When it became apparent that “We Are the World” had turned thirty the other day, I did what I always do in these sorts of situations: I lost myself in a clickhole of Wikipedia research on the subject. What interested me most, though, was originally attempting to figure out if anyone had participated as a vocalist in both songs (apparently not), but rapidly became trying to figure out if the judgments of critics against the WATW25 song were valid. Some people were especially upset about the added rap segment to the end of the song, which seems kind of unfair, while others seemed annoyed about specific artists participating in the project, which seemed slightly more fair, but also like a thing that probably happened the first time around.
The most interesting point that came up more than a few times, though, was that the original song had a much more robust volume of stars than the remake, or rather, that the remake had a lot of one-hit wonder, flash-in-the-pan stars involved in it. I was curious about how valid that actual point was, comparatively speaking, between the versions, so I opted to sit down with the lists of people who appeared in both songs and see, between the two, which had an overall higher caliber of “big name stars” versus mid-ground players or flashes in the pan. During this review, I also noted that a whole bunch of obvious names you’d expect to see in one of the two songs simply never performed in either piece, so I also wanted to close out the article with a potential list of people to pick up, from both missing names and current modern singers, in the event that we decide to do another “We Are the World” for… some reason.
For reference, we’re only really discussing people ranked as “soloists” for both songs, and we’re using the lists as documented on Wikipedia of who performed in which songs, in order of appearance. Both lists seem to be more or less accurate, though if there are any inaccuracies, I’m sure someone will point them out sooner or later.
With that, let’s start with the singers from 1985:
Lionel Richie – Richie was at his peak around this period, frankly; his second record, Can’t Slow Down had released only two years prior and had gone fucking DIAMOND, or 10x Platinum,which was the highest success he’d ever achieve sales-wise in the US. His next record, Dancing on the Ceiling, ended up going 4x Platinum, which is still amazing, and if he hadn’t taken time off to deal with family concerns and his ailing father, he’d probably have seen a few more Platinum records before his career slowed down. Still, Richie managed to come back with another Platinum record in 2012, and he’s an amazing songwriter behind the scenes in his own right, so as far as meriting a spot here goes, dude did it in spades.
Stevie Wonder – I have nothing to say about Wonder; the man’s been releasing music since 1962, also had a Diamond record (Songs in the Key of Life, 1976), and released five records that went Platinum between 1976 and 1987. Wonder is a goddamn institution, period.
Paul Simon – Simon’s one of those weird dark horse choices that seemed to have been made based entirely on past fame rather than any real relevance at the time, but in retrospect makes a shitload of sense. In 1985, Simon’s career was mostly notable for his time in Simon and Garfunkel, where the duo released all the Platinum albums, as all five of their records were basically untouchable. When the duo split up, Garfunkel was the one of the two who at least seemed to have an idea where he was going with his career, with a couple Platinum records to his name, and while his most recent two records (at the time) didn’t go anywhere, he could have come back, especially since he’d just reunited with Simon not too long ago and had momentum on his side. Simon, meanwhile, had two Platinum records in the early 70’s, then, after Still Crazy After All These Years, which only went Gold, took a hiatus for nearly a decade. He tried to reunite with Garfunkel in 1983, but that bombed out and the resulting record, Hearts and Bones, went nowhere, and Simon’s best years looked like they were behind him. Well, a year later Simon released Graceland and killed it for the next several years, while Garfunkel slid into obscurity with a bunch of releases that never even sniffed the charts again, so now it makes sense, and it was a much better choice overall.
Kenny Rogers – With all due respect, not only was Rogers integral to putting this project together, but he has so many Platinum records that two of his fucking holiday records went Platinum. THAT is some skill right there.
James Ingram -This is a choice that’s kind of bad in retrospect but makes sense at the time. His first record, It’s Your Night, went Gold and it seemed like he was on his way up, which his studio career absolutely did not mirror after the fact. I secretly feel like this might have been a case where someone else, say, Prince, had been lined up to jump in and things didn’t work out, so they trotted out James since he seemed to be going places. Still, he does well here at least.
Tina Turner – This is kind of a weird one, actually; Turner seems like she’d be someone you’d consider to be a musical institution, but historically, she’s only had three records that charted in a significant fashion in the US, and even then, one of them was the soundtrack to her biopic. At the time it made perfect sense; she’d been in the industry for well over a decade at that point, and her solo record Private Dancer just went 5x Platinum a year prior, so she was absolutely on fire and merited inclusion. It’s interesting, though, that as much as my brain associates Turner as being one of the big players of the time, realistically, Turner was notable for about three or four years, and hasn’t released anything in well over a decade at this point. Still, she more than deserved her spot here, anyway.
