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” (But only one Nicole Kidman.)
John Legend’s large collection of trophies behind him as he and Sam Smith sang “Stand By Me.”
Fascinated by the fact that you can see a VMA behind John Legend, but not the Oscar.— Christina Reynolds (@creynoldsnc) April 19, 2020
One viewer’s description of Eddie Vedder’s performance space as “his gothic castle rec room,” in which he played an organ for “River Cross.”
The full list of songs
For those completists, the rest of the acts: Stevie Wonder (Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today”); Paul McCartney (“Lady Madonna”); Jennifer Lopez (Barbra Streisand’s “People”); Kacey Musgraves (“Rainbow”); Maluma (“Carnaval”); Chris Martin (“Yellow”); Billie Joe Armstrong (“Wake Me Up When September Ends”); Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (Men Without Hats’s “The Safety Dance”); Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes (Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”); Lizzo (Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”); Burna Boy (“African Giant” and “Hallelujah”); and Billie Eilish (Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny”).
(This post has been updated.)