Jennifer Lopez inserted one of her own hits into the American folk classic “This Land is Your Land”. Lady Gaga, in a massive magenta skirt, grabbed a gold-plated microphone from Mike Pence to sing the national anthem. Issa Rae made an official playlist featuring old-school rappers Salt-N-Pepa.
With Donald Trump no longer occupying a central role on the US political stage, America’s show business royalty returned to the nation’s capital on Wednesday to play a starring role at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration.
“Things are so broken and so hostile [now] that artists are like, I want to step up and bring some good to things,” said a longtime consultant to Hollywood studios.
It represented a dramatic departure from Mr Trump’s oath-taking ceremony four years before. Vowing that he would attract the “biggest celebrities in the world”, the former reality television star had to rely on such acts as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for swearing-in sizzle.
Relations between Mr Trump and the show business establishment failed to improve during the next four years. With a few notable exceptions, such as his unlikely friendship with Kanye West, Mr Trump’s tenure as president was marked by rift between Washington and Hollywood, breaking a long history of engagement between the two worlds.
Musicians including The Rolling Stones, Queen and Rihanna have tried to ban Mr Trump from playing their songs at his rallies. High-powered Hollywood executives David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg and stars such as Jennifer Aniston last year poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump political action committee.
Hollywood’s largest union, the SAG-Aftra, this week threatened to expel Mr Trump from the group after rioters loyal to the former president stormed the US Capitol building on January 6, leaving five people dead.
“Donald Trump attacked the values that this union holds most sacred — democracy, truth, respect for our fellow Americans of all races and faiths, and the sanctity of the free press,” said union president Gabrielle Carteris, the one-time Beverly Hills, 90210 cast member.
Superstar festivities are a decades-old tradition for US presidential inaugurations, dating back to 1941 when Charlie Chaplin and Mickey Rooney performed at a ball for Franklin D Roosevelt.
Frank Sinatra hosted a celebration for Democrat John F Kennedy in 1961 and crossed the American political divide two decades later to serenade Republican Ronald Reagan. Bob Dylan performed at Bill Clinton’s 1993 ceremony and Beyoncé took the stage for Barack Obama in 2009.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, Mr Biden’s celebration on Wednesday night featured a 90-minute primetime television show, rather than an in-person soirée.
Tom Hanks hosted the event, which included performances by John Legend, Bruce Springsteen and Katy Perry, among others. The programme aired on five big news networks, in addition to streaming online.
Star-studded performances were woven in-between clips showcasing ordinary Americans, such as postal service workers.
“Inauguration Day is about much more than the swearing-in of our next national leaders,” said Mr Hanks, standing alone outside the Capitol building on a circular stage, lights beaming behind him leading towards the Washington monument. “This day is about witnessing the permanence of our American ideal.”