by Linda Holmes
Last night, during NBC's run-up to the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics, they premiered an abbreviated version of the remake of "We Are The World" that's been recorded to benefit Haiti disaster relief -- an unmistakably and unambiguously good and important cause that doesn't really change the fact that the recording is really, really strangely put together.
First of all, Justin Bieber, a singer who's 15 years old and looks much younger, kicks off the song, standing in for Lionel Richie's vocal in the original. Nothing against Bieber, but when Lionel Richie did this part, he had already been a Commodore. Bieber, on the other hand, was opening for Taylor Swift not long ago. Not exactly the same kind of iconic beginning.
And then Bieber hands off to Jennifer Hudson and Nicole Scherzinger. Hudson is an Academy-Award-winning actress and a very talented singer (as well as an American Idol finalist), yes, but Scherzinger is mostly famous for being the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls. So at this point in the video, the roles of Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder are being played by a 15-year-old, a Pussycat Doll, and an Idol. (In addition to Hudson, Idol is also represented by judge Randy Jackson and past runner-up Katharine McPhee.)
What happens next, and the part that's actually pretty great, after the jump.
And then there's Josh Groban (of course) and an extremely uncomfortable-sounding Tony Bennett, and Mary J. Blige (who sounds great, in fairness) and then ... Michael Jackson, in the original footage from the old video, joined by his sister Janet. Frankly, if the focus is supposed to be on Haiti, it seems unwise and unnecessary to layer a Michael Jackson tribute moment on top of it.
Look, I'm not trying to be grumpy about the inclusion of people like Pussycat Dolls and Miley Cyrus and a Jonas or two, but ... come on. There's not a lot of dead weight in the original, and it certainly didn't put anybody quite so far front and center who had the kind of thin resume, musically speaking, that some of these people have.
Don't get me wrong -- lots of these singers are great, and there's certainly a smattering of undisputed legends, including Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight. But even the ones who have been around a long time make some egregious errors in judgment: what on earth led Celine Dion to believe that she should copy, note for note, Cyndi Lauper's distinctly Lauperesque delivery? It's okay to make up your own melismatic wanderings, you know.
Surprisingly, given the fact that I find myself spending the entire video having thoughts that I fully realize make it appear that I haven't liked any music made since the invention of the phonograph record, my favorite parts by far are the rap breaks, performed by Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Kanye West, will.i.am and other really talented guys who actually seem to be having a good time and bringing something of their own to the performance. (Is this where I confess that I really love LL Cool J? Because I really, really love LL Cool J.)
It gets sloppy toward the end, with a couple of things thrown in that seem a little tonally off. One is the T-Pain Auto-Tune bit, which comes off like a parody of T-Pain (especially coming so soon after he parodied himself in a Super Bowl ad), and another is Jamie Foxx doing his Ray Charles impression, which, outside the context of Ray, actually comes off like he's making fun of Ray Charles. Dumb, and not needed.
Finally, who invited Vince Vaughn? The other people who seem a little bit odd at first -- actress Rashida Jones, for instance, and Nicole Richie -- are a little easier to comprehend once you remember that they're the daughters of Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie respectively.
But what is Vince Vaughn doing there? Did he follow someone into the studio? In a sense, it's appropriate, since it's about as random as it was that Dan Aykroyd was there for the first one, but ... still, Vince Vaughn? (Jeff Bridges can be forgiven, because he's at least currently in a movie where he's playing a singer, so there's a certain Hollywood logic to it.)
There are high points and low points to the recording, but in a way, I would have liked to see them do away with the whole schmaltzy opening and just let LL Cool J and company do their thing for five minutes. Because I definitely could have done without the part where Miley Cyrus precisely copies Dionne Warwick.