After four years with Donald Trump as President, America – and the wider world – deserves a party. There are so many things to raise a glass to, after all – no more Twitter tantrums provoking other world leaders into near-war, no more pandering to white supremacists, no more playing golf instead of focusing on getting a pandemic under control and taking action against racial injustice, to name but a few.
Hours after Trump slunk off back to Mar-a-Lago, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were officially sworn in as the 46th President and Vice President of the United States of America, ushering in a new dawn of reason and logic. On the steps of the Capitol – only days ago the site of horrific, nationalist violence – Bide called for unity in a rousing speech, highlighting the importance of communities coming together as one rather than the individualism that reigned the Trump era.
It wasn’t just the new President who inspired at the ceremony – America’s first poet laureate, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, also made an impact, reading her poem The Hill We Climb in which she referenced the pandemic, the Capitol insurrection, Trump’s division and more and responded with brilliant words of hope and resilience.
The festivities begin
With that official business done, it’s time for the stars to come out to play and join the festivities. Celebrating America, hosted by Tom Hanks, presents a smorgasbord of celebs selected, you imagine, to appeal to a broad cross-section of the country and relentless optimism that, in any other year, might feel cringe-worthy, but instead feels like the cork finally being popped on a bottle that’s been shaken vigorously and recklessly for four years.
Each song performed shares a common thread of the dark days being over – Bon Jovi covering The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes The Sun’, Demi Lovato putting her spin on Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’. Between star turns, there are videos of, as Biden puts it stood at the feet of Abraham Lincoln’s statue, “ordinary Americans who do extraordinary things”. Former Presidents Obama, Clinton and Bush gather (at a safe distance) to give their thoughts on the inauguration, complete with Clinton giddily drawling: “It’s exciting times!” Sure, there’s still an element of Grandad trying to be cool to parts of it, but we’ll take that over the alternative.
The Boss ushers in a land of hope and dreams
The whole party kicks off in moving form, Bruce Springsteen armed with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone, singing ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The atmosphere and emotion of his songwriting shines through as usual, but this performance is heavier in symbolism than normal. The Boss’ 1999 song was inspired by the gospel standard ‘This Train (Is Bound For Glory)’ but, instead of setting rules and expectations for people like that song, Springsteen’s lyrics let anyone aboard his train, as long as they had faith.
After a presidency that seemed more concerned with serving only the people who agreed with Trump, Bruce’s attitude is more aligned with Biden’s promise to be a president for all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or any other distinguishing factor. As New Jersey’s finest strums away in the cold D.C. night, the land of hope and dreams begins to feel beautifully real.
Black Pumas sing a hymn to unity
“You take me to the other side,” sings Eric Burton on ‘Colors’, one of the standout tracks from Austin band Black Pumas’ debut album. Written 10 years ago as Burton’s own take on a hymn, in 2021 it feels like a psalm to the very things Biden spoke of in his inauguration speech – rejecting division for unity, not letting our differences come in between doing our duty as neighbours and people of the world. A pertinent choice for this celebration.
Foo Fighters pay tribute to teachers
As has become the norm in emotional times, Foo Fighters delve into their back catalogue and pull out a classic. Before they launch into a heartstring-tugging version of ‘Times Like These’, Dave Grohl follows up a VT of a teacher in Seattle by paying tribute to educators across America, including his mum Virginia, for their work during the pandemic. Then it’s back to the business of rock, delivering a version of the band’s 2002 banger that slowly builds until it erupts with pure euphoria – a perfect reflection of 2020’s drawn-out run to Biden being named the election’s victor.
Katy Perry ignites the grand finale
— Biden Inaugural Committee (@BidenInaugural) January 21, 2021
The end of Biden’s inauguration looks like the Inaugural Committee has come across all of America’s secret stash of fireworks and set them off all at once around the White House.
The only fitting soundtrack for such a moment? Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, of course. When she was writing the 2010 single, she probably didn’t imagine it would symbolise so much for American politics. It’s hard not to read into its words and mould them to fit the occasion, though lines such as “after a hurricane comes a rainbow” don’t need much reshaping to reflect the changing of the guard in the White House. It’s a solid performance but the scenes that steal the show are of those of Joe and his wife Dr. Jill Biden gazing up from their new home’s balcony at the flashes in the sky, ready to rescue America from feeling like a plastic bag drifting through the wind.
Let’s hope the 46th President’s next four years do as Perry says and “leave ‘em all in awe”.