“We Are the World” Reloaded
With the 20th anniversary of “We Are the World,” the all-American, all-star charity anthem of the charity-anthem era, looming, plans are underway to “recreate” the phenomenon that brought to together everyone from Bob Dylan to Ray Charles in song. Except this time, the lineup could be more like everyone from Usher to Kanye West.
“It’s called ‘We Are the Future,'” rap star/producer Jermaine Dupri said of the project to MTV this week. “We’re gonna try to recreate, follow in the footsteps of those who made a big record before, like Michael [Jackson], Quincy [Jones] and Lionel Richie.”
“We Are the Future,” the working title, is a new song–not a remake or reworked version of “We Are the World.” No word yet on who or whom penned it.
In the tradition of “We Are the World,” a Jones-produced, Jackson/Richie composition, “We Are the Future” will help raise money for children in “embattled countries” all over the world, said Jones publicist Arnold Robinson. (The “We Are the World” effort concentrated on famine relief in Africa.)
Jones, who famously instructed the famous faces of the “We Are the World” chorus to “check your ego at the door,” is spearheading the new campaign–it was his invite that brought Dupri aboard.
Dupri has floated names such as Usher, West and Jay-Z as possibles for the new recording. Dupri, who notched four Grammy nominations this week for production work on the Usher tracks “Burn” and “My Boo” (the hit duet with Alicia Keys), also has a presumed in with Janet Jackson–he’s her boyfriend and sometimes-rumored fiancÈ.
“We Are the World” featured more than 40 performers–some forever icons (like Dylan, Charles and Bruce Springsteen), some only-in-the-’80s acts (like Kim Carnes, Sheila E. and Huey Lewis). Their band name for the night: USA for Africa.
The song was recorded on Jan. 28, 1985, following the American Music Awards. Now, as then, “We Are the Future” will try to corral its talent amid the afterglow of an awards ceremony. This time, the plan is to meet up on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, right after the 47th annual Grammy Awards, Dupri told MTV.
Ken Kragen said he wishes the new project well. The personal manager knows how hard its kind is to pull off. He organized “We Are the World” at entertainer Harry Belafonte’s behest.
“The key [to it being a success] really has not much to do with Quincy or the new song or anything–it has to do with finding something that will galvanize the public toward action,” Kragen said Thursday. “And that’s harder now than it was in 1985.”
Twenty years ago, Kragen said images of starving children in Africa were shocking to Americans. Today, the problem of poverty, in Africa and elsewhere, doesn’t seem as new–“We were inundated with it,” Kragen said.
Still, Kragen said of his old friend as he gives it a go at engaging the 21st century audience, “if anybody can do it, Quincy can.”
Matching the commercial success of “We Are the World” may be even harder. The song logged four weeks atop the singles chart, sold more than 7.3 million copies, spawned an album that sold more than 4.4 copies, and won four Grammys, including Song and Record of the Year. Combined, the song and album raised $64 million.
On Jan. 28–the 20th anniversary of its recording–Kragen is angling to get the cut and its indelible chorus (“We are the world/We are the children…”) played simultaneously on radio stations across the world. A similar stunt launched the single the first time around, on April 5, 1985.
A 20th anniversary DVD is due out Feb. 1. Sales will benefit the still-around USA for Africa, headed up by Kragen. (This time out, the organization will focus on funding programs fighting AIDS in Africa, as well as hunger and homelessness in the United States.)
“We Are the Future” comes as a new generation is discovering Live Aid, the 1985 benefit mega-concert recently released on DVD, and a new generation of British artists–Coldplay’s Chris Martin among them–are on the charts with a redo of the U.K.’s trailblazing contribution to the pantheon of 1980s anthems, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
The original “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World” recently were dismissed in a Time magazine essay as “the sing-along single” and the “even schmaltzier American effort,” respectively.
Kragen said “We Are the World” can’t be judged by today’s popular standards, and shouldn’t be judged as anything but a well-meaning undertaking.
“The merits of it were that it moved people,” Kragen said.
Jones and Dupri may be about to find out if the people can be moved again.
“We Are the World” Reloaded