Billy Joel – Well, the man had been releasing Platinum records for literally over a decade at this point, to the point where his eight releases had earned a total of 39x Platinum designations, or about five per record. Three of the four records he released afterward also went multiple time Platinum as well, come to that, so yeah, Billy Joel basically spent three decades being the guy, and he totally deserved his spot here.
Michael Jackson – If I need to explain why Michael Jackson deserved to be in this spot, especially since he wrote the damn song, you’re an idiot.
Diana Ross – Ross is one of those weird cases where the performer is essentially an institution due to consistency and sheer presence rather than record sales. Ross has always been around and generally has that sort of raw presence and commanding influence a singer should have, and she’s a hell of a hard worker, having released about 24 records in her solo career alone. She’d also just had two recent releases go Platinum, and had basically been releasing a new record every year at that point since 1976, which is no easy task. That said, Ross has never been the person who got to the top of the mountain, success-wise, and mostly deserved the spot because she works like a crazy person, not so much due to any sort of significant success on her part.
Dionne Warwick – Almost everything I just wrote about Diana Ross above could be applied here, except that Warwick had only seen one Platinum record about six years before this, and wasn’t quite releasing a record every year like Ross was. Otherwise, the same points hold true; she never made it to the top of the mountain, but Warwick is still an institution because she worked hard as hell and she earned her spot here through sheer force of will as much as anything else.
Willie Nelson – Well, Nelson had seen ten releases go Platinum prior to this, was releasing two and three albums a year repeatedly, and was generally one of the hardest working country musicians ever at that point, so yeah, he earned this spot without a doubt. These days he’s kind of a shadow of his former self due to the massive tax issues and marijuana discussions following him, but he’s still a goddamn country music institution, full stop.
Al Jarreau – If you actually know who Jarreau is without visiting Wikipedia, congratulations on liking jazz music from the 1980’s, because that’s basically the last time Jarreau was really notable. Jarreau was killing it on the jazz front at the time, to be sure, but his inclusion here is puzzling, and most likely comes from either a desire to represent all musical genres (which we’ll note isn’t a priority in the remake) or friendship with someone involved in the production, rather than any sort of notability as a musical presence.
Bruce Springsteen – The Boss was on a decade-long tear at this point, and had just come off of the release of Born in the USA, AKA the only Springsteen record people who aren’t fans can name off the top of their head, which had gone Diamond at that point. Further, Springsteen would then continue to mostly release Platinum records for another two decades afterward, with Magic in 2007 being the last one to hit that designation in the US (so far). In other words, Springsteen is a goddamn institution, and while I love me some Sascha Banks, there’s only one Boss, and it sure as shit ain’t her.
Kenny Loggins – Okay, so, on one hand, Loggins on his own merits probably doesn’t really make the cut of people who merit being included here, as he’d seen three Platinum records in the late 70’s and was clearly on the downswing popularity-wise. On the other hand, Kenny Loggins is basically the voice many of us think of when we think of the 80’s, because he recorded every notable soundtrack theme song in the 80’s, or nearly all of them anyway. Between “Footloose,” “Danger Zone,” “I’m Alright” and “Nobody’s Fool,” he’s basically 1980 in human form, cheesiness and all. Also if you go back to the “We Are the World” video and watch his parts, dude looks like he’s about to piss himself anytime he’s on camera, like he’s just then realized “holy shit I am not qualified to be here,” and it’s awesome.
Steve Perry – Considering that Steve Perry is basically responsible for all but one of Journey’s Platinum designations (28 of 29), yes, I would say he absolutely deserves to be here. Hell, “Separate Ways” alone gives him enough credit to be here. Still, dig that fucking hair in the video though; dude looked like hard rock Pee-Wee Herman. I love every part of that, and even if you hate “Open Arms,” you can’t hate on that performance.
Daryl Hall – This is one of those weird cases where a multi-person act actually saw both people show up, but Hall was the only one who got to perform a solo section. Considering Oates was mostly a backup singer anyway he probably gave no fucks, but I wanted to mention it. Anyway, this one makes sense, given that Hall and Oates had been on a string of Platinum releases for years at that point, and had generally been consistently notable since the early 70’s, so yeah, no arguments here.
