Vice Blog

The Best and Worst Celebrity Speeches of the DNC’s First Night

In typical award show fashion, the Dems trotted out all their star power last night with performances by Demi Lovato and Paul Simon and speeches by Sarah Silverman and Michelle Obama. But not everyone was a winner.

by Larry Fitzmaurice
Jul 26 2016, 3:30pm

The opening night of the Democratic National Convention may have been as fraught with party tension as last week's calamitous Republican National Convention—but comparing the star wattage of the conventions' speakers so far is not unlike comparing a box of chocolate truffles to a bag of flaming dog shit.

Consider the evidence: Whereas the RNC's first night featured a forgotten TV sitcom star, an aging underwear model, and a hatemonger of a former politician who hasn't held office in a decade, the first night of the DNC featured performances and speeches from successful pop stars, firebrand statements from forward-thinking comedians, and Michelle Obama. This election might be the literal manifestation of the tagline for Alien vs. Predator, but when it comes to reputable guest appearances, it's not hard to see who has the advantage.

Reputation alone couldn't carry every one of the night's musical performers to victory, though. Boyz II Men's convention-opening performance of "Motownphilly" was plenty competent and a decent hat-tip to the DNC's Philadelphia staging ground, but the transition from Demi Lovato's touching speech on mental-health awareness to her performance of the title track on last year's Confident was a reminder that your typical political convention—even in an atypical election year such as this—doesn't have the polish and finesse of, say, the Grammys.

But it was Paul Simon's performance of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" that garnered the most musical social-media chatter. Simon's on a bit of a career bump right now—his latest solo album, this year's Stranger to Stranger, has been a solid critical success—but his vocal delivery at the DNC was a bit rough. The Democrats didn't seem to mind, though, swaying and singing along in a fashion that is likely the closest you'll ever come to seeing a bunch of delegates milly rocking on their block.

The night's comedic speakers were definitely more successful. Minnesota senator Al Franken went back to his Saturday Night Live days with a speech loaded with jabs at Trump and the RNC that landed somewhere between Jon Stewart-monologue-filler and the type of jokes you'll hear your father make around Thanksgiving. Corny and obvious, sure, but when the entire country feels like it's going down the toilet, corny and obvious will do.

For her part, Sarah Silverman kicked off her speech by telling Franken to "get out of [her] way" and offered a necessary viewpoint—one of a Bernie Sanders supporter who's nonetheless supporting Hillary Clinton in the election. She also offered the most direct and cutting rebuke to the smattering of Bernie-driven boos that peppered the DNC's first night: "Can I just say—to the Bernie-or-bust people, you're being ridiculous," she mic-dropped near the end of her remarks, which was almost as perfect of a statement to make as the "Bababooey" she dropped beforehand (Stern rules!). "Thank God they can fix this in post," she cracked when the rancor grew louder after her speech; they obviously can't, but hopefully her remarks helped to fix the convention's ideological fissures.

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren used part of her speech to continue spitting straight fire at Trump, a talent that has bizarrely eluded most prominent Democratic figures. (Trump has since fired back with, naturally, a response unsurprisingly racist and horrible.) But the night's star speaker was undoubtedly Michelle Obama, who could've fired her own jabs at the Trump family following last week's Melania Trump plagiarism fiasco but didn't. (Twitter did it for her, anyway.)

The first lady's speech drew on President Barack Obama's successes and how Clinton can continue the progress he's made during his eight years in office; she also addressed that being the first black first lady means waking "up every morning in a house built by slaves," potently employing that fact to highlight what she believes the US is capable of: "Don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth."

It's a sentiment that even Susan Sarandon could agree on—even if she wasn't exactly having the best time. Sorry, Susan.

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