By Beth Kelly
Whether we’re talking about famine in Africa or race relations in America, climate change and global warming or doing something funny for money through Red Nose Day, you can be sure celebrity musicians will be in on the fundraising spotlight. Charity songs are nothing new, and while the intentions seem admirable enough, the end result is often anything but. More often than not, ego and pride get in the way of truly inspiring the change in the sung-about situation. As evidence, we offer the following list of truly bad songs made for good causes.
Do They Know Its Christmas? – 1984 – This one was written by Bob Geldorf and Midge Uri and recorded by British and Irish supergroup Band Aid. It was intended to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief and succeeded in selling and raising millions. However, critics were quick to point the apparent ignorance of the writers in not realizing that the Ethiopian majority are in fact Orthodox Christians and would be very much aware of when Christmas occurs. It has also been condemned for use of condescending and stereotypical images of the African peoples in order to garner sympathy.
We are the World – 1985 – written mainly by Michael Jackson in collaboration with Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones, this gem was performed by a multitude of famous musical talents in the supergroup USA for Africa. The album sold phenomenally well, raising millions of dollars for Ethiopian famine relief. However, critics of the effort point out that no one involved questioned the circumstances that led to famine nor any other means of preventing future famines.
Earth Song – 1996 – Another Michael Jackson production intended to inspire action, but this one is more likely to inspire aversion for the overly dramatic way in which it’s presented and an instinct to look away from the video in disgust than to bring about any true changes from a general audience. The intention certainly seems noble, that of protecting Earth’s resources, to include rain forests and endangered animal species, but the final effect is melodramatic and whiny.
Love Song to the Earth – 2015 – This Sean Paul collaboration is another attempt at heightening awareness of environmental issues. Released to coincide with the UN climate conference in December, the intention is to create realistic limits on the impact of climate change. Like others on this list, the cause is worthy – particularly in light of the fact that the United States is now the world’s number one oil and natural gas producer, as well as its greediest fossil fuel consumer. However, unfortunately once again the song leans more toward showing off celebrity talents and appearance of goodwill than actual genuine charity.
One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks) – 2014 – This One Direction charity song was done for the organization Comic Relief, a UK based organization that seeks to end poverty throughout the world. The song was intended to garner support for Red Nose Day, an activity that aims to raise money through funny acts. The song and related live performances were a financial success for the charity, but there was once again some exploitation of poorer areas of Africa in order to simultaneously garner sympathy for the cause and publicity for the band.
People are People – 2004 – This Ru Paul remake of a former Depeche Mode song targets racism and inequality, in much the same way as Michael Jackson has often taken on this issue through his music over the decades. However, in the hands of the flamboyant Ru Paul, this comes off more as a blasting of those who don’t agree with his views of certain lifestyles rather than an anthem for acceptance and for racial and cultural equality.
Never Had A Dream Come True – 2000 – although written with lyrics detailing the aftermath of a relationship breakup, this single by S Club 7 was nonetheless chosen as an official theme song for the organization BBC Children in Need, garnering the band much fame and fortune along the way. A reunion is currently in the works, with the band once again touting their dedication to the organization that put them in the spotlight to begin with.
There’s no doubt that music moves the masses, and when done for the right cause and with the right dedication, can be enormously effective. However, when the musician or groups involved are remembered more for their personas than their causes, the music falls flat.