Bruce Springsteen is still the Boss and nine other talking points from a fireworks-packed inauguration concert

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Roisin O'Connor,Isobel Lewis,Oliver O'Connell and Clémence Michallon
·6 min read
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 (YouTube)
(YouTube)

Celebrities welcomed Joe Biden into the White House on Wednesday after he officially became the 46th American president.

The Foo Fighters, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and more performed during a 90-minute television special hosted by Tom Hanks from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The broadcast replaced the traditional inaugural ball, which couldn’t take place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event was in turn celebratory and solemn. Themes such as unity and the turning of a new leaf dominated the evening, including by way of musicians’ song choices. Jon Bon Jovi covered the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”, John Legend reinterpreted Nina Simone’s classic “Feeling Good”, and Demi Lovato sang Bill Withers’ upbeat tune “Lovely Day”.

Review: Biden’s inauguration ceremony was a safe, soothing tribute to anti-fascism

Katy Perry wrapped up the broadcast with a spectacular rendition of her 2010 hit “Firework”, as a real-life fireworks display lit up the sky in the nation’s capital.

Here are the 10 main talking points from the evening:

Tom Hanks remains America’s sweetheart

In times of trouble or confusion, the nation knows it can always turn its lonely eyes to Tom Hanks. Back in March 2020, the actor and his wife Rita Wilson became the first high-profile US celebrities to announce they had been diagnosed with Covid-19. They recovered, and Hanks surprised America by hosting a remote episode of Saturday Night Live the following month. On Wednesday night, he proved a competent host – solemn but not severe, reflective but not grandiose. He was a perfect choice for the evening. (Clémence Michallon)

And Bruce Springsteen is still the Boss

Wednesday’s broadcast opened with Bruce Springsteen playing his 1999 song “Land of Hope and Dreams”. It was an emotional performance, and the tune set the right tone – one of careful, slightly weary optimism. “Land of Hope and Dreams” played after Barack Obama's farewell address in January 2017. Featuring it in first position on Wednesday night felt like a moving callback, and a nod to Biden’s past work as Obama’s vice president. (CM)

Jon Bon Jovi joined from Florida

Jon Bon Jovi, who, like his fellow performers Bruce Springsteen and Ant Clemons, hails from New Jersey, joined from Florida – incidentally the state where Donald Trump is expected to live now that he has left the White House. The location left some viewers puzzled (based on their social media comments), but the musician’s cover of “Here Comes the Sun” hit an emotional note for many as well. (CM)

John Legend should play at the Lincoln Memorial more often

John Legend’s rendition of “Feeling Good” was absolutely one of the highlights of the evening. Was it because he chose the perfect song? Was he energised to be performing at such a historical venue as the Lincoln Memorial? Or was it the energy Legend – a vocal critic of Trump’s – brought to the stage, hours after Joe Biden took the oath of office? Probably a mix of all these things, and more. Either way, it was the recipe for a spectacular performance. (CM)

Watch: Bidens watch fireworks from White House balcony

Dave Grohl’s tribute to teachers

Dave Grohl, the son of a teacher himself, made sure to honour the country’s educators before he and the rest of the Foo Fighters launched into song. Grohl has advocated for teachers’ rights during the coronavirus pandemic. His address on Wednesday also resonated with Dr Jill Biden’s own background as a teacher. It was a smart introduction to a very satisfying performance by the band, who played the 2003 song “Times Like These”. (CM)

The song choices were on point

Let’s discuss the song choices for a minute. Musicians expressed hope and optimism on Wednesday, while also acknowledging the difficult times people in the US have faced in the past months and years. Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams”, as discussed, was a pretty perfect opener for the evening. Bon Jovi and Legend were more outwardly celebratory, with “Here Comes the Sun” and “Feeling Good”, respectively. Ditto Demi Lovato and the very energetic version of Withers’ 1977 tune “Lovely Day”. Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These”, meanwhile, brought an edgier touch. And Katy Perry’s “Firework”made for a spectacular finale for obvious reasons (more on that below). (CM)

Katy Perry closed out the night with a brilliant fireworks display

Who better to wrap up an already star-studded and very musical evening than pop titan Katy Perry? Dressed all in white and performing in front of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the Grammy-nominated radio mainstay broke out her 2010 chart-topper "Firework" for the occasion in a set that culminated with a huge display of actual fireworks. Maybe it was a little on the nose, but Perry’s never really been one for subtlety. “Firework” and Perry’s soaring delivery was the ideal closer for an already inspired evening. (Rachel Brodsky)

Broadway got a chance to shine

New York City’s beloved Broadway theatres have been closed since March 2020, as a necessary measure to slow the spread of Covid-19. How the city has missed the venues and their performers! Wednesday’s broadcast included a wonderful medley from various Broadway actors and singers. Together, they sang “Seasons of Love” from Rent, aka the hymn of theatre kids across the US, and “Let the Sunshine In” from Hair, another classic. It was so good to experience a taste of Broadway, if only for a few moments. (CM)

Yo-Yo Ma’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” was a thing of beauty

“Amazing Grace” occupies a prominent place in the American psyche – and beyond, actually. When the coronavirus pandemic first took hold, Andrea Bocelli sang it in a very emotional performance from the Duomo Cathedral in Milan. Somewhat understandably, most performances of “Amazing Grace” place an emphasis on the song’s lyrics. But on Wednesday night, cellist Yo-Yo Ma played a wonderfully pure, deceptively simple version that enabled viewers to enjoy it in a whole new way. (CM)

Lin-Manuel Miranda poignantly recites Seamus Heaney’s “The Cure at Troy”

If you've seen Joe Biden speak before, you'll know that he really likes to quote Irish poet Seamus Heaney's poem “The Cure at Troy.” In the opening moments of “Celebrating America”, none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda honoured both men by reciting an excerpt from the poem. It was a poignant reading that reflected the US's politically polarized moment, with Miranda concluding, “Once in a lifetime / The longed for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up / And hope and history rhyme.” The passage offered hope that the nation can heal and unite, just as President Biden has wished for on too many occasions to count. (RB)

Watch: Donald Trump leaves White House for last time

See how the night unfolded in our live blog: