As cameras panned over the audience at VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World, it was clear this wasn’t a typical show.
Masks up, scrubs on, the crowd at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, was filled with frontline health care workers being honored for their heroic work fighting COVID-19 and saving lives over the past year.
Because they were fully vaccinated, there was an ambient feeling of relief to be at a concert — a feeling that Jennifer Lopez channeled when she invited her mom to the stage at the start of the evening for a performance of the karaoke classic “Sweet Caroline.”
It was a feeling shared by J Balvin, who survived COVID-19, as well as Selena Gomez, who hosted the event and thanked the nurses and doctors in attendance, and David Letterman, who called on viewers to get vaccinated to ease the burden on hospitals.
Hosted by multi-platinum recording artist, actress, and producer Selena Gomez, VAX LIVE featured performances by Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Vedder, Foo Fighters, J Balvin, and H.E.R. Special appearances included VAX LIVE campaign chairs Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Ben Affleck, Chrissy Teigen, David Letterman, Gayle King, Jimmy Kimmel, Nomzamo Mbatha, Olivia Munn, Sean Penn, and more.
The guests collectively celebrated the ongoing vaccination effort and called for global solidarity in the fight to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, a fight that is far from over.
“We cannot rest and fully recover until there is fair distribution to every corner of the world,” Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, told the audience. “We need to lift up all of humanity and make sure nobody is left behind.”
Several speakers echoed this call, demanding an end to the extremely unequal way vaccines have been distributed around the world.
“Many in Africa might not get a vaccine until 2023,” South African actress Nomzamo Mbatha said. “That’s two years from now and it’s simply unacceptable. The spirit is in us all to rally together and demand that no one, wherever they were born, is left behind.”
All told, the event mobilized $302 million in commitments from governments, corporations, and philanthropists to aid the fight against the coronavirus and secured more than 26 million vaccine doses to combat vaccine inequity.
For a brief evening under strict public health protocols, VAX LIVE was also about having fun and dancing to live music, hugging vaccinated loved ones, and imagining a brighter future.
Here are 24 of our favorite moments from VAX LIVE.
1. The Try Guys wreaked havoc backstage.
The YouTube creators and comedians lost their J Balvin backup dancer privileges but received the opportunity to kick off the night.
Eugene tried on Jennifer Lopez’s dress and then the guys jammed out on the Foo Fighters’ equipment, sabotaged Ben Affleck’s birthday cake, broke into a fistfight over who would do the honors of opening the show, and got the bad news from Olivia Munn that they weren’t hosting before welcoming everyone to the event.
2. Jennifer Lopez dedicated a cover of "Sweet Caroline" to her mom.
Lopez’s mom, Guadalupe Rodriguez, used to sing Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" to her when she was a child, so it was only fitting that she performed a rendition of the classic ahead of Mother’s Day.
Rodriguez serenaded her daughter with a version of the song that she used to sing when rocking her as a baby –– "Sweet Jennifer" –– as they danced on the beautifully decorated floral stage.
3. Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, thanked health care workers and called for vaccine equity.
“This pandemic will not end unless we act collectively with an unprecedented commitment to our shared humanity,” Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, said in a moving speech on why “the vaccine must be distributed to everyone, everywhere.”
The VAX LIVE campaign co-chair stressed that vaccine access should be a basic right and should not be determined by geography.
“None of us should be comfortable with thinking that we can be fine when so many others are suffering,” he said. “In reality, and especially with this pandemic, when any suffer, we all suffer. We must look beyond ourselves with empathy and compassion for those we know, and those we don't. We need to lift up all of humanity and make sure that no person or community is left behind.”
Prince Harry reminded the world that how we respond now will go down in history, and heexpressed solidarity with the millions of people in India who are devastated by the pandemic.
4. Amitabh Bachchan appeals for help for India.
India is currently grappling with the worst COVID-19 crisis in the world, averaging more than 300,000 new infections per day for two weeks now. The acclaimed Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan made a rousing appeal for help.
