Verzuz Battles, Club Quarantine & the Experiences We’ll Bring With Us
During a public health crisis that compels us to stay indoors, these digital communal moments are opportunities to lean into joy
I’ll never forget that epic night in Club Quarantine when DJ D-Nice’s Instagram Live stream reached 100,000 participants. Kevin Hart tried to buy out the bar, but his card kept getting declined. Gabrielle Union was in the middle of the dance floor with fans, who quickly became friends. It was wild when Bernie, Biden, and Elizabeth Warren came through, but everyone lost it when Forever First Lady Michelle Obama stepped into the building. A few weeks later, Teddy Riley and Babyface represented for Black uncles around the world and lost to technology. We laughed when we learned Tyrese was probably never a spelling bee champion, and we hollered at Toni Braxton’s Twitter narration of it all. Who knew she was such a comedian?
In the midst of a public health crisis that compels us to stay indoors, these digital communal moments are opportunities to lean into joy. And now more than ever, we need them.
Studies show that Black communities have three times the rate of coronavirus infection and six times the death rate of White communities. And wealth hasn’t insulated Black celebrities from contracting Covid-19. Idris Elba, Sabrina Dhwore, Kevin Durant, Slim Thug, Scarface, BeBe Winans, and Babyface are among those who fought the virus. As many celebs give us a peek into their worlds through social media, it becomes clear that money does not make you immune to the same fears of working-class people when facing a global pandemic. Perhaps that’s why it has been refreshing to see these celebrities curate content that provides a momentary distraction to the world’s chaos.
From H.E.R.’s “Girls With Guitars” sessions to Carl Thomas’ “B Sides,” Black celebrities are using social media apps to connect with fans and give them shows they’d normally pay to experience. According to Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, the idea for their Verzuz battles came more than three years ago, but the state of the world pushed them to do it now. “The world is so dark right now,” Timbaland said in an interview with Vibe. “We just gave the world something beautiful… to take their mind off of what’s going on.”
What’s going on is a 70% Covid-19 death rate in cities where Black people comprise only 30% of the population. What’s going on is 22 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits in less than a month and less than 20% of Black workers eligible to work from home. What’s going on is that while many elected officials are extending shelter-in-place orders, some are easing them — a move that will undoubtedly make Black and Brown workers even more vulnerable.
I can’t wait to wear my Teddy Riley T-shirt to the first post–social distancing brunch. We will laugh as we remember the fun we had during the worst time of our lives.
In a moment when we are dying and those who don’t look like us don’t seem to care, we need the comedic relief of watching some of our icons be bested by technology and start their IG Lives with “I don’t know what I’m doing” disclaimers. We need Toni, humorously fed up with Teddy Riley’s sound quality, like the rest of us, tweeting, “Are we really starting over? I’m sorry I gotta make dinner. This is like watching old folks use Jitterbug phones.” We need celebs laughing right alongside us as we all eat our quarantine snacks too fast and binge classic Black shows and movies together as a family. It all works to remind us of what has always been the case: We are all we got. And we are all the same. All of us get giddy when Michelle Obama says hi.
When we come out of this, I hope companies sponsor a national tour so we can celebrate the grand opening of outside with D-Nice. I hope Verzuz is picked up by a streaming platform and becomes the number one show that it can become. I hope “Girls With Guitars’’ becomes an actual concert or festival series. And after learning they secretly wanted each other’s song, I’m crossing my fingers we’ll get a Toni Braxton and Tevin Campbell Instagram Live concert real soon.
More than all of that, I’m hoping Black celebrities realize the very people who support them are especially vulnerable during times of crisis. More participation in direct giving initiatives and opportunities for free content as a show of gratitude are essential. And I’m hoping consumers become less interested in salacious gossip blogs and websites. I hope we lose the desire to weigh in on the lives of celebrities, believing we have that right simply because our support propels them.
Indeed, we will remember the memes and the moments. I can’t wait to wear my Teddy Riley T-shirt to the first post–social distancing brunch. We will laugh as we remember the fun we had during the worst time of our lives.