The New Version:
I was reading something in Rolling Stone today that made me think about Michael Jackson’s masterful production of We Are The World twenty five years ago. The newest version made just weeks ago made its debut at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics over the week-end.
Since the Winter Olympics debut of “We Are the World 25 for Haiti,” featuring Lil Wayne, Pink, Kanye West, Fergie and 80 more singers, over 6.5 million people have watched the Paul Haggis-directed video on its official YouTube page. With its modern take on the original track’s production and a new rap interlude, the new version of the iconic 1985 charity single is drawing mixed reaction from all corners of the Internet — 67,000 comments have already been posted on YouTube and Rolling Stone’s blog lit up with responses after the song’s premiere during Friday night’s opening ceremony in Vancouver.
One of the most famous voices in the mix is Jay-Z, who told MTV that the original version was too sacred to him. “I think ‘We Are the World’ is like [Michael Jackson’s] ‘Thriller’ to me. I don’t ever wanna see it touched.” He added, “Some things are just untouchable. It was a valiant effort, but for me, it’s gonna be untouchable.”
Rolling Stone readers‘ main critique is that the new lineup doesn’t boast enough high-profile rockers. “This version does not hold a candle to the original which was composed primarily of A-list performers, many who are now in the Rock Hall of Fame,” JD writes. “The original had individuals. That’s the key thing, from the moment the original starts you know who everyone is, very distinct voices,” adds Chris.
Lionel Richie’s response? “What’s a classic? To the next generation, it’s just an old song,” he told USA Today. “Why not bring in Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and let them address the issues? We can pass the baton and empower the next generation to take up arms and have a legacy with this.”
Readers also griped over the track’s use of Auto-Tune (Akon, T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s vocals all feature the studio hallmark) and the addition of the rap interlude, which the producers referred to as a “Greek chorus.” Richie tells USA Today rockers were the voice of opposition in the original, but “Now the radicals and bad boys and messengers are rappers. We had to add that to give it freshness.”
Despite the critiques, readers praised Pink, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige and Celine Dion’s solos, the touch of originality Kanye West added to the track and the too-brief, heartwarming moment where Michael and Janet Jackson sing side by side. “OK, Pink killed it. Awesome and somewhat unexpected. Celine Dion, incredible. It was tasteful to leave Michael Jackson in it too,” writes T Bone.
I think in this instance, the new version ROCKS! I was a skeptic before viewing the video and became a believer after viewing the video. This is not to take anything away from Q, Michael and Lionel Richey’s effort of 25 years ago. It’s just that this new version gives us the newest technology, some very talented singers and performers and an overall feeling of YES, this video is in fact better than the original.
So Jay-Z, while I accept and respect your opinion, the new video is the best.