"My country India is battling with the sudden surge of the second wave of COVID-19," he said. "As a global citizen, I appeal to all global citizen to rise up speak to your governments, your pharmaceutical companies, and ask them to donate, to give, to extend a helping hand to the public that needs it the most."
"Every effort counts," he added. "As Mahatma Ghandi said, 'In a gentle way you can shake the world.'"
5. H.E.R. performed “Glory” with over 200 Fender Play guitar students.
People receiving vaccines at the mass vaccination site just outside SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, were met with a pleasant surprise. They were rewarded for getting vaccinated with a chance to watch H.E.R. from their cars as she shredded with students who are learning to play guitar on the Fender Play app.
6. Olivia Munn stood up against Asian-American hate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been used to divide communities, Munn pointed out.
“Since COVID-19 began, there’s been more than 3,800 incidents of violence against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders recorded in the US,” Munn said.
“As an Asian-American, these hate crimes have been really close to home. A virus doesn’t have an ethnicity or a region. And when you regionalize, you weaponize.”
The actress reminded the audience of the power of unity.
“When we come together, we can do great things.”
7. Eddie Vedder called for COVID-19 vaccine equity.
“What we’ve just been through in the last year and a half was something everyone had to deal with,” the Pearl Jam frontman said backstage. “Now that we have vaccines, it’s important to make sure that the vaccines can be distributed to everyone who needs it. Get this thing on a trajectory where the whole planet can be healthy again.”
Vedder performed Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy” and interrupted his set to urge leaders and key stakeholders to take urgent action to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you’re a government, if you’re a world leader, and you have excess vaccines, please don’t stockpile, please make it available for the countries that need it,” he said.
“Please distribute it ASAP, and if you’re a drug company, we thank you for your inventions. If you really want to be heroes, it would be great if you would distribute the vaccine at cost and then you would have a fair and equitable distribution system throughout the planet. And that’s how we will survive and conquer this pandemic.”
Vedder closed his set with Pearl Jam’s “I Am A Patriot.”
8. J Balvin Performed “Otra Noche Sin Ti” and “Tu Veneno” in space — sort of!
Balvin opened up about having COVID-19. “It almost killed me,” he said. “I don’t want people to feel what I felt.”
“Right here in [the] US it’s like a bubble. It’s a blessing to be in this bubble, but out there, I’m from Colombia, and we just have 2% of people vaccinated. The rest of South America is going through the same hell. It’s just reality: We need more vaccines around the world.”
While performing on a space-themed stage, the “Prince of Reggaeton” shared that seeing people at the concert gave him hope before launching into “Otra Noche Sin Ti.”
Balvin interjected the song to share his battle with COVID-19.
“The simple answer is to get vaccinated for your loved ones,” he said, before performing “Tu Veneno.”
9. Daniel El Travieso nailed impressions of people’s vaccine’s reactions.
The YouTube creator started on a serious note, calling the vaccine “important for the whole world” before hilariously poking fun at and transforming into different characters receiving the jab.
Travieso impersonated everyone from young people eager to get back to concerts, a goth man playing it cool, a stoic, neurotic dad, an oversharing mom, and Grandma ready to party.
10. President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden shared a message of hope.
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden encouraged viewers to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and painted an inspiring picture of what the world can look like once herd immunity is achieved.
“When you get vaccinated, you don’t have to miss [your loved ones] any longer,” Dr. Biden said. “Every person vaccinated is helping to save lives and give us back those moments that we’ve missed so much.”
11. Ben Affleck and Jimmy Kimmel had a wardrobe mishap.
Kimmel took the stage in a Robin costume and was disappointed to learn that Affleck didn’t get the memo to wear his Batman suit. Kimmel joked that he bought his costume with his COVID-19 Relief Package stimulus check, before the two celebrated the return of shared experiences post-vaccination.
