Ever since its creation in 2012, Global Citizen Festival has delivered a unique combination of show-stopping performances and social activism. The organization, whose goal is to end extreme poverty by mobilizing ordinary citizens to take action, organizes the festival and enters those who spend time engaging with important social issues into a lottery to win tickets. The result? A show that's unlike any other. Now in its fifth year, the festival featured headliners from Metallica to Rihanna, and I was lucky enough to witness it in full from the front row.
There was a lot of talk over the course of the day about the power of Global Citizens in calling for change – the band dialed up the volume to match that enthusiasm.
The festival was slated to begin at 4 p.m., but by mid-afternoon, the Great Lawn of New York's Central Park was packed. Actor Hugh Jackman and comedian Chelsea Handler co-hosted the opening moments of the event, entering the stage on a tandem bicycle and building anticipation for the acts that were about to follow. As a first-timer attending Global Citizen Festival, here are the nine most memorable, powerful, and emotional moments I experienced that evening.
1. Demi Lovato fights for gender equality
All of us have causes we support, and this was no different among the stars than it was among the audience. Demi Lovato spoke passionately about the fight for global gender equality and gave a shout-out to the millions fighting for the same before breaking into her hit songs like "Confident" and "Cool for the Summer" – and a cover of a classic female-empowerment anthem.
2. Yusuf/Cat Stevens and Eddie Vedder link generations
Yusuf/Cat Stevens captured the audience during his performance of "Father and Son," where he was joined by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, another musician known for his social activism. This was a poignant moment, where one generation's musical legend acknowledged the other.
3. Slowing it down with Ellie Goulding
In addition to their main sets, a few of the artists reappeared for special guest slots. The most memorable was Ellie Goulding, who, following her performance with Major Lazer earlier in the day, treated the crowd to stripped-down versions of some of her biggest hits. Belting out "Anything Could Happen" as the sun set in the park was an uplifting showcase of her vocal prowess.
4. Metallica turns up the volume
"Metallica is grateful to be a part of the solution, and not the problem," said James Hetfield before launching into a stirring rendition of "Nothing Else Matters," one of the best-loved tracks from the band's eponymous 1991 album. The song was a rare moment of calm amid the maelstrom of the band's set. Just as you'd expect from Metallica, things were loud, with thunderous renditions of classics like "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Master of Puppets." There was a lot of talk over the course of the day about the power of Global Citizens in calling for change – the band dialed up the volume to match that enthusiasm.
5. Bill Nye the Science Guy calls for action
In between sets, there were presentations from global leaders, key influencers, and even refugees who told their stories and brought home the importance of the event. The focus then shifted to giant screens broadcasting the Action Hub, where hosts, musicians, and supporters chatted behind the scenes about what being a Global Citizen meant to them. As a child of the '90s, one of the best moments for me was the welcome surprise of seeing Bill Nye the Science Guy speak – the trademark bow tie and quirky charisma was immediately recognizable. Nye reminded the audience how climate change and extreme poverty are often linked, and urged people to "take the climate into account when you vote."
6. The 6-year-old who made compassion go viral
Another moving moment between performances was when we met Alex, the 6-year-old New York native of Albanian descent who wrote a letter to President Obama about the global refugee crisis, which the president then responded to and shared with the world. In the letter, Alex offered his home to the child photographed in an ambulance in one of the most heart-wrenching images to emerge out of the crisis in Syria. Alex told the president that he would welcome the child into his family, introduce him to his friends, teach him how to ride a bike, and learn a new language from him. Seeing Alex on stage brought tears to the eyes of festivalgoers in a moment of overflowing positivity. Looking around me, it was clear Alex's story had resonated.
7. King Kendrick rules the stage
After last year's masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar's visionary music and galvanizing social consciousness has caught the ear of music lovers across the globe. While that album has its up-tempo moments, it's also an experience that rewards deeper consideration of its intricate lyrics and themes. This isn't lost in the live versions, and Kendrick elevated the songs to a different realm. He was a genuinely spectacular addition to the Global Citizen Festival roster this year, with a set that featured his biggest hits as well as deep cuts for longtime fans.
8. Chris Martin steps up
Coldplay's Chris Martin, whose band has played the festival in the past and who is also its curator, made multiple appearances throughout the night. After a performance with Eddie Vedder, Martin took to the stage for some impromptu guitar playing as fans waited for headliner Rihanna. "She had to get 5 percent more gorgeous," quipped Chris, who launched into a solo acoustic number complete with an ad-lib verse about waiting for Rihanna in Central Park. "If she takes any longer I'm gonna do this song once more," he sang, charming the audience.
9. Star power to end the day
When Rihanna appeared on the stage, wearing orange sunglasses and exuding undeniable star power, the crowd was raring to go. Her set featured infectious hits like "Umbrella," "We Found Love," and "FourFiveSeconds," as well as songs on which she has guested. She closed out with "Love on the Brain" from ANTI, the very personal album she released earlier this year. It was a gorgeous close to a day as full of impassioned performances as impassioned calls to action.
Citi is proud to be a major sponsor of the Global Citizen Festival and support the organization's mission to end extreme poverty by 2030. Citi cardmembers had the opportunity to purchase VIP tickets to this year's festival. Check back on www.citiprivatepass.com for upcoming festivals, presale tickets, and VIP packages to more of the year's hottest concerts.