Huey Lewis – As with Hall and Oates, the News showed up here as well, and mostly just puttered around in the background while Huey hit his solo. Lewis and company had just come off of a massive release in Sports and were a few months off from releasing “The Power of Love,” so having Lewis do a solo made perfect sense relative to the time. The band was definitely an 80’s project, though, as they only saw two more Platinum releases, both in the 80’s, and by 1991 their work was definitely on the downswing. In other words, Lewis isn’t exactly an institution like some of the other artists here, but him being here made as much sense as anyone else, more or less.
Cyndi Lauper – Lauper was actually kind of a random inclusion at that point; on one hand, she was immensely popular due to her 1983 release She’s So Unusual and the Rock and Wrestling connection going on at the time, but on the other, that was all Lauper had done, so she was a relatively unknown commodity. Lauper managed to score a bunch of hits in the 80’s, as well as another multi-Platinum record right after this, so one can kind of nod and go along with this inclusion, but for a while afterward she was one of those choices that seemed reasonable at the time, and at no other time afterward. A couple of years ago, though, she ended up jumping into adult contemporary with a reasonable showing, and with the success of Kinky Boots on Broadway she’s managed to turn her name around and become respectable all over again, thus proving that if you give someone enough time they might very well rebuild themselves. They might also turn into more of a joke (see Boy George) but you have to roll the dice sometimes.
Kim Carnes – I have no idea on this one; general research indicates Carnes was a notable songwriter at the time, but her actual music career had been going on for a decade and a half at this point and had produced exactly one record that merited any kind of significant chart position. She’s basically notable for one song, “Bette Davis Eyes,” and even that was four years prior, so she’d had plenty of time to squander that notability with another release that went basically nowhere. I got nothing here.
Bob Dylan – Dylan was an institution at this point, having seen multiple Platinum releases over two decades, so seeing him pop up here is in no way out of place or unusual; he’s one of the musical greats (even if not all of his work is as such), and while he’s also never been to the top of the mountain to the extent that some of the musicians appearing here had been, he’d been an icon for years at that point, and is in no way out of place here.
Ray Charles – This is another weird case where the musician is basically considered an institution, but doesn’t really have the sales designations to back that up. Charles, as with Ross and Warwick above, basically merits inclusion entirely because he was an institution at this point, and while you can’t really point to his body of work and say, “He was a multiple Platinum artist” or whatever, it’s fucking Ray Charles. I got nothing for you there.
So out of twenty-one soloists, four of them could be considered questionable: Ingram, Warwick, Jarreau and Carnes (I will fucking fight you if you question Kenny Loggins being here). If we break it down mathematically, that’s about an 81% “star” ratio, so realistically, as long as the Haiti version of the song can hang somewhere around 80% it’s doing okay for itself.
With that said, let’s take a look at the 2010 release:
Justin Bieber – The man has a shitload of Platinum records to his name and for a while everything he touched turned to gold, if you’re seriously going to hate on anyone for bringing him into the project you’re a crazy person. That said, no, I wouldn’t have opened with him either, so I agree with critics who say that much at least.
Nicole Scherzinger – Quick, without using Google, try to remember what she’s done. If you said, “one Platinum record with The Pussycat Dolls, due entirely to “Don’t Cha,” and absolutely nothing eise,” you are correct! When people describe this song as being “full of Z-listers,” this is what they’re talking about.
Jennifer Hudson – Hudson is notable for approximately three things: turning a win on American Idol into two Gold records and a non-charting record whose name looks like “CHUD,” Dreamgirls and being married to David Otunga. That’s literally it.
Jennifer Nettles – Another critical issue that came up a lot in reviews was that country music was basically not represented, which is fair; the original had four country artists, three of whom were big parts of the solo work, while this release has one, Nettles, who is most notable for being the lead singer of a band called Sugarland. Sugarland has managed to release three Platinum records, so from that perspective it makes sense, but one can’t help but think that digging up someone notable on their own name (Shania Twain for instance) would’ve helped a lot.
Josh Groban – Groban’s been killing it for years, and had a decade of Platinum records, so he’s definitely someone who belongs here from that alone. He’s a damn fine singer, also, so that certainly helps the case. I don’t listen to his work, though, so I can’t say much on it.
Tony Bennett – This one seems like stunt casting; Bennett has always been an institution in music, as he’s a talented singer and has had an extensive career, but in 2010 his career was mostly kind of at the tail end. He’d seen a Platinum release in 2006, Duets, which was an interesting concept-piece where he sang duets with a bunch of contemporary singers, and in retrospect, a follow-up duet project and Cheek to Cheek with Lady Gaga kept his name out there in the world (even if the latter record kind of tanked), so it kind of makes sense now at least. At the time, though, not so much.
