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This ‘Imagine’ Cover Is No Heaven


You might say that every crisis gets the multi-celebrity car-crash pop anthem it deserves, but truly no crisis — certainly not one as vast and unsettling as the current one — deserves this.

The actress Gal Gadot, on her sixth day of precautionary coronavirus self-isolation, orchestrated a line-for-line baton pass of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a song that, over five decades, has been sturdy enough to hold up to Pentatonix, Corey Feldman, the cast of “Glee” and Blake Lewis on “American Idol.” (He didn’t beatbox, thankfully.)

In this clusterclump of hyperfamous people with five seconds’ too much time on their hands, however, “Imagine” may have met its match. By the end, it has been pummeled and stabbed, disaggregated, stripped for parts and left for trash collection by the side of the highway. It is proof that even if no one meets up in person, horribleness can spread.

The performance is two minutes long, but watching from front to back requires about 20, with breaks for snarfing, ear-canal cleansing and bursts of who-the-hell-is-this? It begins after a brief, platitudinous monologue from Gadot, who may be on lockdown, but whose mind has been freed, bro.

When she sings the opening line — “Imagine there’s no heaven” — she grins at the camera as if she’s about to pick your pocket. Or like a joyfully masochistic nurse about to administer a gruesome shot. It feels oily. Distressing. Up next, Kristen Wiig, out in nature wearing a wide-brimmed hat, looks dour, as if her ramble had been interrupted.

This misadventure turns to true chaos, though, when Jamie Dornan arrives, his hair wet-like and his voice a hollow rasp. “No hell below us,” he … I guess, sings? More like woofs. Expectorates. Dornan is not on Instagram, so perhaps he is unaware he looks like he’s reluctantly filming a hostage video, and can’t decide if he even wants to be rescued.

A little later comes a one-two punch of disinclination: Natalie Portman, head tilting side to side like a metronome, biting on words like they taste terrible, like she wants them whooshed off her tongue; followed by Zoë Kravitz, sitting fireside in glasses, whispering drawn-out syllables first by speaking, then singing, like a turntable confused about its speed setting.

Of all the participants here, only the actor Chris O’Dowd — singing alongside his wife, Dawn O’Porter — appears to understand the horror on the horizon: His worry lines are deep, his eyebrows seem to want to jump off his face and the left side of his mouth curls up toward the end of his line (“I wonder if you can”) as if pleading for forgiveness.

The brutality is relentless. It is difficult to measure which section is the most unsettling — Will Ferrell’s arch sincerity (although not his Lynchian electroshock hair)? Sarah Silverman’s whoopsy-daisy tartness? Mark Ruffalo’s bohemian-of-the-mind riffage? James Marsden’s this’ll-fix-it earnestness? Each is so destabilizing it necessitates a quick hit of the pause button, and maybe a walk around the block.

Let’s be gentle with the real singers here — Norah Jones, Leslie Odom Jr., Labrinth, Sia, someone called Eddie Benjamin. Their presence is welcome; they are the high school quarterback invited to a party only to find out the only other people who R.S.V.P.’d were friends with their youngest cousin who they haven’t seen in like 12 years. If everyone was in the same room, they’d be regarded with slack-jawed awe. They are the sunlight that allows the weak plants a chance to grow.

But they would never be in the same room, of course. That was true long before coronavirus. Challenging times have made unlikely studiofellows for decades: think “We Are the World,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and the like. But the chaotic evil of social media means borders are permeable now, and the bar for participation is distressingly low. (The emerging wave of parodies is already vicious: Tavi Gevinson’s Cindy Shermanesque routing of Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” ESPN’s Pablo Torre leading a sports media all-star spoken word version of Linkin Park’s “In the End.”)

On social media, Gadot and her crew were lambasted for bumblingly contributing, well, whatever this is as opposed to money or resources. Their genial naïveté is blinding them to the grossest sin here: the smug self-satisfaction, the hubris of the alleged good deed. The presumption that an empty and profoundly awkward gesture from a passel of celebrities has any meaning whatsoever borders on delusion — what you see in this video is nothing more than perspective-fogged stars singing into a mirror.

In times of crisis, some think it’s enough to throw something slapdash together, serve it to the world and hope it heals some people. But that’s just not how things work.



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