Back in the 1980s and the MTV heyday, some of the world’s most popular pop stars got together to record a Christmas song to help the famine-stricken people of Ethiopia.
The brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of a one-hit-wonder band called Boomtown Rats, Band Aid and the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was a global phenomenon and helped raise millions for its cause. It also sparked celebrity activism as we know it.
Watching the video of all those stars singing together was a treat. When do you see people like Sting, George Michael, Paul Young, Phil Collins, members of Duran Duran, Bananarama, Spandau Ballet, Kool & the Gang, Shalamar, The Style Council, plus Boy George and Bono and more all come together to record a song?
Well, in the ’80s, of course. Some of those names are just footnotes on the pop landscape now.
Bananarama? The Style Council? Huh?
But back then, they were big, spiked-haired, massive eye-liner-wearing music gods and goddesses. It was mesmerizing. Important. Global.
The song itself? Cringeworthy, even then.
I remember listening to “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and thinking the lyrics were awkward at best. Trite for sure. Insulting in some places.
“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime”? The poster child line for “duh.”
“I know it’s hard but when you’re having fun”? That’s the best you could come up with?
“Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you”? Ouch.
That last line was the worst, and it always stuck out as completely counterintuitive to the goal of selflessly reaching out to help others. It was like saying, “Better you than me, folks, but let’s throw some cash at the situation.” Not cool.
The fact that it was Bono’s big line really hurt.
But as bad as the song really was, we somehow forgave it because it was for a good and noble cause. And they were rock stars. And rock was going to change the world.
Today, as Band Aid marks its 30th anniversary with a new version of the song aiming to help fight the Ebola crisis in West Africa, the warts are still there – magnified, thanks to social media.
If there had been an Internet in the 1980s, the original Band Aid probably would have been ripped to shreds – kind of like the new version is being now. A passing glance to the effort, but a picking-apart-piece-by-piece rip into the outcome.
A backlash against the latest incarnation (it’s actually the fourth) has hit. No matter that some of today’s biggest artists are part of the lineup – stars like members of Bastille and One Direction, along with Chris Martin, Ed Sheeran, Paloma Faith, Angélique Kidjo (and, yes, Bono is back, too) – social media has shined its bright light on each and every flaw.
Some of the lyrics have been switched up a little – that horrible line sung by Bono has been changed to “Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you” – but they seem even more pedestrian 30 years later.
It’s hard to blast people who are trying to do a good thing. Except on the Internet of course, where I’m sure even Mother Teresa somehow would get kicked around from anonymous and hate-mongering commentators. But you have to wonder if the song’s creators couldn’t have done more to fix those old flaws.
The original song took its lumps for being smug and white-centric and perpetuating African stereotypes. Geldof and company knew that going into this new effort. So why not fix that image by putting more thought into it and coming up with lyrics that better address and erase those criticisms?
Band Aid 30 still is for a good and noble cause. But, 30 years later and in the age of the Internet, the creators seem somehow stuck in the past.
Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.