Saturday’s Global Citizen Festival in Manhattan’s Central Park turned out to be a dramatic evening; a fallen barrier provoked a mistaken shooting scare and mass panic at one point. But Janet Jackson proved that the show must — and would — go on, taking the stage soon after.
More than 60,000 spirited concertgoers spent their evening in the park for the seventh annual Global Citizen Festival, which followed a week of U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York and encourages citizens to take actions to help end world poverty by 2030. Early on the warm fall night, festival headliners Janelle Monáe, Shawn Mendes, John Legend and Cardi B put on energetic, thoughtful sets punctuated by calls to action.
“That was a lot of energy. We need to tone this down, for my health,” quipped a spirited Cardi B in the middle of her set, before launching into a short speech about the importance of active citizenship. “I’ll keep it real. We Americans, we’re spoiled,” she said. “We have the right to vote and nobody can take that right from us unless you’re a criminal.”
She introduced a video message from former First Lady Michelle Obama, and then went on to rap her chart-topping hit “Bodak Yellow.”
The music was interspersed with speeches from politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (who was initially booed as he came to the stage), event hosts Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness. Celebrities like Selma director Ava DuVernay, Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy and actors including Katie Holmes, Mark Ruffalo and Rami Malek, all spoke on issues ranging from mass incarceration to the problem with plastic use to global education efforts.
Just after the sun had set, the sound of a fallen barrier set off concertgoers’ fears, with hundreds of attendees rushing to the exits in the belief that an active shooter was present —and encouraged to run by on-site law enforcement.
Coldplay’s Chris Martin, a Global Citizen regular over the years, attempted to calm crowd anxieties while hundreds of confused attendees crowded the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art just outside the park, many choosing to leave for the night. “Nobody is trying to hurt anybody,” Martin said. “You’re all safe, OK? I just wanted to tell you that.”
Once order had been restored inside the festival grounds, Janet Jackson took the stage for a rousing performance of sharp choreography, touching on some of the top songs from her career like “All For You” and “Rhythm Nation.” She even brought out rapper Q-Tip in a surprise appearance.
“It’s a lot of hit songs,” she said at one point. She also took a short break to speak passionately about abuse. “Like millions of other women out there, I know about bullying. I know about verbal abuse. I know about physical abuse. I know about abuse of authority. I’m sick, I’m repulsed, I’m infuriated by the double standards that continue to [put] women as second class citizens,” she said to crowd cheers. “Enough, guys, enough. Enough injustice. Enough bigotry. Mistreatment and mindless prejudice has to stop, and stop now. Equality is our demand. Action is our answer. Let’s go.”
Finally, The Weeknd closed out the evening with his own abbreviated set before calling it a night.