One World: Together at Home was billed as the largest gathering of pop stars since the Live Aid concert in 1985.
The prime-time special was conceived as a tribute to healthcare workers, volunteers and civil servants fighting the pandemic. Lady Gaga helped to select the musical line-up, which included Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Elton John and many more. The acts performed over a six-hour webcast followed by a two-hour televised broadcast in April.
The charity concert seems to have inspired the music industry in China to organise a show of its own. Yin Liang from Damai, the concert and event ticketing platform, together with Li Jie from Alibaba Pictures and Zhu Yiwen at NetEase Music came up with Believe in the Future, a benefit for musicians hit hard by the pandemic.
According to Entertainment Unicorn, an industry blog, over 20,000 music shows and events were cancelled in China between January and March. “In this epidemic, musicians are some of the biggest losers. Offline performances have stopped so their incomes have essentially gone to zero. In the face of this crisis, what else can we as platforms do to help the industry?”asked Zhu from NetEase Music.
Believe in the Future was streamed across Tencent Music, NetEase Cloud Music, Sina Weibo and Xiami Music (owned by Alibaba), with more than 130 singers and groups performing. Youku, another streaming platform owned by Alibaba, produced the concert.
In fact, there were so many performers that the concert needed to be split into four parts, with the first shows taking place on May 4 and 5 and the final two on May 9 and 10.
The opening series featured singers like Lao Lang, pop icons Wang Junkai and Yi Yangqianxi, as well as classical pianists Lang Lang and his wife Gina Alice Redlinger. “We want to use the power of music to soothe the hearts of all,” explained talk-show host Gao Xiaosong, who compèred the concerts, on his weibo. “Whether they are at home, in their studio, at a quarantine hotel, on a production set or out there in the wilds, musicians sing for all. The charity concert is free of all commercial elements. We are not paying any music royalties, taking adverts or soliciting product placements.”
Veteran singer Faye Wong, 50, surprised her fans by making a rare appearance in the special. Her iconic song Mortal World – just two-minutes long – quickly became the highest trending topic on weibo. “Faye Wong’s voice is so beautiful, it’s like the voice of an angel,” one fan exclaimed.
But if Wong had impressed netizens with her performance, Zhou Xun, 45, achieved the opposite effect. The actress, in a cap and sunglasses, filmed herself singing an oldie The Wandering Songstress in front of what looked like a mirror in a carpark. There was no musical accompaniment.
As one of many unimpressed netizens put it: “It’s like she went out to throw away the rubbish, spotted a mirror and decided that this was a good place to make a video.”
“I suspect that her bag of groceries is nearby but I can’t be sure,” another joked.
Zhou’s more ardent admirers praised the song as self-confident and charismatic. But the critics were also confused about her performance. “There is no stage, no band and not even a microphone. The background looks like an alleyway. To be honest, no one could have guessed that she would do this. It is so ‘effortless’ that it borderlines on random,” Tencent Entertainment mused.
As of Monday this week, the four shows under Believe in the Future had accumulated over 350 million views. With many musicians playing separately from their bandmates and without audiences, not all of the performances were flawless. But that wasn’t the point, claimed Gao, the host. “What’s important is that music is power. We are able to feel all the singers’ sincerity and hope to give all the musicians in China a little bit of comfort and encouragement,” he proclaimed.
Ticketing platform Damai says it plans to offer more support to musicians still struggling to overcome the commercial impact of the pandemic. “Damai will launch a programme in collaboration with Youku to provide performance venues and high-quality livestreaming services to independent musicians and music bands for free, letting the musicians keep most of the proceeds from performances,” it has announced.
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