Mary J. Blige – Blige was in an interesting position here, in that she’d spent nearly two decades kicking out Platinum records, but at the time her most recent record had gone Gold, and she was clearly on the downswing of her notability. Still, she’s another goddamn institution as musicians go, and her inclusion’s an easy choice.
Toni Braxton – Toni, on the other hand… not so much. Two records that went a total of 16x Platinum on their own seems like it instantly qualifies you to do whatever you want, but those were both in the 90’s, and I don’t see anyone inviting Brittany Spears to sing “We Are the World,” so timing is clearly important. As far as Braxton herself goes, post 2000, she’d released three Gold records prior to this group project, and would follow it with two more that failed to rank entirely, so she was clearly on the way out. She’s clearly notable, but not Blige notable at that point, so… eh, you could go either way on this.
Michael Jackson (stock footage) – On one hand, dude had just died the year prior, and including his work in the remake made sense given that he was a huge part of the process. On the other, Lionel Richie was not only still alive, but fucking in the studio and no one gave him a singing part, so this also smacks of cashing in. Draw your own conclusions.
Janet Jackson – Janet was included in the video along-side footage of Michael, though I couldn’t really pick out anything she did vocally here. She absolutely merited inclusion, though, because twenty straight years of Platinum records definitely makes her another institution in music, and one who should’ve been included no matter what.
Barbra Streisand – Streisand deserved to be involved in the first one, and was an institution at that point, with over a decade of Platinum records to her name, which hasn’t slowed down in the least since that point. She was also big into philanthropy at the time, even, so I have no idea why she wasn’t involved in the first “We Are the World.” So yeah, no arguments here.
Miley Cyrus – See Justin Bieber above. She got a bit more time than her limited talent really merited, and while you could kind of consider her a representative of country music, even then you’d have to be an asshole to do that. Given what a trainwreck she’s turned into now, though, yeah, I’m totally on board with this.
Enrique Iglesias – Enrique is one of those guys who is popular enough, as he’s seen no less than six records go Platinum in the US alone, but he still kind of lives in the shadow of his father Julio, who is one of the best-selling artists in the world. Enrique isn’t really an institution or anything, but he was just popular enough that you could see his inclusion here, plus he was dating Anna Kournikova, so I mean, that’s certainly an accomplishment if nothing else.
Jamie Foxx – Dude was literally only involved in this because he was a part of the production. Sorry.
Wyclef Jean – So, this is the only case where I’m going to do this, but I really don’t care about Wyclef’s popularity or anything, because dude’s Hatian and yeah, I’ll say that gets him in by default. I won’t say it gets him off from the implications that the charity he was a part of, Yele Haiti, improperly paid him and his family money they didn’t deserve, but that’s a court matter, not one for us to judge.
Adam Levine – Well, Levine was still killing it with Maroon 5 at that point, with three Platinum records to show for their work, so including him in the group would have been an easy choice, even if these days he’s as notable for The Voice as he is for semi-creepy videos about fucking you like an animal. Also, who thought we’d be using that description about someone who isn’t Trent Reznor? Not me, that’s for sure.
Pink – Holy shit, Pink’s kind of a musical institution now, isn’t she? She’s been releasing Platinum records for a decade and a half, has thirteen Platinum designations to her name, and hasn’t released a single record that didn’t go Platinum at least once. That’s enough, isn’t it? That’s fucking astonishing, though, considering that she started out with songs about coming up and getting the party started and whatnot. Anyway, yeah, Pink totally merits her place here, and good on her for being a super huge success in general, now that I’m actually cognizant of this thing.
Bebe Winans – Uh, what. No seriously. What? I mean he’s notable as a gospel singer, but that doesn’t translate to, like, being real-world notable or anything. Chances are good if you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s you have a general idea of who the Winans’ are based on the name alone, but outside of that, at best you know the name and little to nothing else about them.I guess you could call this something along the lines of Ray Charles or Diana Ross, above, but even then that feels like stretching. I got nothing here.
Usher – Well, Usher was clearly on the downswing of his career; after a Diamond certified record in 2004 and two multi-Platinum releases before that, his next two records barely made Platinum, and his last release (so far) didn’t even make Gold as of this point. On the other hand, dude was still a multi-Platinum artist who was killing it at this point, so his inclusion makes a pretty good amount of sense for its time. I don’t know if we can call Usher an institution in the same way we can do this thing for Pink, though, especially since Justin Bieber is Usher’s fault; I mean, if we can’t consider Chris Benoit for the WWE Hall of Fame, we can probably disqualify Usher’s candidacy as an institution for the same reason*.
