global citizen festival

All the Tear-jerking Moments From the 2016 Global Citizen Festival

Celebrity Sightings in New York City - September 24, 2016
Rihanna killed it. Photo: Steve Sands/GC Images/Getty Images

On Saturday, music and activism once again converged on Central Park’s Great Lawn in New York City for the 2016 Global Citizen Festival. In its fifth year, the daylong concert — which attendees enter for free as an incentive for spamming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about pledging money to educate Syrian refugees, among other hashtaggable efforts to fight global crises — expanded to include even more musical performances sandwiched between all the tears. Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar were this year’s big-name headliners, but it was really all the action before the main event that stole the show. Namely, Coldplay front man turned self-deprecating staller Chris Martin. Missed MSNBC’s live telecast? Below, we have the highlights.

Chris Martin in his truest form

Who do you turn to when Rihanna’s running late and every other performer has already done their humanitarian duty for the day? The festival’s creative director, musical curator, and self-parody Chris Martin, obviously. The Coldplay front man swallowed his remaining pride and stalled like his life (and the lives the festival supposedly saves) depended on it, covering Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” for as long as it took for Rihanna to put the finishing touches on her look. (Or so Martin assumed was the holdup.) But this is Chris Martin, who will never waste an opportunity to make himself look like a bumbling idiot. Pretending not to know the rest of the words, he improvised with some RiRi references and sheepishly begged her to take over.

Earlier in the night, Martin leaned all the way into the Apatow brand of humor at his own band’s expense. In November, Coldplay and Jay Z will headline the first-ever Global Citizen Festival in India on what just so happens to be World Toilet Day. The joke writes itself, but trust Martin to spell it out for you: “It’s also World Toilet Day so that makes sense for those of you who associate our band with toilets.” Never change, Chris.

Rihanna blowing everyone away

Eventually, Rihanna did arrive fashionably and unapologetically late. And just as she did at the VMAs, she blew the nonexistent roof off the place. While stalling, Martin called Rihanna the best singer in the world, which at the time probably sounded like a lot of buttering her up just to get Rih to come save him, but damn if she didn’t try to live up to that praise. Rih closed her hit-spanning set with “Love on the Brain,” her standout ballad from Anti, which she says is one of her favorite songs off the album. We see why: It’s one of the few songs in her vast catalog that flexes the vocal muscles she often has at rest. Simply put, she killed this.

Refugee testimonials and Alex

A major point of activism at this year’s Global Citizen Festival surrounded the global-refugee crisis. It’s one thing to read about Syrian refugees from a distance, it’s a completely different experience to watch them tell their stories up close. Not only did we hear from one Olympian who swam for three hours while helping push a broken-down boat to Greece during her escape from Syria, we also got testimonials from legendary model and Sudanese refugee Alek Wek, as well as the widower of the assassinated refugee activist and British Parliament member Jo Cox. As if the tears weren’t already flowing, they then brought out Alex, the 6-year-old boy whose letter to President Obama requesting his assistance in his family’s adoption of a Syrian refugee went viral. Grab all the tissues.

Priyanka Chopra proves why she should host all the things

Technically, Chelsea Handler and Hugh Jackman were the festival’s hosts, but they disappeared midway through the show and were pretty much never heard from again. But where one door closes, another one opens with Priyanka Chopra standing behind it. What are the odds! She acted as hype woman for India’s festival, unofficial emcee of America’s version, motivational speaker, Most Beautiful, and Rihanna stan. We saw her present at this year’s Emmys; next year, let her host!

Demi Lovato outsinging everyone

Demi Lovato might’ve been a late addition to the festival lineup, replacing her old friend Selena Gomez after she dropped out for health reasons, but Demi is no one’s understudy. She showed up and she showed out. Sure, Metallica had the night’s highest volume, but Demi nearly blew a speaker with just her voice, performing back-to-back-to-back ballads in a set that also saw her cover Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Because there’s nothing wrong with being overconfident when you’ve got the voice to back it up.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary on Qandeel Baloch’s murder

Earlier this year, Pakistani YouTube star Qandeel Baloch was brutally murdered by her brother in an honor killing. She was remembered at Global Citizen Festival with a moving short documentary by Oscar-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who spoke after the film’s debut on behalf of all victims of honor killings, saying, “There is no honor in killing a woman.” Both the film and her speech are must-sees.

Ellie Goulding’s random acoustic set

Ellie Goulding’s career is built atop big pop songs, which is why it was so surprising that she performed an all-acoustic set on Saturday. It’s not something her voice or a festival setting are particularly suited for, and yet it worked well — mostly because her stage design was so damn mesmerizing. Seriously, just watch the light show behind her on “Burn” and try not to feel hypnotized.

Eddie Vedder, cover king

Last year, Eddie Vedder performed a Bob Marley cover with Beyoncé. This year, he downgraded ever so slightly to duet with the likes of Cat Stevens and, yes, Chris Martin. Vedder sang “Father and Son” with Stevens (who is too close in age to actually be Vedder’s father, but just go with it). He later helped Martin out with his Rihanna stalling for a three-song set that included an absolutely gorgeous cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” as well as Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and Pearl Jam’s own “Nothingman.” And please believe Vedder had some words for Trump.

Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”

It’s a hard thing to have to sit through hours of emotional testimonials and not walk away feeling pretty dejected about the state of the world. As a salve to that hopelessness, there’s Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” He closed his incredible set with this song, because sometimes all anyone needs to hear when the future looks so bleak is that maybe, just maybe, “we gon’ be alright.”

2016 Global Citizen Festival: What You Missed