Music and activism combine at Global Citizen

The festival saw artists like Billie Eilish and Lizzo take the stage in the heart of New York City. 


The crowd cheered as the music spurred them on. Global Citizen was a 24-hour global broadcast from Central Park, where artists and activists advocated for poverty relief and environmental protection. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Paree Chopra, Staff Writer

On Sept. 25, 60,000 people gathered at The Great Lawn in Central Park to watch Global Citizen Live. The 24-hour global broadcast spanned seven continents and brought together some of the biggest artists and activists across the globe as they rallied to protect the planet and defeat poverty. Coldplay, Shawn Mendes, Lizzo, Cyndi Lauper and Billie Eilish were just a few of the performers who entertained in the spirit of taking action and enacting change. 

Cyndi Lauper opened the event with her iconic song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” She dedicated it to Afghan girls and women, whose rights are under threat since the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan in August. 

Taking the stage together for the first time since the pandemic began, Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes performed their No. 1 song “Señorita.” They also captivated the audience with their solo hits, including “Havana” and “In My Blood” respectively. 

The pair also brought out poets during their separate sets. Alok Vaid-Menon read their poem “the deepest breath,” emphasizing unity, collective understanding, kindness and equity. Fanta Ballo — the teen poet, New York City native and the first winner of the Shawn Mendes Foundation’s Wonder Grant — shared a powerful message: “Mental health is our most important battle, and we cannot lose this war.”

Donning a hot-pink catsuit, Lizzo’s captivating performances of her songs “Juice,” “Good as Hell,” “Rumors” and “Truth Hurts” prompted the audience to clap and dance to the beat. Alongside her flute-playing and dance routines, the superstar also took the time to talk about institutionalized racism. She explained that the Great Lawn — the site of the star-studded event — was previously Seneca Village, a Black community in the 19th century whose inhabitants were removed and buildings demolished to construct today’s Central Park. She emphasized that “if we don’t talk about our history constructively, how can we build a better future?” and that change “starts within — you got to better yourself, so you can be better to others.”

Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas chose to tackle a different issue. As they energized the crowd with songs like “bad guy” and “Happier Than Ever,” they advocated for fighting climate change and passing the Build Back Better Act. Conversely, Jennifer Lopez remained apolitical, celebrating love with an electrifying medley of “If You Had My Love,” “Love Don’t Cost A Thing,” and “I’m Glad.” J-Lo didn’t stop there though, as she surprised the crowd by bringing LL Cool J and Ja Rule onto the stage to debut her new love song “On My Way.” 

Though there was plenty of exciting and inspiring song and dance, the Global Citizen stage also welcomed guests from backgrounds other than music. Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, were welcomed with thunderous applause as they highlighted the importance of vaccine equity. Climate activist Xiye Bastida demanded an end to use of fossil fuels and rallied the crowd with the rousing slogan, “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Comedians Desus Nice and The Kid Mero unpacked the cycle of poverty that emerges from unequal access to basic resources and lack of social justice. Activists, actors, politicians and diplomats all took to the stage to highlight a range of social problems — such as food insecurity, inequality and pollution — and to encourage action.  

Wristbands glowed in the audience during Coldplay’s moving performance. The group opened their set with “Higher Power” and invited pianist Lang Lang to the stage for “Clocks.” Already emotional from the first verse of “Fix You,” the crowd went into a frenzy when Chris Martin invited Eilish and Finneas to perform the rest of the legendary song. The surprises continued as Mendes and Cabello joined Coldplay for the heartwarming “Yellow,” and Jacob Collier and We Are KING provided the harmonies for “Human Heart.” 

As the crowd sang along to “A Sky Full of Stars,” expecting to wrap up the whirlwind of an event, Martin introduced Paul Simon. The 79-year-old icon capped off the six-hour show with his soulful renditions of Simon & Garfunkel songs “The Boxer” and “The Sound of Silence” along with messages of unity and the power of action.

While the festival may have been a star-studded musical homecoming, Global Citizen also announced that the event raised $1.1 billion, planted 157 million trees and procured over 60 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. Central Park was just one of eight worldwide venues that lit up with hope, promises and music as Global Citizen Live made its impact across the globe.

Contact Paree Chopra at [email protected].