Celine Dion – Even if we ignore the fact that Dion has had three different records sell over twenty million copies worldwide and has gone Platinum an absolutely disgusting amount of times, let’s be real here. Everyone on the fucking planet Earth has heard “My Heart Will Go On.” Everyone. There are fucking tribes of indigenous people in the heart of the Amazon Rain Forest that have heard the damn thing. Celine Dion can do anything she damn well pleases, up to and including shooting a person in broad daylight, and we’d probably be able to justify it on some level or another. She’s on an entirely different level as a performer, and her inclusion here is basically mandatory.
Orianthi (on guitar) – The Wikipedia entry for this song takes the opportunity to highlight two guitarists who pop up in the video, so we’re going to do the same here. Orianthi is a talented guitarist, and she’s worked with some really talented musicians, but… uh. Why are we doing this, just, in general? “We Are the World” is not exactly a complex song that requires one or more celebrity musicians to work on it, and while it’s fine to have them there, I guess I mostly don’t get the point in highlighting this thing if she’s not singing, which by all indications, she’s entirely capable of doing. Let her sing a verse or some shit guys, come on.
Fergie – Sigh. Fine, whatever, she’s a multi-Platinum artist between her solo record and her work with the Black Eyed Peas, okay, she deserves to be here. It’s Fergie, whatever.
Nick Jonas – Nick Jonas is kind of interesting as an inclusion here, as on one hand, he’s primarily famous as a part of The Jonas Brothers band, but on the other, he started off as a solo act before getting into a band with his brothers, and he’s the frontman, so he’s the logical choice to appear here. That said, Jonas literally only appears here because of the latent popularity of the band, due entirely to their Disney Channel tie-ins. The band collectively only saw three Platinum releases across four records, and Nick Jonas himself bombed both times he released a solo record. Maybe someday he’ll accomplish something on his own that’s worthwhile, but at this point, nah dawg.
Mary Mary – I literally had no idea that this was a two-person gospel singing team until I looked them up, and assumed it was simply a single person I’d never heard of. If I had to venture a guess, they were brought in due to affiliation with Bebe Winans; it’s certainly not because they’re notable, because they had one Platinum record a decade prior, and that’s about it. I do not, for the life of me, know why we have two gospel acts in here… because Haiti’s mostly Catholic? I got nothing.
Isaac Slade – The lead singer of The Fray, for reference. At the time, oh boy I guess; their first two records had gone Platinum, and they were notable enough that it made sense. The band has since basically gone downhill fast, so in retrospect it’s a terrible decision, but hey, live and learn I guess.
Carlos Santana (on guitar) – See Orianthi above, though Santana is enough of an icon that he can pull this off without it being as weird. Still probably wasn’t necessary though, all things considered.
Lil Wayne – I’d have totally agreed with including Lil Wayne in the rap section of the song, because he’s incredibly popular and had, at that point, seen three Platinum records, so he was clearly a notable musician such that his inclusion was merited. As a singer, though? Fuck you, and fuck anyone who used Autotune in their vocals in a way that was obvious.
Akon – I didn’t hear any obvious Autotune in here (I think it was being used to smooth out the edges though), so I’m good with this; Akon’s a talented guy who has two Platinum records to his name, so he’s fine as-is.
T-Pain – Everything I said above about Lil Wayne goes fucking double for T-Pain, because all this Autotune shit is his fucking fault. Further, it’s not like he’s done anything but fuck up music by making Autotune a thing, so he’s only here because he’s notable, not because of sales or because he’s good or anything. Fuck this noise.
Kanye West (rap) – Kanye actually gets an extended solo rap section at the end of the song, and I mean, it’s fucking Kanye. Hate him as much as you want for bitching that Beyonce deserves all the awards or whatever, but dude’s a musical genius, so yeah, he deserves to be here.
There was also an extended rap section toward the end of the song that featured a whole lot of rappers just… all rapping the same lines simultaneously. It was theoretically a good idea, and it’s not like “We Are the World,” is a good song such that changes of this magnitude could be problematic or anything, though it didn’t come off terribly well in execution. Since no one in this section really got a chance to shine or anything there’s not a whole lot to judge anyone on, so we’ll make this quick:
LL Cool J – While Mr. Smith hasn’t really been notable for his rapping as much as his acting in recent years, the man’s a hip-hop institution, so yeah, he definitely should be here.
will.i.am – His solo work isn’t great, but outside of that, yes, will.i.am deserves his spot here, if for no other reason than The Black Eyed Peas.
Snoop Dogg – Like you even need to ask.
