Pink and Kelly Clarkson seem to know how we’re feeling.
This has been a year -- especially the last few months -- marked by a seemingly unending torrent of bad news, from natural disasters to a near-constant flow of revelations about sexual assault in nearly every industry.
As Jamie Foxx said while introducing the pair at the 2017 American Music Awards, "We needed the power of music to help us heal... 2017 was the year that tested our faith.”
So it was perfectly fitting that in the highly anticipated opening number, the two pop stars threw the combined weight of their vocal power behind a 25-year-old song -- R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” -- that doesn’t shy away from getting serious, because it was originally written about teenage suicide.
The song was released on 1992’s Automatic for the People, the follow-up to R.E.M.’s mainstream breakthrough Out of Time, which included “Losing My Religion.”
In the band’s early years, frontman Michael Stipe took a particular pride in his delivery being indecipherable -- mumblecore long before emo. The lyrics to R.E.M. songs, which were generally not included in album notes, were dense poetry. (This is a band that also often declined to tour in support of its new albums.)
So the clarity and simplicity of “Everybody Hurts” was striking. You didn’t have to play the track over and over searching for meaning. In fact, all you had to do was watch the video, which used some of the lyrics as subtitles:
In the video, which was shot on a freeway overpass in San Antonio -- and which won four Moonmen at 1994’s MTV Video Music Awards -- subtitles are also used to reveal the inner thoughts of people stuck in traffic in their cars.
“There’s a time for obfuscation,” [R.E.M. bassist Mike] Mills told the East Coast Rocker. “But this wasn’t it.”
Many times since the release of Automatic for the People, R.E.M.’s members have discussed the lyrical ideas of “Everybody Hurts,” explaining that the anti-suicide sentiments of the song were directed at teenagers -- or anyone, really -- who might need to be reminded that so many people share pain, sadness and dark thoughts. The band had written political songs before (and elsewhere on this album), but this was R.E.M.’s first “message song.” And the message was, “You’re not alone.”
Who better to deliver that message today than Pink and Kelly?
And she called out specifically how important it was to her that opening number was a duet. "My favorite part of it, actually, is -- I feel like females always get pitted against each other," she said. "We're two powerful singers and we're doing our thing and we respect each other's talent and it's OK. There's room for everyone, you know?"