Pose’s Billy Porter closed out night one of the Democratic National Convention Monday with a performance of his take on Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” — accompanied by original songwriter Stephen Stills.
As the DNC was virtual this year in light of the pandemic, the performance took the form of a trippy music video in which Porter sang in front of the flag and images of recent police brutality protests — with Stills dropping in with his guitar.
Porter dropped his remake of the 1966 protest classic in April 2020 — notably before the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. “I looked at the lyrics and they reminded me very much of our news cycle,” he said at the time. “In the sense that it puts what’s happening right out in front.” Little did he know that the song would become ever more relevant as the election drew nearer.
Working with producer Zack Arnett last September, Porter preserved much of the original song, injecting a bit of R&B and hip-hop. “I wanted to honor the original intention while holding on to who I am and where I come from,” he said. At the end of the track, he also added a riff on the word “change,” a fitting statement for the DNC. “I knew I wanted to say something and it needed to be positive and hopeful, and I was just singing over the end,” he said. “In the news cycle, I find there’s a lot of complaining and a lot of statements and observations, but not a lot of focus on how we change or address things. So I wanted to offer some hope. Yes, things are happening, but how do you change it for the good?”
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Stills, for his part, approved of Porter’s cover of his landmark song, which was originally inspired by a Sunset Strip protest over a club curfew. “For many years no one tried to ‘make it theirs’ as covers are supposed to do,” he said. “That an artist of Billy’s caliber has chosen to add his flourish to my song from so many years ago is totally in keeping with what I intended.”
“It’s our call to action, and I hope people are inspired and remember to vote,” Porter added. The performance capped off a night of music from the likes of Maggie Rogers and Leon Bridges, as well as words from Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders. “If you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election,” Obama warned.