Girls run the world – and Beyoncé ran the show at The Sound Of Change charity concert in London Saturday night.
Billed in advance as a sort of "female Live Aid" aimed at promoting women’s empowerment around the world, the concert at London’s Twickenham Stadium pulled together a star-studded, largely female cast, topped off with a number of attention-grabbing collaborations. But even Jennifer Lopez and Mary J. Blige combining for a version of the Beatles’ "Come Together" or, more oddly, Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon making an unexpected appearance to sing "The Reflex" with Timbaland could not compete with Queen Bey’s spectacular headline slot.
Arriving in a feverish atmosphere pitched somewhere between a bachelorette party and a political rally, Beyoncé began by belting out Sam Cooke’s "A Change Is Gonna Come" and Etta James’ "At Last," before embarking on a hit-strewn set that produced a crowd reaction every bit as frenzied as any heard when the stadium plays host to England’s international rugby matches.
She brought her husband Jay-Z on to rap during "Crazy in Love" but otherwise the set was all about girl power, with even the impressive choreography overshadowed by hearty singalongs to "Run the World (Girls)," "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" and "Halo," which was preceded by a quick burst of Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton’s "I Will Always Love You."
Beyoncé left the stage to chants of "Chime For Change!" – the evening’s cause, which had brought the night’s stellar line-up of performers and presenters together. Most notably, it prompted an appearance from Madonna, who asked the crowd to join her "revolution of love" and spoke passionately about the importance of educational projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Madonna could not be tempted to sing, but Jessie J set the tone right from the start with a high-energy appearance to kick off the four-hour show. Opening with her hit song "Price Tag," she also gave one of the first performances of her new single, "Wild," and praised the event as a chance "for women and girls around the world to come together and make our voices heard."
And there was certainly little danger of the voices on stage going unnoticed as a string of singers produced performances that were low on subtlety but high on lung power.
From Rita Ora’s set of brash, hard partying R&B to a barefoot Florence and the Machine’s musically stripped-down, but vocally sky-scraping takes on "You Got the Love" and "Dog Days Are Over," powerful voices were very much the order of the day, although Ellie Goulding and fast-rising indie-rockers Haim managed to vary the mood with more sensitive performances.
The few men on the bill also kept a relatively low profile: John Legend played a slick set that included a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s "Bridge Over Troubled Water," while Timbaland rattled through a set that, Le Bon aside, lacked his usual guest vocalists.
It was left to J-Lo to up the ante with a barn-storming, pyro-heavy set of hits including "Live It Up," "Love Don’t Cost a Thing" and "On the Floor," which briefly threatened to turn Twickenham into a giant salsa night, setting things up perfectly for Beyoncé’s headline set.
Other performers on the night included Italian pop powerhouse Laura Pausini and rising rapper Iggy Azalea, while presenters included Salma Hayek-Pinault, James Franco, Jessica Chastain, Blake Lively, Zoe Saldana, Ryan Reynolds, Freida Pinto and Jada Pinkett-Smith as well as leading activists and campaigners for women’s rights from around the world.
The concert was organised by Gucci’s Chime For Change campaign to raise funds and awareness for "women’s empowerment and to promote education, health and justice for girls and women everywhere." It was broadcast to 150 countries and airs June 2 in the U.S. on NBC.