Nipsey Hussle – Who? No seriously. Who? Dude’s entire contribution to rap at this point was a handful of mix tapes, and while he may well be talented and skilled, see above comment about Z-listers.
Busta Rhymes – Busta’s not quite a rap institution, but he’s definitely up there, so his inclusion is pretty easy to understand. Also, Googling his name indicates he’s apparently eaten all of the cheeseburgers in the past year or so, which is depressing.
Swizz Beatz – With one actual release under his belt, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was an odd inclusion, but Swizz Beatz is notable for appearing on a shitload of tracks before this point. It’s harder to measure whether or not someone can be considered a success if their metric is “appeared as a guest on a shitload of tracks,” but at least dude’s somewhat notable, so, fuck it.
Kid Cudi – Well Cudi seemed like he might be something of a rising star at this point, with a Gold record to his name and, again, a shitload of guest appearances to work from, including a couple with Kanye. In retrospect, he hasn’t really paid that off so much, as he’s mostly just kind of there, even now, having released four records to progressively lower sales each time and continuing to appear as a guest on other people’s records in the meantime. In other words, we could probably have done better here, but it’s not the worst choice.
IYAZ – Everything you need to know about IYAZ can be summed up in the observation that his most recent Wikipedia entry reads like it was written by one of his slightly less literate fans (“It has been a long time since he’s music was global” for example), and no one has noticed or fixed it. Dude’s entire window of fame was one single released in 2009, so… I’m gonna say “See the Z-lister comment above” and move on.
Mann – Everything dude has done fits onto a single Wikipedia page, and absolutely none of it is notable or charted to anything approaching a reasonable degree. Was Tyler, The Creator that busy that he couldn’t have showed up to rap for two minutes?
So, on one hand, the 2010 version of the song has the benefit of having thirty nine musicians in its roster, so it’d take a fairly large amount of shite choices to bring the total below 80% (at least eight). On the other hand, having so many artists means you’re almost certainly going to have that many crap choices, and that’s exactly what happened here. Going by actual professional accomplishments, Scherzinger, Hudson, Foxx, Orianthi, Mary Mary, T-Pain**, Hussle, IYAZ and Mann are all lacking in comparison, bringing the total to nine artists in the lower-tier of accomplishment, leaving us with a 77% ratio. You could potentially argue against the merits of Nettles, Braxton (at the time), Winans, Jonas and Slade as well, especially now, which would bring you to a whopping 64% ratio, which is really not great. Even if we only go with the higher percentage, though, the argument that there are a lot of “Z-listers” seems flawed, since the percentage isn’t much lower, but again, that pesky “thirty nine total musicians with solos” pops up, as does the counterpoint that, with at least eight (discounting Orianthi) of those solos being performed by shite performers, well, that adds up to a less than ideal performance no matter what you’re working with. It also kind of doesn’t help the case of this release that, again, they basically put MJ back into the song, because even if it was done for the right reasons, it also smacks of a realization that the song lacks star power.
In other words, this wasn’t a great line-up.
The one discussion I really am interested in, though, is the old what-if; in this case, if we have another “We Are the World” sort of event, be it for general purpose charity or a specific purpose, who should be included in the next go-round? Now, of course a lot of it comes down to who’s available at the moment, but it’s an interesting question if you assume it’s just a general gathering of talent devoted to a general cause, rather than a gathering for a disaster or a tragedy. So here’s the question, then:
Given a scenario where every possible living musician is available, who would you pick to be in YOUR “We Are the World”?
The caveats being thus:
1.) Since we haven’t repeated anyone living as of yet, you can’t either,
2.) You can’t have any less than twenty singers nor any more than forty,
3.) If you include more than thirty you have to do the rap section, but if you include thirty or less you can’t, and
4.) You have to represent at least four genres of music overall in the project.
With that in mind, here’s my list:
1.) Prince – The reasons why he didn’t appear in the first attempt are numerous and varied, while the second time around he probably wasn’t contacted, honestly. With his recent foray back into the public eye, though, Prince is absolutely someone who should be a part of the project, because he should have been in the first place, even if he’s doing it now as more of an institution force than a popular musician.
2.) Madonna – She’s a pop music institution, she absolutely should have been somewhere in one of the two projects, and the fact that she wasn’t means she should be making up for missed time this time around.
3.) Stevie Nicks – Here’s another “must-have institution” singer; between her own personal Platinum releases, and the extensive collection of Fleetwood Mac multi-Platinum releases, combined with the fact that Lindsay Buckingham showed up for the chorus of the original project, well, Nicks should be involved here, if only because she fucking deserves the accolade… such as it is, anyway.
