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John Legend, Keith Urban perform 'Imagine' at Tokyo opening ceremony

Five artists represented the international nature of the Olympic Games.
Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

John Lennon and Yoko Ono's classic song "Imagine" was performed by a group of international artists during the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The song's first verse was performed at the Olympic Stadium by Tokyo's Suginami Junior Chorus while a replica of the earth, made up of more than 1,800 drones, rotated in the sky overhead. After the children performed, the ceremony pivoted to feature pre-recorded video performances.

Each celebrity represented a different continent: John Legend stood for the Americas, and Keith Urban represented his home country, Australia.

Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz represented Europe, while Afropop star Angélique Kidjo represented Africa.

"Imagine" has been performed at several Olympic opening ceremonies in the past, most recently at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It was also played in the London 2012, Turin 2006 and Atlanta 1996 Games.

"If the Games were a song, 'Imagine' would be the song,'" said TODAY's Savannah Guthrie after the performance had concluded.

Ono wrote on Twitter that the song had been inspired by the beliefs she and Lennon shared.

"IMAGINE. John and I were both artists and we were living together, so we inspired each other," she wrote, along with a photo of herself and Lennon. "The song 'Imagine' embodied what we believed together at the time. John and I met - he comes from the West and I come from the East - and still we are together."

On social media, some joked that a song that invited listeners to "imagine there's no countries" might not be the best choice to begin an event that is all about international competition.

Others drew comparisons to the last time there was a celebrity-studded video performance of "Imagine." Gal Gadot and other celebrities, including Pedro Pascal, Natalie Portman and Will Ferrell, sang the song in March 2020 as a display of unity in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the video was roundly mocked on social media.

Some saw the opening ceremony performance as a redemption for the song after the earlier celebrity rendition.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the song, which was written in 1971. In 1980, Lennon said that he saw the goal of asking people to imagine peace as similar to carrying the Olympic torch.

"We’re not the first to say ‘Imagine no countries’ or ‘Give peace a chance,’ but we’re carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation,” Lennon said in an interview with Rolling Stone, his final interview before he was killed three days later. “And that’s our job.”

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