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CNN Special Reports

Music That Makes a Difference. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 24, 2021 - 10:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN HOST (voice-over): Hello, everyone, I'm John Vause. Thank you for joining us for this CNN special MUSIC THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE, a look back at the soundtrack of 2021, a year of two major crises, a pandemic that just wouldn't quit and a climate crisis that just keeps getting worse.

And solutions to both were often denied by the misguided and outright selfish actions of just a few.

Despite having highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, the coronavirus continues to spread and mutate, driven in no small part by those insisting on their right to refuse and by a few nations hoarding global supplies, refusing to share. This was the year when the actions of a few outweighed the needs of the many.


DOLLY PARTON, SINGER-SONGWRITER: I'm finally going to get my vaccine, I'm so excited. I've been waiting a while. I'm old enough to get it and I'm smart enough to get it.

VAUSE (voice-over): For a self-described backwoods Barbie in a pushup bra, Dolly Parton is clearly a lot smarter than many. Her million dollar donations for coronavirus research last year helped fund Moderna's breakthrough vaccine and it wasn't just dollars from Dolly but also an earnest effort to rally a nation with a riff on one of her classics.


VAUSE (voice-over): Despite more than ample vaccine supply in most wealthy countries, a small but significant minority, especially in the U.S., just outright refused to roll up their sleeves and get the jab.

Not Willie Nelson, though. On social media, he shared his moment of vaccination at a drive-thru clinic in Texas.

WILLIE NELSON, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. I have mine. And I don't mind telling them that I'm double vaccinated. I'd feel better if you were, you know.

VAUSE (voice-over): The most chill man in country music tried convincing others to do the same.


VAUSE (voice-over): But it seems evoking memories of life before COVID-19 and a promise that vaccinations were really cool didn't sway everyone to get the shot.


Manny Fresh and Mir X joined Juvenile to bring new life to his old rap, "Back That Thang Up," turning his 1999 megahit into a vaccine call to action, especially for African Americans and Latinos.

JUVENILE, RAPPER: Being one of the guys that have been vaccinated, like I said, it is a family decision, I felt like it was a great way to put awareness out there for -- especially for people like me and people that look like me.

VAUSE (voice-over): African Americans 40 and younger began the year as the demographic most likely to avoid vaccination, partly because of the long-held mistrust of government, which brought this appeal from music legend John Legend.

JOHN LEGEND, SINGER-SONGWRITER: This is our shot at bringing our communities back together, providing healing, not just for some but for all.

VAUSE (voice-over): And by year's end, the number of Blacks and Hispanics in the U.S. taking their shot was rising.


VAUSE (voice-over): In no small part, public awareness campaigns across the U.S. were closing the gap on vaccine racial inequity.




OLIVIA RODRIGO, SINGER: Hey, I'm Olivia Rodrigo and I'm with President Biden, talking about the importance of getting vaccinated.


She is 18, whose first mega hit came midpandemic.

RODRIGO: "Hey, if Olivia Rodrigo tells you to get vaccinated, you get vaccinated."

VAUSE (voice-over): He is 80 and America's most trusted pandemic doctor.


VAUSE (voice-over): Dr. Anthony Fauci and Olivia Rodrigo at the White House, reading tweets and answering questions to encourage another heel-dragging demographic.


RODRIGO: It is so important to get vaccinated, even if you are healthy and not at risk. Vaccines help our bodies learn how to fight off virus.

Vaccines help everyone. Just because you are not particularly at risk doesn't mean that people close to you aren't. It's really the compassionate thing to do.



VAUSE (voice-over): And slowly vaccination rates in the U.S., the U.K. and parts of Europe were ticking upwards, hopes rising as well, of a return to some kind of normalcy.


VAUSE: As national vaccine rollouts began, so, too, the government public awareness campaigns, often all singing, all dancing messages, filled with enthusiasm and encouragement.


VAUSE: In China, it was (INAUDIBLE) from Szechuan province, trying to lip sync to a rap.


VAUSE: In Singapore, two beloved TV stars from a long ago sitcom, with a song and dance routine not easily forgotten, regardless of how hard you try.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was that, Elton?

JOHN: That was me acting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Let's cut that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Thanks, Elton, we'll let you know.

JOHN: Well, at this short notice, you won't find anyone bigger.

