we aren’t the world: autotune-up gone awry

February 16, 2010

as originally published here

When the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympic games started Friday night, I was antsy. Not for the stream of snow-capped athletes and Canadian-cultural sideshow, but for the premiere of the song and video for the charity cover “We Are the World.”

After two weeks of hype—and an L.A. Times at-the-recording-session tell-all to hold us through—the familiar twinkling slow jam finally came through the TV.

But with all the fixings of a postmodern Hollywood remake, the 7 minute-long self-aggrandizing montage crumbled under the weight of its own celebrity, proving how selfish entertainment has become in the last 25 years.

I know it’s counterproductive to criticize those who selflessly donated their time and voices to the cause (and especially to Lionel Ritchie who did everything in his power to bring back the energy of the original), but the new “We Are the World” is full of modern music stars who—forgetting that the song is about helping others—took it as an opportunity to showcase themselves.

Namely the rap artists involved, who you would have thought could drop the autotune-thug front for 30 seconds and record an honest Michael Jackson-pleasing chorus but instead chose to keep their signature style and give the World’s biggest selling single a tacky dose of voice effects.

Go Wyclef for stepping up as the musical ambassador to his home country and writing fresh, earthquake-themed lyrics for the rap bridge (which was also awkward—Snoop Dogg singing about love across the world?), but why weren’t there more lines (a la the original) sung by two artists? Having everyone in their own sound booths recording their solo over and over again gives a feeling of disjointedness, not unity and brotherhood.

The only time the whole group does sing together is during the chorus, but as the camera pans across the 85-strong array of entertainers, the scene looks a lot different than the one MJ and Ritchie gathered in ’85.

Back then, for one, all the celebrities looked like they were ready for a day in the recording studio. Decked in casual wear and oversized USA for Africa tshirts (or was that just the style in those days?), the participating celebrities swayed back and forth without a care to how their appearance would reflect on their career.

This time, though, hair and makeup teams ensured ladies such as Celine and Toni Braxton looked like singing porcelain dolls and everyone hungover from the Grammy’s the night before wore their favorite pair of sunglasses (I’m looking at you Fergie and Kanye).

While updating the song for modern times was a necessary move (thanks for letting Santana shred for a few seconds!), it inevitably absorbed some of the negative aspects of today’s celebrity culture and the video proves what the song implies—that nothing is truly selfless in the world of entertainment.

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