CULVER CITY, California — Christina Aguilera’s golden locks, Fred Durst’s backward ball cap, Gwen Stefani’s rainbow makeup and Justin Timberlake’s freshly grown peach fuzz took a back seat Thursday to a look unprecedented even in popular music — blindfolds.
“I feel like I’m playing pin the tail on the donkey,” Aguilera quipped in between takes during the first day of shooting proper videos for three all-star remakes of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
Many of the artists who contributed to the project — from Ja Rule to Staind’s Aaron Lewis to Alicia Keys — will don blindfolds for the video shoot, which heads to New York on Saturday and is scheduled to wrap by the end of the weekend.
The videos will feature the artists removing the blindfolds, which are imprinted with such labels as “Woman,” “Homosexual” and “Muslim,” while they sing their parts of the song.
Most of the shots are close-ups, though director Jake Scott, known for such moving videos as R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” and Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know,” filmed Aguilera and Stefani dancing from a distance on Thursday.
The new clips for “What’s Going On” — the “Main Mix,” Jermaine Dupri’s “R&B Mix” and Mick G’s “Adult Contemporary Mix” — will replace the current version, which was put together by MTV and blends news footage from the September 11 terrorist attacks with scenes from the recording sessions.
“The video out now just felt like a natural thing to do, and I am glad MTV did it,” Timberlake said outside his dressing room, where he was dancing to “What It’s Like to Be Me,” the new track he co-wrote and co-produced for his girlfriend, Britney Spears. “This is an actual video — you can come up with a scenario that means something. You can put a visual with the cause you are singing about. … I think people will get the message.”
The blindfolds in the videos are meant to symbolize how people are blind to dealing with issues like racism, sexism, homophobia and religion and need to open their eyes, a spokesperson for the project said. The theme ties in with the lyrics to Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” a #2 hit in 1971.
The original remake by the Bono-led Artists Against AIDS Worldwide will be released October 30 on a benefit CD alongside a growing number of alternate versions now totaling nine. Half of the proceeds will go to the Global AIDS Alliance, while the remainder will go to the United Way’s September 11 Fund.
Dupri produced the main remake, and his slower R&B version features Monica, Jagged Edge and many of the artists who participated in the initial recording sessions, which took place prior to the terrorist attacks. Electronic music gurus Moby and Junior Sanchez, both New York natives, did dance remixes, while Bono brought in Train singer Pat Monahan and others for a contemporary mix.
Limp Bizkit’s Durst recently finished his “Reality Check Mix” that includes vocals by Bono, Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland, Perry Farrell, Puddle of Mudd’s Wes Scantlin and Deadsy’s Elijah Blue, along with music from Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch and Bizkit rhythm section John Otto and Sam Rivers.
“I think it’s going to touch a lot of people who will look over and not be touched by the versions already done,” Durst said of his version. “If you think we’re doing a ’We Are the World’ tribute to Marvin Gaye, you’re going to be surprised. We changed some of the words I thought needed to be changed. It’s so many different styles of music put into one track. It’s some serious past and present.”
Added Timberlake: “Not everyone listens to the same things these days, and I think it’s great they had Fred do a version. It’s great they didn’t break it up before the first version went to air, though, to show the unity and how so many artists from different genres came together. Now we can break it up.”
Marvin Gaye III and Nona Gaye, Marvin’s children, also filmed scenes for the videos on Thursday, but noticeably absent was Bono. Still, his presence was felt by the artists and organizers who sang his praises. Stefani, former Savage Garden singer Darren Hayes, Timberlake and Durst all beamed at memories of their phone calls from the U2 frontman.
Leigh Blake, founder of Artists Against AIDS Worldwide and the person who dreamed up the “What’s Going On” project, said she never would have done the remake without Bono.
“Bono puts absolutely all of his great big huge heart into what we’re doing. … He really believes in using that platform to do good,” said Blake, who also co-founded the Red Hot Organization, which raises money for AIDS research.
The money raised from “What’s Going On” for the fight against AIDS will go to medicine, health education and simple medical care in Africa, she said.
“One child dies every minute there, and they don’t have to,” Blake said. “They are dying from pneumonia, diarrhea and other complications of being born HIV-positive. Infected women are breastfeeding their children because they don’t have the money to buy formula. Who have we become if we grownups can’t take care of these children we are responsible for?”
For more information on and audience reaction to the attacks, including tips on how you can help, see “9.11.01: Moving Forward.”