VAUSE: In the U.K., the call to vaccinate came from Sir Elton John, AKA Captain Fantastic, playing comic relief to legendary actor Michael Caine. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CAINE, ACTOR: Hello. My name is Michael Caine.


VAUSE: And in Melbourne, Australia's cultural capital, musicians, artists and performers put the audience on notice.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every week Victoria's arts community comes together to give you the performance of a lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And now it is your turn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need you to come together and get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To give us the performance of a lifetime.


VAUSE: But for the most part, vaccine hesitancy was literally a first world problem. Wealthy nations had made direct billion dollar deals with vaccine makers, stockpiling enough doses for their populations many times over.

So the rest of the world went without, leaving this deadly pathogen to spread like wildfire.


VAUSE (voice-over): Nowhere was vaccine inequity more devastating than India, which produces more vaccine than any other country but most was for export. And when a second deadly wave of COVID-19 arrived, the low vaccination rate meant more people getting infected and falling ill than ever before.

The death rate was soon to follow.

By May, an already frail health care system had all but collapsed. Oxygen supplies exhausted, hundreds of thousands left struggling to breathe. And every day, a growing number of COVID patients turned away by hospitals, filled beyond capacity.

That crisis brought together musicians from Mumbai to Delhi and all parts in between.


VAUSE (voice-over): A virtual performance and fundraiser called "Show Up for India" to help those who had the least but were suffering the most.

ED SHEERAN, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Hi, I'm Ed Sheeran and I support We for India.

VAUSE (voice-over): Ed Sheeran and AR Ramen (ph) headlined We for India.


VAUSE (voice-over): And while they raised $5 million for COVID relief, what was needed most was access to vaccines. And even with so many gasping for air, pleading for help and dying in the streets, vaccine-rich countries refused to share.

The end result of that vaccine inequity meant India was prologue to many other countries, as the COVID crisis escalated.


VAUSE (voice-over): And that brought a global response from the music industry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to Vax Live, a concert to reunite the world. Look at all these beautiful people. We're all here in the same room.

VAUSE (voice-over): A 90 minute concert streamed around the world, music royalty standing shoulder to shoulder with British royalty, all of it performed live in front of almost 30,000 fully vaccinated health care and other essential workers.

H.E.R., SINGER-SONGWRITER: It just feels like we're getting back to the live show. We're getting back to that real life connection. And music is bringing people back together so I'm happy to be part of it.

VAUSE (voice-over): A timely reminder of what could be possible if only the world was fully vaccinated.

J BALVIN, SINGER-RAPPER: I know that the world needs more vaccines. I'm from Colombia. We got 2 percent of our population has been vaccinated, which means it going to take more than two years.

EDDIE VEDDER, SINGER-SONGWRITER: If you're a government, if you are a world leader and you have excess vaccine, please don't stockpile. Please make it available for the countries that need it.

SELENA GOMEZ, SINGER: I'm fully vaccinated.


GOMEZ: And I want to do nothing more than to shine the light on why it is important. I hope people will listen and I'll do everything I can for that to happen.

VAUSE (voice-over): They were listening. Vax Live raised more than $300 million, securing more than 26 million doses of COVID vaccine. Legendary guitarist John McLaughlin and a few of his friends did their bit with a fundraising performance of Thelonious Monk's immortal blues, "Straight, No Chaser." But McLaughlin, who has often talked of his love for India, just

wanted the world to so he empathy, if only briefly, for the people of India.


JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, GUITARIST, BAND LEADER AND COMPOSER: The world is in dire straits but India is catastrophic, people dying outside the hospitals because there is no bed, there's no oxygen. We recorded this video thinking of them. And it is our gift to you in the hope that you will make a small gift.



VAUSE: And so this was the year when the word divided into vaccine haves and vaccine have-nots. For the haves, normalcy was tantalizingly close; live concerts, mass gatherings were slowly starting to return.


VAUSE (voice-over): But for the have-nots, a descent into COVID hell. When we come back, Delta and Omicron would emerge as deadly reminders that no one is safe until everyone is safe.




VAUSE: New Zealand was the first country to see a live national tour by a major act of this new pandemic era. The aptly named Crowded House performing live before crowded stadiums.

It was the payoff for doggedly insisting on a zero COVID policy for the best part of a year. Community transmission levels had spread to almost negligible levels and so was Kiwis for their first tentative steps toward normalcy.

