End of the world as we know it? Music megastars riff on the virus
Relatively obscure singers were the first to react musically to the coronavirus with a small army of unknowns going viral with video posts of hand-washing dance numbers and riffs on "It's Corona Time" to social media.
But now the big stars are emerging from the hermitically sealed safety of their mansions to get in on the act, with Bono and Michael Stipe leading the line. Never has the 1987 R.E.M. hit "It's the End of the World as We Know It" seemed more appropriate, and the band's former frontman Stipe appeared slightly dishevelled on a video on his website to sing it's chorus on Saint Patrick's Night.
Showing several days' beard growth, Stipe announced that had quarantined himself, but like the song's subtitle, said, "I feel fine."
"I'm bunkering. I'm quarantining. I'm Q.S.Q. -- quasi self-quarantined -- for several days now and that's going to continue because I don't want to go outside," the singer told his fans as he urged them to do the same. "I don't want to be responsible for getting someone else sick if I'm already sick. I don't think I am, but none of us know if we are," he added.
Bono inspired by Italians
Stipe had earlier shared an American public service announcement to R.E.M.'s social media channels highlighting the importance of social distancing as well as staying positive. Bono, however, went all out to capture the strangeness of moment by writing a song, "Let Your Love Be Known", which he dedicated to Italy, now the country worst hit by the pandemic.
The Irish superstar shot himself, rather amateurishly, with his mobile phone playing the piano in front of the bay windows of his Dublin home that looks out onto the Irish Sea. "This is a little tune that I made up about an hour ago," he said Tuesday before launching into the ballad, his first new song in three years.
It's "for the Italians who inspired it, for the Irish, for anyone who this Saint Patrick's Day is in a tight spot and still singing," he wrote on Instagram. "For the doctors, nurses, carers on the front line, it's you we're singing to," the U2 frontman added.
The song makes a direct reference to Italians singing from their balconies to each other to keep up their morale while confined to their homes. "You can sing across rooftops/ Sing to me down the phone/ Sing and promise me you won't stop/ Sing and you're never alone," the 59-year-old crooned while wearing a pair of purple-tinted John Lennon-style glasses.
The song has been shared several million times on social media since Tuesday, with many Italians particularly touched, although some also appealed to Bono to donate part of his fortune to hospitals swamped by COVID-19 victims.
No French kissing
The Canadian singer Coeur de Pirate has also gone viral with a lighter -- though no less socially responsible -- little ditty in which she urges her young fans not to laugh off the virus and not to "French kiss your neighbour".
"Protect others because the summer is coming," she sang, in an upbeat references to "Game of Thrones", whose key line was that winter and calamity was coming.
The Guadeloupean dancehall reggae star Admiral T has also had an online hit with "Coronavirus", where as well as sampling French President Emmanuel Macron declaring that "we are at war", he also borrowed Moroccan-born comic Jamel Debbouze's famous punchline, "We are all going to die!"
"Artists have always taken on the big subjects of the moment," the French music journalist and historian Bertrand Dicale told AFP. "From the Holocaust to natural disasters and terrorist attacks, they all have inspired songs. It is just that social media now is magnifying their impact," he added.
But that does not mean the songs will last, he cautioned. Dicale said that Vincent Scotto, who wrote the Dean Martin and Eartha Kitt hit "Under the Bridges of Paris", had great success with a number called "Les Boches, c'est comme des rats" ("Germans are like rats") during World War I.
Yet when the choir of Radio France wanted to sing it recently, it had been so utterly forgotten that "the company that holds the rights to it didn't even know it was by him," Dicale said.