The bit kicked off Global Citizen’s Rewards to Reunite the World, through which major sports leagues and live entertainment companies have committed to provide tickets to some of the most amazing live events of the coming year. Global Citizens in the US who are vaccinated will have an exciting chance to take action and share why they received the COVID-19 vaccine with the hashtag #VaxBecause, which enters them into the running to win tickets for events. So far, commitments have been made by longtime Global Citizen partner Live Nation, along with the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLS, NHL, WWE, Formula 1, NASCAR, and MLB.
12. Saweetie sang her new song, “Fast (Motion).”
In the music video for her new song “Fast (Motion),” Saweetie pushes her body to the limit, jumping out of a plane, sprinting around a track, scoring in a football match. Her performance of the song for VAX LIVE was similarly high-octane, giving viewers a sense of what they can expect as she hits the festival circuit this summer.
13. Picture This rocked out to “Things Are Different.”
The Irish band played their 2021 single in an empty theater. The song, about resilience and coming back stronger, could easily be an anthem for the COVID-19 recovery effort.
14. Barbershop Medicine confroned vaccine hesitancy in the Black community
Drs. Italo Brown and Cedric “Jamie” Rutland traveled to a barbershop to speak with barbers and patients about the COVID-19 vaccine. After encountering a closed shop, they go to a relocated outdoor barber studio and sit down to chat.
“I lost my grandmother to COVID and as a man that likes to really fix things,” one barber said, “I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t see her, I couldn’t help, so when the vaccine came out, I wanted to educate myself, I wanted to want this.
“If we don’t get the vaccination, already knowing that there are health care disparities and equity problems, if we don’t get the vaccination, it’s actually going to widen that gap,” Rutland said. “Because if less Black people get the vaccination, more Black people are going to get sick.”
15. Prince Harry and Thembe Mahlaba addressed the threats of COVID-19 misinformation.
Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, returned to the VAX LIVE stage to discuss the threat of vaccine misinformation.
“I understand why people are confused or sometimes don’t know what to think or believe about vaccines,” he said. “We are experiencing a viral pandemic alongside a digital pandemic.
“I believe that misinformation is a global humanitarian crisis and the crisis is getting worse,” he added. “In recent months, we’ve seen a stark rise in vaccine hesitancy. For the nations that have received so few doses and the countries where cases are rising and the human loss is staggering, hesitancy is not an option. Misinformation is not simply harming those who believe it but also those who don’t. We must tackle each of these issues head-on, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. If vaccine distribution moved half as quickly as misinformation, just imagine how many lives could be saved.”
His speech was followed by a segment featuring the South African influencer Thembe Mahlaba that explored the obstacles blocking the country’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
“Over a year ago, COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill,” she said. “A year on, the vaccine seems to be the only credible intervention to halt the spread of the virus and bring us back together. But vaccine mistrust, hesitancy, and inequity continues to undermine global efforts.”
16. David Letterman shared his Dr. Fauci story.
The celebrated late-night talk show host strolled onto the stage to deliver some sage advice.
“Like a lot of people from the past year, my family and I have been hiding and while we were hiding, frontline workers became the infantry that made it safe for us to eventually come out," Letterman said. “Last weekend, I ran into Dr. Fauci at the Kentucky Derby and I said, ‘What am I going to do for the people who on a daily basis risk their lives to hold this thing at bay?’ And he said, ‘The best thing you can do is get vaccinated. That will make their jobs much easier.’"
17. Foo Fighters jammed out with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson.
After Foo Fighters performed their hit song “All My Life” to a live audience for the first time in “more than a year and a half,” frontman Dave Grohl decided to make the moment even more special by inviting rock legend Brian Johnson from AC/DC to perform “Back in Black.”
Johnson unleashed his trademark wail as Foo Fighters, thrilled to play alongside one of their heroes, head-banged to the chorus.
Foo Fighters have a long history of supporting Global Citizen, having taken the stage for the inaugural Global Citizen Festival back in 2012.
