“Y’all should be real proud of ya’ll selves, you know that?” Rihanna said to a crowd of more than 60,000 mid-set late Saturday in Manhattan. “Y’all are changin’ the world by just standing here right now.”
Rihanna’s performance on Central Park’s Grand Lawn concluded the fifth annual Global Citizen Festival, a nearly seven-hour event with 11 other musical performances, including headliners Kendrick Lamar, Metallica and Major Lazer.
The festival, held by the organization Global Citizen, is a free event for guests who win tickets by taking directed action. The actions include tweeting at a minister of foreign affairs or calling a local representative and are intended to combat global poverty.
“Even though you might think ‘Oh, it’s just my one email,’ when 20,000 people are doing that, people listen to you,” Global Citizen Senior Social Media Manager Emma Tessier said.
The festival, streamed live on MSNBC, alternated between musical performances, speeches by celebrities and activists and videos about related issues. Other celebrity speakers at the festival included Hugh Jackman, Chelsea Handler, Priyanka Chopra and Neil Patrick Harris.
The event was not only a reward for citizen efforts, but a platform for global leaders to verbally commit to actions.
Nigeria’s Minister of Environment Amina J. Mohammed announced her president’s pledge to improve Nigerian health by ending open defecation by 2025. Bert Koenders, Netherland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke about the importance of clean toilets and drinking water before pledging $300 million to the cause.
“We hope that others will follow suit so that in 2030, across the globe, clean water and sanitation will no longer be a luxury,” he said.
Major Lazer was joined by MØ to kick off the festival with their chart topping hit “Lean On.”
The DJ trio was followed by Demi Lovato, who performed several songs, including Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman,” thanking “global citizens, especially all of you who are working toward the global goal of gender equality and standing up for women and girls everywhere.”
The Kenyan Boys Choir backed Usher and Rubén Blades on “Champions” before their solo performance, which included a cover of Selena Gomez’s “Kill Em With Kindness.”
Yandel, one of the top Latin artists in the world, belted four reggaeton hits, including “Somos Uno” with Becky G. Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ acoustic set followed, in the middle of which he spoke about a loss of understanding and connection around the world.
“Hopefully these kinds of movements, like Global Citizen, will help to make us a bit more sensitive to others and to remember what it’s like to be human,” he said.
Metallica performed as the sun set, their electric guitars ringing through the park during “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “Nothing Else Matters.”
“Metallica was my favorite performance,” Rebecca Hemick, 23, said. “They’re one of the few rock bands that started out ages ago when our parents were our age that are still around and alive today and people still listen to them.”
Ellie Goulding played an entirely acoustic set with ringing melodies during relaxed versions of “Burn” and “Anything Could Happen.”
Kendrick Lamar’s performance was the second longest and had fans jumping to “untitled 07” and repeating the “M.A.A.D. City” hook four times after the song’s traditional ending.
After accompanying Eddie Vedder on the piano for three songs, Chris Martin strummed a Prince cover, stalling for time and even inventing a verse as an impatient crowd waited for Rihanna.
The Barbadian pop star’s 66-minute set encompassed styles as wide as her diverse musical resume, ranging from older dance hits “All of the Lights” and “Live Your Life” to recent releases “Needed Me” and the Tame Impala cover “Same Ol’ Mistakes.” Dancers in sparkling bodysuits did death drops as she sang “Where Have You Been” and white foam slid down the stage walls during “Diamonds.” Guests trekked out of the park and back into the city streets after her ballad “Love On The Brain” wrapped up the festival.
As a result of festival goers’ urgings, world leaders pledged actions that will affect a total of 199 million lives, according to Global Citizen.
“I was really proud to be a part of it because you’re not only there just for the music, but you’re there because you helped, [and] made a difference in the world,” Hemick said. “You helped a cause reach its goal.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of celebrityabc’s Flickr account.
Teri West is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.