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33 years later, Queen’s Live Aid performance is still pure magic
Queen performs at Live Aid in London in 1985. (Neal Preston) 33 years later, Queen’s Live Aid performance is still pure magic
By Holly Thomas Queen performs at Live Aid in London in 1985. (Neal Preston) It’s been more than 33 years since Queen, spearheaded by their electric front man Freddie Mercury, charged onto the stage of the 1985 Live Aid concert and performed the set often lauded as the greatest live gig of all time. The release of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Queen biopic starring Rami Malek as Mercury, has provoked a swell of nostalgia and emotion around that moment in musical history. In the spirit of the unabashedly uncool band itself, I’d like to add my voice to the chorus. Queen frontman Freddie Mercury performs at the Live Aid show. (Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) First, a confession: I wasn’t even alive when Queen played Live Aid. I was born three years later in 1988, three years before Mercury died of bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. My first proper introduction came when I was about seven, when someone had left the TV on at home. There was a documentary about Queen, whose thumping, chanty music I had recently identified as “more entertaining than the Beatles” on car journeys. I sat down. By the time the program reached the Live Aid concert, I was hooked. By the end of that segment I was in love with Mercury, and when half an hour later I learned that he was dead, I was heartbroken. Fans cheer during Queen’s performance. The charity event was raising money for Ethiopia, which was in the midst of famine. (Norbert Foersterling/DPA/ZUMA Press) Confronted with everything in such quick succession, the tragedy and speed of his death a few years later seemed only to amplify the potency of Mercury’s most glorious performance. It felt as though having been allotted his finite portion of life, he had spent it in lavish, outrageous bursts, sharing delightedly with that crowd on July 13, 1985. Since then, I have watched the set many times, its exuberance and energy undiminished over the 23 years since that first viewing. This is a far from exhaustive account of why, for me, it remains magical. Mercury performs at Live Aid with Queen’s lead guitarist, Brian May. (Popperfoto/Getty Images) Queen didn’t open or close the Live Aid show. They performed just before 7pm, uncharacteristically in daylight, bookended by gigantic acts like U2, Elton John and David Bowie. Past their peak and reeling from the catastrophe of a misadvised run of shows in apartheid South Africa the previous year, Queen was not expected to shine. Mercury, in particular, had been the focus of disparaging coverage and rumors in the press, where speculation over his sexuality had arguably choked the band’s attempts to break into the American market. Mercury was in peak form at the show. (Georges De Keerle/Getty Images) May plays for the crowd at Wembley Stadium. (Tony Mottram/UPPA/ZUMA Wire) Amid an atmosphere charged with pessimism, Mercury danced out on stage and welcomed the crowd like his dearest friend. By the time he sat down at the piano and hit the first few notes of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he was the absolute master of the stadium. Over the next 21 minutes, his audience, and the 1.9 billion people watching on TV around the world, fell in love with him. His humor, his hyper-masculine yet fantastically camp energy and that phenomenal four octave voice were irresistible. During the Live Aid show, Queen played many of its greatest hits. (LFI/Avalon/ZUMA Press) Mercury was a brilliant sight. He had stripped his look to the bare essentials — white tight jeans, trademark moustache, a white tank top showing off his chest and arms, a studded band hugging his right bicep. The whole group, absent their flamboyant 1970s costumes and set paraphernalia, proved they didn’t need them. There was no distraction from the performance. Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, his fellow bandmates, executed their role — that of Mercury’s foil — magnanimously. As a modest May mused years later: “The rest of us played okay, but Freddie was out there and took it to another level.” Mercury is seen backstage at the Live Aid concert. On the left is his boyfriend, Jim Hutton. (Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Mercury was indeed a born ringmaster. There was no alienating affectation, no wallowing in sentiment. Where other bands might have been complacent, Queen swept through a distilled serving of their greatest and most bombastic hits to date, well-rehearsed over several days beforehand, with a swagger that never milked anything at the expense of the audience. The only pause came at the end of “Radio Ga Ga,” which Mercury performed at the edge of the stage, pumping his sawn-off mic at the crowd. For just over 30 seconds, he led them in a vocal improvisation, which was later christened “the note heard around the world.” He carried the audience, his winks and nods making the triumph a shared one, blown kisses and thrusting hips an assurance that he was as turned on by everyone as everyone was by him. Mercury, at center in the red shirt, is joined by George Michael, Bono, Paul McCartney and others during the Live Aid show at Wembley Stadium. (Georges De Keerle/Getty Images) Queen consciously wrote their songs as vehicles for theatrics, and that day, it set them apart. They closed their set with “We Are The Champions,” an anthem built to amplify with the size of its audience. Mercury, having flown across the stage for the entire show, returned to the piano for the start of the song, echoing the set’s opening, but then came back to the crowd for the climax. He took nothing for granted, his remarkable vocals flawless till the end, even as he basked in his indisputable victory at the edge of the stage. The brilliance of that set didn’t only reverberate around the world that summer. It has rippled through every viewing thereafter. For a man whose death is so focal in the history of HIV/AIDS, Mercury remains undefined by it. He greeted the world on his own terms and did whatever he loved, as and when he chose to. His spectacular performance at Live Aid, which not only resurrected Queen, but established them as one of the most successful acts of all time, is just one part of his generous legacy. It deserves to be enjoyed for many years yet.
Holly Thomas is a British writer and editor based in London. She tweets at @HolstaT. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Photo editors: Brett Roegiers and William Lanzoni
Riot Games sued for gender discrimination
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Roughly three months after an exhaustive Kotaku report turned a light on the pervasive ” bro culture ” at League of Legends developer Riot Games, the studio has been sued by one current and one former employee over the “men first” environment they say it enabled and encouraged. As reported by Kotaku , the suit alleges that despite promises to address sexism and discrimination at the studio, “Riot Games is simply sweeping these allegations under the rug with empty investigations and counseling, while protecting bad actors from any repercussion.”
The suit cites several examples of sexist behavior at the studio, ranging from requiring female employees to fulfill roles above their title and pay grade without compensation to sexually objectifying them (there is allegedly an ongoing “Riot Games Hottest Women Employees” email chain) and requiring them to tolerate and participate in “crude male humor,” including jokes about “sex, defecation, masturbation, rape, and torture.” One of the plaintiffs alleged that male employees used the word “dick” more than 500 times in a single month.
It also claims that Riot prioritizes “core gamers” for new hires, a description that is generally assumed to exclude women. “Because this hiring practice disproportionately favors men, many qualified women have been denied employment because they were not considered ‘core gamers.’ Female applicants and employees who are outspoken are considered ‘aggressive,’ ‘too ambitious,’ and ‘annoying’,” the suit says.
“Indeed, Plaintiff [Jessica] Negron’s former supervisor, Geoff Chandler, once told her that ‘diversity should not be a focal point of the design of Riot Games’ products because gaming culture is the last remaining safe-haven for white teen boys.'”
The lawsuit also makes numerous specific allegations of bad behavior including unsolicited dick pics sent by bosses to employees, an email chain in which male employees discuss what it would be like to “penetrate” a particular female employee, co-founder Brandon Beck’s use of “no doesn’t necessarily mean no” as a company slogan during a meeting (which former product manager Barry Hawkins referenced in his August blog post detailing his decision to leave Riot), and most shocking of all, rape: “A former male employee was allowed to remain in a position of leadership despite regularly making sexual comments in the workplace and drugging and raping another Riot Games employee,” the suit states.
Negron alleges in the suit that roughly six months after taking a job at Riot in 2015, her manager left the company and she took on his responsibilities, with no increase in pay. That went on for the better part of a year, during which she was told repeatedly that she was being “groomed” to take on the position officially. But she was never actually interviewed for the job, which was ultimately given to a male employee; when that male employee left Riot in 2017, she inquired about the position and was told that her salary and job title would not be changing, despite the male employee being given a promotion and salary hike for doing the same job.
Negron’s co-plaintiff, Melanie McCracken, detailed a different sort of story with a similar outcome: Her supervisor allegedly refused to promote women to senior positions, but also took steps to prevent her from seeking more upwardly-mobile positions elsewhere in the company. A complaint to HR that was meant to be anonymous was instead shared with the supervisor, who confronted her about it, and while she was eventually able to transition to a new region, her old supervisor assumed control of that region shortly after, which put her back in the same situation.
According to the suit, after taking a position in 2017 that had her working with Riot’s top management, she encountered further trouble when Riot China head of operations Dan Wang sent her a video of himself and COO Scott Gelb “at a dance club with scantily clad women.” She was eventually accused by Gelb of leaking images of him “at a strip club.” The matter seems to have been buried after a drawn-out internal investigation, but an in-the-works promotion to a new position ground to a halt this summer after she was sidelined by management.
“Ms. McCracken’s position at Riot Games has been essentially neutralized as she is unable to attend senior leadership meetings with the D3 [Geld, CEO Nicolo Laurent, and President Dylan Jadeja],” the suit says. “Recently, an attorney with the law suit of Seyfarth Shaw, LLP was hird to investigate some of the issues facing Riot Games. However, the results of the investigation were inconclusive and no action was taken against any of the bad actors.
“Instead, after being made aware of Ms. McCracken’s anxiety about Mr. Gelb’s actions, Ms. McCracken was moved to another building at Riot Games’ offices and isolated from her team. She has experienced tremendous anxiety and stress for having spoken out about the misconduct at Riot Games.”
The plaintiffs are seeking damages including all wages (base salary, bonuses, and stock), punitive damages, statutory and civil penalties, and legal fees. They’re also asking for an order forbidding Riot from violating California labor laws “by paying its female employees lower wages than it pays their male counterparts for substantially similar work,” and that the suit be certified as a class action.
Update: Riot issued the following statement in response to our request for comment: “While we do not discuss the details of ongoing litigation, we can say that we take every allegation of this nature seriously and investigate them thoroughly. We remain committed to a deep and comprehensive evolution of our culture to ensure Riot is a place where all Rioters thrive.”
It also shared a link to the ” Evolving Riot’s Culture ” page, which it said will enable fans to “monitor our progress, hold us accountable, and to provide a guide so you can see the steps we’re taking.”
The lawsuit in full is embedded below.