4.) Sting – This is almost my last “institution” pick, because, again, Sting is a fucking icon (no matter which one you’re talking about). Between The Police and his solo work, dude’s amassed an exceptional collection of Platinum releases, and this is something he almost certainly deserves to be a part of. Besides, he’s a philanthropist, he’d almost certainly do it if asked.
5.) Dolly Parton – My final “institution” pick is the hardest, not because Parton isn’t an amazing part of music history, but because I was honestly leaning toward Phil Collins, who is presently retired. Parton, though, is an elder stateswoman of a genre that deserves a bit more coverage than was given in the last go-round, and she’s absolutely an institution in both country music and music in general, and she deserves the spot more than anyone for that reason.
Moving into active singers with huge career highs:
6.) Garth Brooks – Brooks seems like he’d merit institution status here, but frankly, dude is still moving Platinum records, as recently as last fucking year in fact, so let’s bring him on-board as an active musician and give country a one-two punch of representation that gives it some obvious presence it deserves, considering it’s fucking huge and all.
7.) Lady Gaga – This one’s an obvious choice for an extensive number of reasons, but it mostly comes down to a combination of sheer popularity and talent. While her most recent works have kind of wound down popularity-wise, she’s still a force to be reckoned with, and she’d be an easy pick for this spot.
8.) Katy Perry – Well, she’s a huge philanthropist, and all of her records have completely exploded in popularity, so she’s an easy pick for the active and famous group. I don’t really have a better explanation than that, and I don’t know if we need one.
9.) Beyonce – It’s fucking Beyonce, do I really need to explain this one?
10.) Justin Timberlake – Yeah, he’s kind of annoyed with making music at the moment, but he’d probably do this without too much of an issue. Besides, it’s Justin fucking Timberlake. We actually like him now, we should let him do something with that good will he’s accumulated over the years through being funny and likable.
Here’s where we can get into the more questionable, but still entirely viable choices:
11.) Christina Aguilera – While Christina’s kind of wound down her career sales-wise, she’s still got a shitload of Platinum hits to her name, as well as a big public presence thanks to The Voice, so she’d easily fit into this spot without an issue.
12.) The Weeknd – This is an odd pick popularity-wise, but dude’s gone Platinum with at least one record, and has managed to tie in with artists like Ariana Grande, which can only help his exposure. He’d be a good low-key pick with some actual momentum to carry him into the project, so he wouldn’t end up as a joke pick after the fact.
13.) Frank Ocean – Ocean’s partially a stunt-casting, since he’s openly homosexual and I’m kind of interested in making a point that this shouldn’t be a fucking problem. That’s more an added point, though; the main reason is because Ocean’s almost certainly going to explode in the next few years, because he’s an amazing talent and he’s paired up with a smart guy in Tyler, The Creator, so he’s going to go places.
14.) Bruno Mars – He’s a multi-time Platinum artist and his star is only getting bigger, he’s easily a good pick to slot in here, especially since he’s on the rise but still young enough that he’s not a top-tier pick just yet.
15.) Chris Brown – HAHAHA fuck you, just kidding, fuck him.
15.) Ed Sheeran – He’s become a surprisingly powerful force in only a couple years, and he’s very much an unassuming dude, so he’d almost certainly be a personable and vital pick. He’s also a rising star, so that only helps his necessity here.
16.) Sam Smith – Smith’s a little young in terms of notability, but we’re getting into the point where we can, and should, take a couple risky picks based on current popularity and what they bring to the table, and Smith fits the bill. It also helps out a lot with the aforementioned desire to push for acceptance, but honestly, Smith’s fucking on so far as something of a modern-day Morrisey, so let’s get him involved and give him a chance to shine.
17.) Pharrell Williams – Yeah, he has all of one Platinum record, but he’s been all over the place in the past couple years, and he’s almost certainly going to build onto his successes with “Happy” and “Blurred Lines,” so let’s give him a chance to start that off right here.
18.) Utada Hikaru – This one’s kind of cheating, in that we generally pick successful United States acts to participate in this project, but she’s a massively successful Japanese singer, and frankly, she can sing in English, so let’s say “fuck the standards” and get her in here. Besides, it gives her a project to work on that gives her a chance to actually get her foot in the door in the US, which she’s been trying to do for years. Might as well give it one last shot, right?
19.) Al Yankovic – Y’know what? Fuck you and your judgment. Al’s a goddamn hard worker, and he’s had a shitload of Platinum records all his own. His most recent record his #1 on the Billboard charts, and it’ll probably end up going at least Gold, if not Platinum. Let’s give the man a chance to be a part of something bigger than making fun of Robin Thicke.
