LOS ANGELES — When the original "We Are the World" was released in 1985, the medium of professionally produced, high-concept music videos was still fairly new. But when the organizers of the new version laid down tracks with more than 80 stars on Monday night at Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood, they pulled out as many high-tech tricks as they could to make the Haitian earthquake relief single a modern classic.
Mixed in among such modern icons as Miley Cyrus, Wyclef Jean, Kanye West, Usher, Snoop Dogg, Nick Jonas, Kid Cudi, Akon and Pink in the chorus were two models wearing the kind of head-to-toe green-screen bodysuits that are used to create CG effects for Hollywood blockbusters. It was revealed later that the finished video, which was also filmed in 3-D, will allow online users to manipulate the green-screen characters and insert themselves into the finished product as avatars that can interact with the musicians.
"Everything we're dealing with is 21st century," said singer Lionel Richie, who co-wrote and co-produced the original and who is doing the same this time around alongside legendary producer Quincy Jones, with help from Wyclef Jean, Grammy-winning Lady Gaga producer RedOne and "American Idol" musical director Ricky Minor.
"We even have two people in the chorus with green outfits on so people can go online and put their picture in the crowd," Jones said.
Richie said that in some ways, the technology almost made things take longer than the first time, because the artists were so busy tweeting and taking digital photos of each other during the session. "You would think we have a full-blown motion picture going in there," he marveled. "We have 3-D cameras, we have Technicolor cameras, we have every imaginable form of technology. Green screen ... as Q said, you can put yourself into the 'We Are the World' family from the computer."
The world premiere of "We Are the World — 25 for Haiti" will take place during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on February 12. The proceedings were filmed by Academy Award-winning director Paul Haggis ("Crash") and will be made available for sale soon, along with the video of the original, which helped raise more than $60 million for African famine relief.
In addition to a new hip-hop bridge written by Will.I.Am that has lyrics that update the song and refer to the Haitian tragedy, Richie revealed that Janet Jackson would be laying down her part on Tuesday, in part as an homage to late brother Michael, who co-wrote the song and is credited with giving it an emotional resonance that still rings true today.
Technology aside, Jones said that putting together such a massive undertaking in less than two weeks and corralling all the talent and elements in such a short time hasn't gotten any easier over the past 25 years. "It's like running through hell with gasoline underwear," he said about the grueling sessions, with a weary smile on his face.