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Celebrities avoided Trump and D.C. for years. Here are the stars returning for Biden's inauguration

Emily Yahr
Washington Post

As a reality-TV-star president leaves the White House, celebrities are headed back to Washington.

Hollywood A-listers, who made no secret of their disdain for President Donald Trump, have been largely absent from the city and its cultural scene over the past four years. Now, they are returning in droves: Superstars Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks will perform at President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday, while a host of other stars -- Tom Hanks, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen, Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda among them -- will appear on a prime-time inaugural special, "Celebrating America," to air that night.

Lady Gaga

But even after this week's events are over, the stage is set for a return to the pre-Trump era, as artists from all areas are far more likely to resume events and White House visits, as well as advocate for various causes. While a few stars did make the attempt (Kim Kardashian West, notably, lobbied for prison reform), most stayed away -- and it was a two-way street. Trump skipped events such as the White House correspondents' dinner and Kennedy Center Honors. (Before Trump had a chance to decline his invitation to the latter, multiple honorees said they would skip any events with the president.)

Todd Flournoy, who runs the Flournoy Group communications firm, said many in the creative community quickly realized at the start of Trump's term, because of both the administration's strident policies and level of attacks on anyone perceived to be a "cultural elite," that visiting the Washington area for any type of advocacy was probably counterproductive. However, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris already appear ready to embrace the arts.

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2020 file photo, Tom Hanks arrives at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. For the first time in its lengthy history, ‘Saturday Night Live’ held an all-quarantine version, which aired Saturday, April 11 with stars delivering taped material primarily from their homes. Coronavirus pioneer Hanks was the guest host, with Chris Martin the musical guest and cameos from Larry David portraying Bernie Sanders and Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump.  (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

"The opportunity for using arts as a shared experience, if done right, can be the on-ramp to try to take some of the hyper-partisanship out of the debate, no matter what the issue," said Flournoy, whose firm specializes in policy at the nexus of Washington and the creative community. "It's a bit aspirational, I know -- but if the common shared experiences of music, poetry, visual arts, et cetera, can be used in the administration across the board on different policy issues to bring in people in a nonpartisan way, that may offer some degree of hope in the current atmosphere."

One signal for Biden's call for unity is in the diversity of his inaugural events, with musical acts from multiple genres (pop, country, R&B, rock, classical, Latin) set to perform; the incorporation of a public art display, "Field of Flags," that represents the people unable to gather together for the inauguration because of the coronavirus pandemic; and a poem by Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet.

"I think the artists will help magnify the messaging, hopefully," said Kimball Stroud, a Washington-based event and publicity strategist. "There's a great deal of healing that needs to happen in our country, and amplifying that message is going to be very helpful."

Biden's celebrity lineup is reportedly already under Trump's skin, as The Washington Post's Mary Jordan reported this week that he was "particularly upset" about the number of high-profile stars who agreed to appear at the festivities. (Trump's inaugural committee allegedly reached out to A-listers, though the biggest names at his inauguration concert were 3 Doors Down and Toby Keith.)

Jennifer Lopez attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards.

"It's well and good to have big-name celebrities right now to celebrate and kick things off," Flournoy said. "But I think going forward, it will really be important to show how the arts writ large can be used."

Here are the entertainers scheduled to take part in inaugural events, and how to watch them.

- What time is the inauguration and how do I watch?

While the official schedule doesn't have a time listed, the program should begin around 11:30 a.m. Eastern, with Biden sworn in at noon. It will be available on every major broadcast and news network, which all start their inauguration coverage earlier in the morning. It will also stream on Biden's official inauguration site, Amazon Prime, and on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Twitch accounts. (More options for where to watch are available here.)

- Who will sing the national anthem at the inauguration?

Lady Gaga, who also campaigned for Biden, will do the honors. The two are longtime friends and collaborated several years ago on a public service announcement to raise awareness about sexual assault.

- Who else will perform at the inauguration?

Jennifer Lopez, who is planning something "really cool" according to her fiance, Alex Rodriguez, and Garth Brooks, who said that incoming first lady Jill Biden personally asked him to perform.

- Who is the inaugural poet?

Amanda Gorman, 22, told the Los Angeles Times that Jill Biden also recommended her to be part of the inauguration. The poet, who was named America's first national youth poet laureate in 2017, wrote a poem for inauguration called "The Hill We Climb."

- What is the virtual "Parade Across America"?

While an actual inaugural parade can't happen because of the pandemic, a virtual version is taking place. Hosted by former "Scandal" president Tony Goldwyn, other participants include Jon Stewart, Andra Day and a "Pass the Mic" medley from DJ Cassidy that will feature Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers, Kathy Sledge, the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, the Triumph Baptist Church Choir and the Washington Chorus. Plus, Olympic athletes, TikTok stars and the drumlines from Biden and Harris's respective alma maters, University of Delaware and Howard University.

The New Radicals will also reunite for the first time in more than two decades to perform "You Get What You Give." The 1998 hit was both the walk-on song for Harris's husband, Doug Emhoff, on the campaign trail and a favorite of the late Beau Biden; the incoming president said his son used to listen to it after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

The parade starts at 3:15 p.m. and will be televised (though specific channels are not listed in the official schedule), and live-streamed on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Twitch accounts.

- Which celebrities will be on the "Celebrating America" prime-time special?

"Celebrating America" will be hosted by Tom Hanks and also feature introductions from Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria, who, as you may remember, were also a part of the virtual Democratic National Convention. Performers include Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato, John Legend, the Foo Fighters, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Justin Timberlake, Ant Clemons, Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line. Biden and Harris will both speak during the special, which will also honor front-line workers and other heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.

The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and will be on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, PBS and streamed on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Twitch accounts.