Unspeakable acts of violence — like the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida that left 49 dead and 53 injured or the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling at the hands of police officers — often bring people together during the healing process. Over the course of the last month, top artists from the music world have proven their commitment to helping unite broken communities through the power of song by releasing new music aimed at raising awareness about issues of gun violence and police brutality.
Proceeds from some tracks, like Christina Aguilera’s “Change” or Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Love Make the World Go Round,” have gone directly toward benefitting victims of the deadly nightclub massacre, while others, like Jay Z’s “Spiritual,” inspire listeners to end a cycle of violence that has claimed countless lives.
From Britney Spears, RuPaul, and Miguel to Swizz Beatz, My Morning Jacket, and Solange, listen to the music community’s sonic responses to current events in the songs below.
Various Artists, “Hands”
The Interscope Records charity single “Hands” proves that when it comes to affecting change in the world artists are in the fight together.
Conceived by Semi Precious Weapons frontman Justin Tranter, who also wrote Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” “Hands” features vocal contributions from prominent LGBT artists such as RuPaul, Adam Lambert, Alex Newell, Mary Lambert, Jussie Smollett, MNEK, Ty Herndon, and The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, who join forces with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Pink, Mary J. Blige, Kacey Musgraves, Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor, Selena Gomez, Halsey, Nate Reuss, Prince Royce, and Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons.
Funds raised by “Hands,” which is available exclusively on iTunes, go toward aiding the 53 injured Orlando nightclub victims with medical care, counseling, and education.
Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Love Make the World Go Round”
For her second charity single of the year, Jennifer Lopez teamed with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda for a dancehall-inspired tune, “Love Make the World Go Round,” the proceeds from which are going toward helping people impacted by the Orlando shooting. Funds will be donated to the Hispanic Federation’s Proyecto Somos Orlando, which, according to its website, aims to provide “long-term needs for mental health services that are culturally competent and bilingual.”
The uptempo track features lyrics that celebrate peace, togetherness, and overcoming adversity. “Those who hate us and fear us cannot keep us down / ‘Cause we hearin’ our heart beat a beautiful sound,” Lopez croons during the bridge. “If they try to deny us or silence us now, we just say no, yeah we let ‘em know love make the world go round.”
“I’ve had [the song] for maybe eight months, and I love [it], I love the hook. When everything happened in Orlando, I kind of heard it in a different way, and I was like ‘The world needs this right now, the world really needs the message of love being the answer,” Lopez told Today’s Carson Daly and Savannah Guthrie after the single’s first live performance, which you can watch in the video below.
Christina Aguilera, “Change”
Though she’s prepping for the release of an upcoming pop album, Christina Aguilera unveiled her first official solo single since 2013’s “We Remain” in the form of “Change,” a benefit track released just four days after the Orlando massacre.
Co-written with Fancy Hagood (also known as pop artist Who Is Fancy) and Flo Reutter, “Change” showcases Aguilera’s signature, soaring vocals as she belts lyrics that call for equality. “Who you love or the color of your skin or the place you were born and grew up in shouldn’t decide how you will be treated,” the 35-year-old sings. “ ‘Cause we’re all the same when everybody’s breathing. Waiting for a change to set us free, waiting for the day when you can be you and I can be me.”
Aguilera posted about the single on her website, writing: “The horrific tragedy that occurred in Orlando continues to weigh heavily on my mind. I am sending so much love and so many prayers to the victims and their families. Like so many, I want to help be part of the change this world needs to make it a beautiful inclusive place where humanity can love each other freely and passionately.”
Miguel, “How Many”
R&B singer Miguel captured the spirit of a grieving Black Lives Matter movement with the release of a poignant new track called “How Many.” The minimal tune, still in its demo stages (Miguel promised fans he will release an updated version each week) features the 30-year-old Los Angeles native crooning his sorrows over the distorted sounds of plucky guitar strings. “I’m tired of human lives turned into hashtags and prayer hands,” he sings. The chorus continues: “How many black lives, how many black lives? How many heartbeats turned into flatlines? How many black lives, how many black lives does it take to wake the change?”
Jay Z, “Spiritual”
Jay Z dug deep into his past on the rousing protest track “Spiritual,” released exclusively to Tidal, in response to the deaths of Castile and Sterling.
