“We Are the World” by USA for Africa

Not everyone knows it, but this famous pop-culture embarrassment was co-written by the legendary King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, who would use it as a dry run for several much better songs in the same vein, especially the beautiful “Man In the Mirror”. As for the song itself, it certainly had enviable star power, with a heretofore unimaginable stable of living legends in one place, all of whom sound great on the single, and the tune is memorable, which might explains why, although everyone hates and laughs at this song today, everyone remembers it too. Granted, the lyrics are empty, hypocritical grandstanding, with their self-centered worldview (as in the notorious line “We’re saving our own lives”, or even the very title), and their attempt to apply stale inspirational platitudes to real-world problems. But I think the real problem is that the entire Charity Single genre was one of the uglier, more shameful excesses of the Eighties, embodying that time’s tendency toward condescending generosity and a patronizing treatment of the Third World in general, and this is, after all, the song that has come to represent that entire genre in the public memory, even though it was probably the best thing the genre would produce in that era.

Verdict: This song was basically a terrible idea well executed, but given that we’ve seen the same idea with much worse execution many times over the years, I can’t be too hard on it.

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