Other countries were soon to follow, rediscovering our collective need for one another.



VAUSE (voice-over): At first they seemed a little out of practice -- repeated lockdowns, long periods of isolation meant fans at this first Crowded House concert in Auckland were initially, at least, unsure when to stand, when to sing along.



VAUSE: Why didn't they want to get up?

They were staying in their seats.

Were they a bit rusty?

NEIL FINN, SINGER, CROWDED HOUSE: The way things were the first night, they stayed in their seats until halfway through and then went nuts. The second half, the second night, they got up right at the very beginning and they sort of got a bit tired about halfway through. So --



FINN: -- you know --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then sat down again.

FINN: We covered between the two nights, usually the ones that are very keen on having a bit each way.

Said, "Oh, do you think we should stand up?"

"Oh, I'll try it for a while."


VAUSE (voice-over): In Wuhan, China, the initial episode of the coronavirus outbreak meant tens of thousands gathered without masks for one of the biggest music festivals China had seen since the beginning of the pandemic.


VAUSE (voice-over): For musicians and performers everywhere, with their lives and livelihoods at stake, there was a deep longing for a return to the days of gatherings, both big and small.

BRAD PAISLEY, COUNTRY SINGER: We just haven't been able to do what we do to any great degree. There are just so many musicians that are driving Uber and delivering pizza instead of playing their road gigs.


VAUSE (voice-over): And by June, the Foo Fighters had sold out Madison Square Garden, New York's first full capacity show of the pandemic. And it came with new pandemic rules, like proof of vaccination.

DAVE GROHL, LEAD SINGER, FOO FIGHTERS: That communal energy and that live moment, live music, it is really, really important because it reminds us that we're not alone.

VAUSE (voice-over): Back on the road and midway through their national tour, rock band Fish announced all ticket holders would need proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests.


VAUSE (voice-over): And come July 4, the U.S. was set to celebrate an independence of sorts from COVID. From Broadway ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't ever want to take live theater for granted ever again, do you?

VAUSE (voice-over): -- to the West End, the curtain went up on live theater but only for a vaccinated audience prepared to wear masks.

CARLOS SANTANA, GUITARIST-SONGWRITER: We were at the right time at the right place to present to them another frequency, a frequency being different than fear, darkness and separation, which is what we've been sort of dealing with the last two years.

VAUSE (voice-over): But in an ominous sign, the "We Love New York City" reopening concert washed out by bad weather, a national sigh of relief that maybe COVID was done, was in reality more like a superspreader moment for the airborne and highly contagious Delta variant.


VAUSE: When the Delta variant was initially detected, it seemed the vaccinated were protected. But then came an increasing number of breakthrough infections. And in many places, rising hospital admissions and daily death tolls and 2021 was looking a lot like 2020.

Mask mandates were back, so, too, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, hopes for a return to normalcy were fleeting. Live performances were either canceled or came with tough new restrictions.


VAUSE (voice-over): At first hospital beds and ICUs began to fill with mostly unvaccinated patients, both young and old. That was enough for country legend, Garth Brooks, canceling an upcoming tour.

GARTH BROOKS, SINGER-SONGWRITER: And as hard as it is, man, think about these frontline workers, think about these nurses and these doctors that have put their ass on the line for 18-20 months.

And they're just starting to see sunlight and someone says, oh, there's another wave. The second wave is coming.

How are they doing it?

I'll tell you how they are doing it. They're doing it because they love you, they're doing it because they love us. That's what we do. I need to put my big boy pants on and I need to, OK, let's go out and let's take care of these people that come here. And let's assess and make sure that the future of this tour is the best that it can be.

VAUSE (voice-over): The New Orleans Jazz Festival was canceled. So, too, Coachella, the world's biggest annual FOMO event held in California's desert.

A few in Austin, Texas, disappointed when crooner Michael Buble refused to perform at a venue which couldn't enforce a vaccine requirement.

Country singer Travis Tritt also called a series of shows but for the opposite reason, claiming that mandated masks and vaccines discriminated against his fans.

Concert promoters like Live Nation were pushing these mandates, only to be undermined by pandemic politics, conspiracy theorists and anti- vaxers. The most high profile vaccine skeptic of all, Eric Clapton, called out as a fruitcake by Queen's legendary guitarist Brian May (INAUDIBLE) "The Independent" about Clapton and the anti-vax movement, quote, "I'm sorry, that goes in the fruitcake jar for me."