“Music is the one thing that can bring people from all walks of life, no matter any differences we might have as human beings,” Grohl said before his set. “It’s usually a song that can bring people together.”
18. Sung-hoon Kim showed off archery skills.
The world champion archer Sung-hoon Kim showed off his archery skills by meticulously spelling out “vaccine” on easels with dozens of arrows to encourage viewers to get their shots.
19. His Holiness Pope Francis called for a temporary waiver of vaccine patents.
The spiritual leader joined VAX LIVE from the Vatican, where he delivered a moving speech about unity and perseverance. The pope said lifting the intellectual property rules that currently restrict vaccine production worldwide would the help ensure true vaccine equity.
“The coronavirus has provoked much death and suffering, affecting the lives of many, especially the most vulnerable,” he said in his native Spanish. “I beg you not to forget the most vulnerable. In the midst of so much darkness and uncertainty, we lack light and hope. [We need] a spirit of justice that mobilizes us to ensure true universal access to the vaccine, and a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights.”
20. NCT 127 showcased synchronized dance moves.
The beloved K-pop group performed “Kick It” as part of VAX LIVE. And this isn’t the first time NCT 127 wowed fans on a Global Citizen stage — in 2019, the band performed at the Global Citizen Festival in New York's Central Park to encourage people to take action to end extreme poverty.
21. Vice President Kamala Harris called for global solidarity.
US Vice President Kamala Harris echoed President Joe Biden’s call to action earlier in the evening, encouraging viewers to get vaccinated.
“Throughout this terrible pandemic, we have seen so much loss: loss of life, loss of jobs, loss of normalcy,” she said. “If we have gained anything, it is a reminder of the responsibility we have as a global community to see one another, to support one another, and to protect one another.”
22. Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, highlighted the need to protect the future generation of women and girls.
VAX LIVE campaign co-chair Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, delivered a moving video speech calling for solidarity and a gender-responsive COVID-19 recovery.
“My husband and I believe it’s critical that our recovery prioritizes the health, safety, and success of everyone, and particularly women who have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic,” she said.
“If we work together to bring vaccines to every country and continent, insist that vaccines are equitably distributed and fairly priced, and ensure that governments around the world are donating their additional vaccines to countries in need, then we can begin to fully rebuild — not only to restore us where we were before, but to go further, and rapidly advance the conditions, opportunities, and mobility for women everywhere."
23. Chrissy Teigen shared a powerful message of solidarity with women of color.
Author and entrepreneur Chrissy Teigen reminded viewers that women, in particular women of color, have shouldered the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was only six months ago that the vaccine was first administered to a health care worker, an immigrant woman from Jamaica named Sandra Lindsay,” Teigen said. “The doctor who gave her this shot, a Black woman, Dr. Michelle Shester. The symbolism wasn’t lost on a single woman of color. We have seen the most: the most death, illness, and hardship.
“And we will lead us out of this mess because this is more than a stadium full of people,” she said. “It’s a house of hope. This is what women do.”
24. Jennifer Lopez closed the show with the triumphant “Ain’t Your Mama.”
J.Lo returned to the stage for an ecstatic rendition of “Ain’t Your Mama,” with dozens of masked dancers in bright outfits who gave a hint at what the months ahead could look like if everyone, everywhere receives a vaccine.
As part of Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World campaign, VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World brought together artists, entertainers, world leaders, and more to ensure equitable vaccine distribution around the world, tackle COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and celebrate a hopeful future.
You can still catch the concert on the Global Citizen YouTube channel and on various channels and platforms. Be sure to join us in taking action to end the pandemic and ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to COVID-19 vaccines. Then, head to our multimedia hub VAX BECAUSE to join candid conversations about the pandemic and find answers to your biggest questions about the vaccines.
Want to take home part of the show? Check out our VAX LIVE merch at the Global Citizen official store.