While the song isn’t a new recording, the Brooklyn native regretfully admitted the single has a disturbing relevance to contemporary events. “I made this song a while ago, I never got to finish it,” he wrote in a statement. “Punch (TDE) told me I should drop it when Mike Brown died [in 2014], sadly I told him, ‘This issue will always be relevant.’ I’m hurt that I knew his death wouldn’t be the last… I’m saddened and disappointed in THIS America – we should be further along. WE ARE NOT.”
Solange, “Black Maybe”
Solange Knowles released a somber cover of Syreeta’s “Black Maybe” to Instagram following the deaths of Sterling and Castile.
Solange’s rendition of the 1972 track, written by Stevie Wonder for Syreeta’s debut album, was recorded entirely a cappella. “Been singing Syreeta’s ‘Black Maybe’ over and over again trying to comfort my weary heart,” the caption of her post reads. “But what is comfort when the images of slain black bodies left to bleed are sketched into your being…over and over again.”
Swizz Beatz feat. Scarface, “Sad News”
Also joining the growing number of artists speaking out against police brutality by releasing powerful music is Swizz Beatz, who dropped the Scarface-assisted “Sad News” to remember those killed by gun violence.
The subdued, piano-tinged track references several instances of black men dying at the hands of police. “See the story from Houston, from a little boy who was going to the store… he had his hoodie on, mistaken identity for robbery and theft. Man, they took that last boy breath,” the song’s lyrics read. “Sad news: Little boy got shot down today, a little boy got shot down today. I hope his family is okay.”
Various Artists, “What the World Needs Now is Love”
Stars from the music industry aren’t the only ones releasing benefit singles in the wake of the Orlando massacre: Notable figures from the Broadway world — dubbed Broadway for Orlando — united for an inspiring cover of Jackie DeShannon’s 1965 hit “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”
The superstar version of the song features vocals from some of Broadway’s most recognizable faces, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Sara Bareilles, Whoopi Goldberg, Kristen Bell, Wayne Brody, Gloria Estefan, Fran Drescher, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sean Hayes, Nathan Lane, Jessie Mueller, Carole King, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mathew Broderick, Rosie Perez, and more.
Orchestrated by SiriusXM host Seth Rudetsky and his husband, producer James Wesley, proceeds from single sales will be donated to the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida. Speaking to PEOPLE, Rudetsky said, “The Broadway community was so terribly shaken and devastated by the horrific tragedy in Orlando. Everyone wanted to do something as quickly as possible that would truly make a difference.”
Garner Family, “I Can’t Breathe”
While celebrity recordings released as a means to raise awareness about issues of gun violence and police brutality are powerful in their own right, nothing compares to the raw emotion displayed on “I Can’t Breathe,” an impassioned single written and recorded by the family of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man who was killed on Staten Island after a police officer put him in a deadly chokehold in 2014.
Garner’s sister, Elisha Flagg, belts out the track’s chorus, turning her brother’s well-documented last words into a powerful musical reminder of his final moments. “I can hear my brother crying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Now I’m in this struggle and I can’t leave. We all know the solution, but they blame you and me. We ain’t gonna stop until love is free,” she sings. Garner’s brother, Steven Flagg, raps several bars throughout the track as well.
My Morning Jacket, “Magic Bullet”
Rockers My Morning Jacket offered a slow-burning take on “Magic Bullet,” which calls for an end to violence in America and advocates for peace.
“I don’t pretend to think that a song can fix or change the world instantly, and I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the political landscape and proper gun control legislation,” the Kentucky-based band, fronted by Jim James, said via a statement on their official SoundCloud account. “BUT if we say nothing then nothing will ever change. And things have got to change.”
The song’s lyrics strongly condemn gun violence: “Ain’t no way to solve a problem of the streets with an itchy trigger finger,” James croons. “But I know there’s a solution deep within myself, but I ain’t never gonna reach it without somebody’s help.”
Victoria Monét feat. Ariana Grande, “Better Days”
Victoria Monét’s “Better Days,” featuring frequent collaborator Ariana Grande, includes lyrics like, “Baby, there’s a war outside our window, but it’s gon’ be all right as long as I got you,” serving as a reminder that the future can be bright if we forge on with love, positivity, and peace in the face of violence. “Too many precious live were taken from us this week, this month, this year,” Grande wrote about the track on Instagram. “Stay strong and know that better days are coming.”
Monét echoed Grande’s sentiment. “I’m heartbroken by all of the recent tragedies [that] came as a result of hatred, racism, and injustice,” she said. “To all of the lives taken pointlessly, we will not let you be forgotten. You have sparked change in this world with your angel wings. Rest In Peace.”