Devastating tragedies, especially ones on such a global scale, often invite responses from celebrities and musicians. Considering the current level of wealth and income inequality and our absolutely chaotic political discourse, their best efforts to comfort people aren’t always well-received (see also SNL). Though to be fair, average people have released a number of horrifyingly cringey parody songs about this pandemic, too—which, given that it’s not 2007 anymore, I’m sort of surprised that the YouTube parody song phenomenon hasn’t largely died out. Speaking of musical numbers, we’ve heard plenty of songs about the coronavirus pandemic, and some of them missed the mark quite laughably. There’s been a few anti-lockdown songs, some terrible Zoom collaborations and all sorts of things in between. If you’re looking to reminisce about some of these songs that were just plain swings and misses, you’ve come to the right place.
Where to begin with this monstrosity? Britpop—and British rock at large—doesn’t have the best record in terms of the political opinions among its most famous musicians. Plenty of middle-aged British rock stars have whined about cancel culture and supported Brexit, so it’s no surprise that The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown is an anti-vaxxer. Brown’s new anti-lockdown and anti-mask song is preposterous in the most self-congratulatory way possible, with each line potentially dumber than the next. Between “Doctor Evil with a needle” and references to 5G and a new world order, it sounds like some airheaded QAnon shit.
Van Morrison announced plans to release not one, but three anti-lockdown songs—because how could you squeeze all that ignorance into just one tune? He said in a statement, “I’m not telling people what to do or think, the government is doing a great job of that already. It’s about freedom of choice, I believe people should have the right to think for themselves.” Well, the first in this terrifying series has arrived, and it’s called “Born to Be Free.” “Don’t need the government cramping my style / Give them an inch, they take a mile / Take you in with a phony smile,” he sings. OK, we’re on board so far—government leaders are often disingenuous and self-serving. But then he compares lockdown to the Berlin Wall (“Just trying to remember the Berlin Wall / Some kind of new old ideology”), and that, my friends, is where I jumped ship. The most obtuse thing about those who are protesting coronavirus-related restrictions is that there are literally thousands of genuinely oppressive and unforgivable policies that governments are enforcing right now, but precautions to try and save lives aren’t one of them. If your idea of freedom means the freedom to die from a preventable disease, then I’m frankly baffled.
I’m not normally a sharp critic of Iceage, as they’re one of my favorite bands, but that’s because the Danish punks haven’t released anything remotely mawkish before—until now. When listening to their newest single “Lockdown Blues,” it’s hard to reconcile their wild early live shows and knife merchandise with an earnest refrain of “COVID-19 lockdown blues / The only way out is through.” It’s a bit too on the nose for a band so remarkably stylish and poetic. However, there are a few lines that would be welcome inclusions on an Iceage album (“How the itching for lost touch is deafening,” “A wraithlike peril spread across our seven seas”), and, to be fair, the band donated all their Bandcamp profits from the single to Doctors Without Borders.
Twenty One Pilots get a lot of flak from the corny “real music” crowd, but I think some of that is unfair. I don’t really listen to Twenty One Pilots, but I do appreciate their unusual approach to alternative music and their role in comforting young people with visceral lyrics about their mental health struggles. Having said that, their refrain of “Would you be my little quarantine?” in their new song, “Level of Concern,” makes me squirm. If I ever unironically texted someone this question, I would allow them to hunt me for sport.
This is where the dunking is almost too easy. Actress Gal Gadot shared a video of A-list celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, Natalie Portman, Will Ferrell and Amy Adams taking turns singing lines from John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and it is…something. Liberals may laugh at the conservative talking point of “coastal elites,” but it’s hard to argue with it when one-percenters are singing over Zoom from their lavish homes to comfort the lives of everyday Americans who are losing jobs and loved ones at a catastrophic rate. If there’s one moment of unity that average people shared during this pandemic, it’s hatred for this tone-deaf abomination. File this one next to the original or even more cursed 2010 version of “We Are The World.”
As evidenced from the previous blurb, I’m no fan of Zoom collaborations from megastars to provide solace for us plebeians, even though they’re well-intentioned. I will also preface this by saying I enjoy watching sessions from the BBC Live Lounge and listening to some of the artists featured here, like Chris Martin, Celeste and Sigrid. However, it makes my stomach churn whenever I witness this cheesy, faux-inspirational telethon energy invested by artists who can do so many other things to help causes, like donating money, asking fans to donate and releasing new merchandise or previously unheard music to raise funds.
Lizzie Manno is an associate music editor, Coldplay apologist, bread obsessive and lover of all things indie, punk and shoegaze at Paste. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno