Rapper explains everything you need to know about his Earth Day anthem co-starring Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Snoop Dogg, John Legend and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Lil Dicky didn’t set out to create a star-studded anthem to save the planet. As the entertainer, born David Andrew Burd, explains it, the origin of his epic “Earth” was far more humble.
“It actually started with a very silly notion that I wanted to make a song about animals, where different artists played different animals, without it really having anything to do with climate change or [having] any sort of consciousness to it,” Lil Dicky, the 31-year-old rapper and comedian who shot to fame in 2013 with the viral sensation “Ex-Boyfriend,” tells Yahoo Entertainment.
He found himself in the studio, “mooing over the beat and growling and making animal noises,” struggling to nail down what the song was actually about. “I thought, ‘What if we made a song from the animals’ perspective, about how they love the earth and how they need to save it?’”
So Burd dove into the issue of climate change, something he admits he had only a vague grasp of. The musician quickly educated himself and was struck by the urgency of what he found, particularly the United Nations’ dire 2018 warning that we have 12 years to limit the effects of the global crisis or the damage will be irreversible. “It went from being this silly, fun little idea to the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life.”
Thus, “Earth” was born, a “We Are the World”-esque hip-hop/pop collaboration for which Lil Dicky recruited Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Adam Levine, Sia, Katy Perry, John Legend, and scores of other A-list performers — not to mention Hollywood’s most famous environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio. The accompanying short film, co-directed by Nigel Tierney of RYOT (Yahoo Entertainment’s sister company under Verizon Media), Federico Heller and Tony Yacenda, premiered at midnight Friday in advance of Earth Day Monday. (Watch above.)
To score the bold-faced cameos, Lil Dicky, Benny Blanco (who produced the track with Cashmere Cat), and Burd’s manager, Scooter Braun, divided and conquered. Charlie Puth came onboard first, while folks like Ed Sheeran, Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa followed — and the roster grew larger and larger. “You name six people that are already on it, and you say everyone plays a different animal, it’s all for charity, we gotta save the earth, and honestly everyone was very receptive,” Burd says. (A portion of the proceeds from “Earth” will be donated to select non-profits identified by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.)
Some creativity in the recording process was involved, particularly when it came to locking in Grande. “She was moving around so much, and we knew that she was doing this concert called Wango Tango, which was in L.A., so we literally set up a booth in her dressing room and got her before she got on stage. But then not only that, we’re there and Shawn Mendes is there, and the Backstreet Boys are there, Miguel is there. Meghan Trainor’s there. So literally while we’re there, we’re pitching them, and bringing them in.”
Burd aspired to enlist Kanye West to play himself (that’s actually Kevin Hart voicing Kanye in an inspired bit of stunt casting). “The whole time I was envisioning it being Kanye … but I left myself too short of a window. He’s such a hard man to get a hold of. He changes his number, he changes his email, so I didn’t have access to him. I was running out of time so I reached out to Kevin Hart.”
And then of course there’s Leo, who makes his hip-hop debut and even gets to lampoon Titanic in the video’s closing moments.
“It’s so surreal, that guy’s like the LeBron James of acting, and I’m such a movie fan, I’ve seen every movie that guy’s been in,” Dicky says. “Just being in his house, I held his Oscar! We played pickleball, which is like mini-tennis. He’s very competitive. And he really cares about the earth. He’s so passionate about it. When I talk to him, there aren’t any cameras around, it’s just me and him, and he gets so worked up about how we’re mistreating the earth.”
As vital as the song’s message, it was important for Burd to incorporate his trademark brand of off-kilter, NSFW humor to the project — hence gags about baboon butts, cow boobs, and horny rhinos.
“I thought it was pretty critical or else — I hate to go third-person — but it’s not a Lil Dicky song,” the rapper explains. “I think it’s just the right way in. You don’t want to beat people over the head. ... If Justin Bieber was singing about methane, would that be nearly as engaging as his anus?”
Burd’s ambitions for the project are clear-cut: “If I can get as many people on Earth to have the line of thinking that it’s now or never -- how all of humanity has lead us to this period of time where it’s on us save the world, and if people cared about living on Earth, that would really impact decision-making on a micro level and a macro level.”
Here’s a guide to every guest artist on “Earth”:
1. Baboon — Justin Bieber
2. Zebra — Ariana Grande
3. Lion cub — Halsey
4. Cow — Zac Brown
5. Pig — Brendon Urie
6. Common fungus — Hailee Steinfeld
7. Skunk — Wiz Khalifa
8. Marijuana — Snoop Dogg
9. Kanye West — Kevin Hart
10. Vultures — Adam Levine
11. Rhinos — Shawn Mendes
12. Giraffe — Charlie Puth
13. Kangaroo — Sia
14. Elephant — Miley Cyrus
15. Clam — Lil Jon
16. Wolf — Rita Ora
17. Squirrel — Miguel
18. Pony — Katy Perry
19. HPV — Lil Yachty
20. Koala — Ed Sheeran
21. India — Meghan Trainor
22. Africa — Joel Embiid
23. China — Tory Lanez
24. Backing Vocals — John Legend
25. Backing Vocals — Bad Bunny
26. Backing Vocals — Psy
27. Backing Vocals — Kris Wu
28. Backing Vocals — Backstreet Boys
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