But no apologies from shock jock Howard Stern for a brutal tirade on the unvaccinated by Choice Crowd.


HOWARD STERN, SIRIUS XM RADIO HOST: When are we going to stop putting up with the idiots in this country and just say, you now -- it's mandatory to get vaccinated?

(INAUDIBLE) them, (INAUDIBLE) their freedom. I want my freedom to live. I want to get out of the house already. I want to go next door and play chess. I want to go take some pictures.




VAUSE (voice-over): And as the anger, bitterness and rancor grew only louder, Yo-Yo Ma stayed above it all, somehow his music expressing what words could not, an impromptu performance in the recovery area after he just received his second shot.

(INAUDIBLE) says (INAUDIBLE) basic civility.

YO-YO MA, CELLIST: The person who gave me the vaccine was a volunteer. So it is her privilege to be able to participate in this. And I think I was very moved just going through the line and seeing everybody just being incredibly civil with one another. I think this is the best of who we are. And I think that happens in every local community.


VAUSE: A little civility can go a long way. When we come back... (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



VAUSE: -- with our planet in crisis, angry young voices demanded real change from a recalcitrant few. And live music getting serious about its own carbon footprint.




VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone.

That is only the second track in 17 years from the legendary Australian band, Midnight Oil, "Rising Seas." The music video was released days before the U.N.'s climate change summit in Glasgow.

The veteran environmental campaigners had been warning us for decades about the crisis we now face. But 2021 saw a more active, younger generation of music's heavy hitters, standing up, speaking out and demanding change.



VAUSE (voice-over): And those voices were loud and angry. Eleven year-old Nandi Bushell and incredibly talented drummer turned internet sensation teamed up with Roman Morello, son of guitar great Tom Morello of Rage against the Machine.

NANDI BUSHELL, SINGER: Politicians, stop playing political games with our future. Stop fighting each other. Let's all come together in unity and love to tackle humanity's biggest problem. (INAUDIBLE).



VAUSE (voice-over): Former U.S. President Barack Obama shared the music video on his Facebook page, calling it "compelling," while Tom Morello was talking about overthrowing government.

TOM MORELLO, MUSICIAN: There's a couple ways to look at it.

How do you find -- get a seat at the table?

Or do you overturn the table entirely?

VAUSE (voice-over): Then calls but a very different approach from the world's most popular boy band, dressed in business suits and enlisted a special envoys to the South Korean president, BTS traveled to New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly.


VAUSE (voice-over): A million fans logged on to watch their performance of "Permission to Dance," recorded on the grounds of the United Nations. And then came their address to the assembly on behalf of future generations.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are still many pages left in the story about us. And I think we shouldn't talk like the ending has already been written.


VAUSE (voice-over): And this was a year live music became serious about reducing its very large carbon footprint. Music declares an emergency which represents thousands of performers and artists now pushing for zero carbon by 2030, by ending the use of private jets, including free public transport in the price of a concert ticket, encouraging plug and play that performers no longer haul huge amounts of equipment around the world and use sound systems already in place.

Measures already taken by groups like Coldplay, Massive Attack and Radiohead.


VAUSE (voice-over): And in the leadup to a crucial U.N. climate summit known as COP26, 19 year-old Billie Eilish was among those calling on leaders to stand united and to take urgent action.

BILLIE EILISH, POP STAR: This year our leaders are deciding the global actions required on the environment and climate emergency in a critical decade for our planet. We must stand together and speak up to save our planet, not just for us but for our future generations. And we need urgent, urgent action now.

VAUSE (voice-over): But it seems veteran environmental campaigners Midnight Oil and their latest song, "Rising Seas," seemed to predict the outcome of this two-week long talkfest.


VAUSE: The soundtrack of 2021 was a cacophony of anger and frustration, mixed with the beautiful and inspirational. And 2022 will begin much like this year, with clear solutions to our biggest challenges. We can end this pandemic, we can cool a warming planet. We know what do. We just have to agree to do it.

Our biggest problem right now, it seems, is us.

We'll end this special presentation with the sounds of a Christian hymn, there is something about that name, played by Jordan Baez (ph) of Kentucky amid the devastation caused by a strong of powerful tornadoes earlier this month, a moment when music really does make a difference.

Thank you for watching.