20.) Patrick Stump – Fall Out Boy’s lead singer seems like kind of an odd choice, I’ll admit, but they’ve been doing well enough post reuniting, and Stump’s a fine enough pick to fill in the lower ranks, in terms of raw talent and notability as a singer goes.
21.) Slash – I don’t think we need multiple celebrity guitarists, but one is perfectly fine, and if you’re going to pick one, pick one that everybody recognizes.
22.) Natalie Maines – Maines is kind of at the point where, as a singer, she’s on the tail end of her notability, as her solo record didn’t really chart worth a damn, but she’s still just notable enough from her time in the Dixie Chicks that she’s a fine inclusion in the lower tier picks, and talented enough that she can carry her spot without an issue.
23.) Janelle Monae – While Monae isn’t exactly a top-tier talent sales-wise, she’s got notability beyond her sales records that helps a lot, and since her record label just went through a big restructuring we might see her next record get a shitload of marketing, which is almost certain to push her as an artist into the public eye that much harder. She’s also been marketing the hell out of herself in the past two years so she’s definitely going to present herself as a more natural choice than one might think.
24.) Amy Lee – This one’s kind of a novelty pick, but it helps to represent a subgenre in music that doesn’t really get looked at as much as you’d think, and Evanescence was still a pretty huge act for a few years, like them or not. She’s on hiatus at the moment, so she’s almost certainly got the time, and while Lee isn’t the most notable vocalist out there, she’s a good singer with a solid track record sales-wise, so it’s not a bad pick for filling out the bottom half of the roster.
Finally, while I don’t know if I’d definitely do the rap section or not, if I were going to do this thing, I’d almost certainly draft:
Dr. Dre – If you need to ask why, y’all motherfuckers forgot about Dre.
Eminem – Yeah this one isn’t a great pick, and I admit that; while dude’s famous, he’s also famous for being a huge douche as often as not. That said, Eminem is kind of mellowing out as he gets older, and I think something like this would be a good chance for him to turn his image around a bit now that he’s becoming an elder statesman in rap. That’s an admittedly weird mentality to have, but fuck man, Snoop raps about fucking and smoking weed and dude’s in the fucking PTA and shit. Might as well become a responsible adult now since you’re not moving fifteen million copies of a record anymore.
Wiz Khalifa – He’s never been a big seller but Wiz is definitely a name brand in rap, and he’s bigger now than he ever was. He’s a must-have here, I think, and he’s almost certainly going to be a big deal in the coming years; might as well bring him on now because it’ll be a smart move in hindsight.
Ice T – Speaking of elder statesmen, this is basically my LL Cool J pick, IE, picking someone who’s still notable as a rapper for reasons wholly unrelated to their rapping, but the Iceberg is still working, even if we’re long past the point where Body Count was a thing.
Jay Z – This is a combination of saying, “Well we can’t have Kanye, so…” and “Hey Beyonce’s here anyway…”, though it’s not like Jay is a bad pick or anything. He just happens to fit into the space well rather than being a first choice, honestly.
Nicki Minaj – Yeah, okay, this is technically a bit of a cheat, but Minaj is a female rapper, even if her pop stylings are what brought her to the dance. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of great choices for female rappers out there; most female acts aren’t really big sales record-wise, and those that are haven’t been for years now. I mean, I’d like to have a female rapper in here somewhere, but when most of your options either haven’t been active in years, never made any kind of great sales records, or are Lil Kim, well, it’s probably time to cheat a little.***
Tyler, The Creator – Yeah, the man is controversy incarnate, but he’s damn talented, and frankly, this is another case of latching onto a rising star who’s guaranteed to become something rather than someone who has an uncertain future and ends up being nothing. Plus I suspect most people have forgotten about that weird-ass Mountain Dew thing at this point, and if they bring it up again it’d be background noise anyway.
So there we go. Feel free to suggest your own lists or changes to this one in the comments; Lord knows they’d probably be better than mine.
* No I’m not saying that Benoit murdering his wife and child before committing suicide is as bad as bringing Justin Bieber into the world of music, but I am saying that even if you are offended by that comparison, it took you at least ten seconds of consideration to decide that fact, so draw your own conclusions of validity in comparison.
** I don’t care how notable brand-wise he is, his entire contribution to music is Autotune voice, and he’s had nothing of note as far as sales are concerned. Fuck T-Pain.
*** Before anybody says, “What about Iggy Azalea?” that’s the worst possible idea, for a whole lot of reasons.