A full-throated, supremely confident Lady Gaga belted out the national anthem at President Joe Biden's inauguration in a very Gaga way – with flamboyance, fashion and passion.
The Grammy winner wore a huge dove brooch and an impressively billowing red sculpted skirt as she sang into a golden microphone, delivering an emotional and powerful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.
She was followed at Wednesday's ceremony by Jennifer Lopez, dressed all in white, who threw a line of Spanish into her medley of This Land Is Your Land and America The Beautiful – a pointed nod to multiculturalism, just two weeks after white supremacists and other violent rioters stormed the Capitol in an effort to undermine the peaceful transfer of power.
And country star Garth Brooks, doffing his black cowboy hat, sang a gospel-tinged, soulful a capella rendition of Amazing Grace, his eyes closed for much of the song. He asked the audience to sing a verse with him: "Not just the people here, but the people at home, to work as one united."
The three superstars were among a slew of glittery celebrities descending on Washington – virtually or in person – to welcome the new administration of Biden and Kamala Harris, a duo popular in Hollywood, where former President Donald Trump was decidedly not.
But Brooks was careful to call his decision to perform on Wednesday non-political, and in the spirit of unity. Brooks performed during the inaugural celebration of Obama in 2009, but turned down a chance to play for Trump in 2017, citing a scheduling conflict.
Gaga went on Twitter later to explain that the giant brooch accompanying her Schiaparelli haute couture outfit was "a dove carrying an olive branch. May we all make peace with each other". Lopez was in all-white Chanel, and Brooks kept it real in jeans, an open-collared black shirt and blazer.
While the podium was full of high-wattage star power, there was little question that a new star had also emerged: 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman, whose poise and urgency as she recited The Hill We Climb enthralled a global audience.
Other top-tier performers will be part of "Celebrating America," a 90-minute, multi-network evening broadcast hosted by Tom Hanks that takes the place of the usual official inaugural balls.
Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda will contribute a classical recitation, joining musicians like Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Foo Fighters, Justin Timberlake and Bon Jovi. Hosts Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria will be joined by basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, chef Jose Andres, labor leader Dolores Huerta and Kim Ng, the first female general manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) history.
The inaugural committee has made sure to blend this high-powered list with ordinary Americans and inspiring stories. Segments will include tributes to a UPS driver, a kindergarten teacher and Sandra Lindsay, the first in New York to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial. The proceedings will be carried by US networks ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC and PBS as well as the committee's social media channels and streaming partners.
There was also a virtual "Parade Across America", hosted by actor Tony Goldwyn with appearances by Jon Stewart, Earth Wind & Fire and the New Radicals – reuniting after more than two decades – among many others.
The history of celebrities performing at inaugurations dates back to Franklin D Roosevelt's third inauguration in 1941, when a gala celebration the evening before saw performances from Irving Berlin, Mickey Rooney and Charlie Chaplin, says Lina Mann of the White House Historical Association. "Chaplin performed his monologue from The Great Dictator," Mann notes.
The celebrity component only increased over time, and one of the starriest inaugurations was that of John F Kennedy in 1961. That celebration, hosted by Frank Sinatra, drew Harry Belafonte, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Kelly, Ethel Merman, Laurence Olivier, Sidney Poitier and other celebrities.
Fast forward to the first Obama inauguration in 2009, where Aretha Franklin sang My Country, 'Tis Of Thee at the swearing-in, and the new president and his wife, Michelle, were serenaded by Beyonce singing At Last at an inaugural ball.