Coronavirus pandemic

End of the world as we know it? Music megastars riff on the virus

Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe (left) sings the chorus of the band’s hit It’s The End Of The World As We Know It in a video on his website while Bono (right) has written a song, Let Your Love Be Known, dedicated to Italy.
Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe (left) sings the chorus of the band’s hit It’s The End Of The World As We Know It in a video on his website while Bono (right) has written a song, Let Your Love Be Known, dedicated to Italy.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS• 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 hermetically 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 in a video on his website to sing its chorus on Saint Patrick's Night.

Showing several days' beard growth, Stipe announced that he 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.

He 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 the 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 last Tuesday before launching into the ballad, his first new song in three years.

It is "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 one another 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 last 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.

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 reference to TV series Game Of Thrones (2011 to 2019), whose key line was that winter and calamity were coming.

The Guadeloupean dance hall 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 said.

"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."

But that does not mean the songs will last, he cautioned.

Mr 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", Mr Dicale said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2020, with the headline 'End of the world as we know it? Music megastars riff on the virus'. Print Edition | Subscribe