All That I Needed Was Zoo: Idolator Shares Breathing Space With New Kids On The Block (And A Few Lesser Pop Lights)

newkids.jpgSaturday brought the spring/summer edition of Z100′s biannual pop medley concerts, Zootopia, to the Izod Center, an arena formerly named after former New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne and microwaved-cheesesteak-proffering air carrier Continental Airlines. The lineup was a testament to the currently scrubbed-clean nature of “pop music”; on the one side you had your petri dish-created acts designed to appeal to tweens of yesterday and today (Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, New Kids On The Block), while on the other you had your piano-thumping Billy Joel acolytes (OneRepublic, Sara Bareilles, Ferras, Gavin DeGraw). Hip-hop was nowhere to be found, unless the pre-show DJ dropping Kurtis Blow into his mix counts; R & B was a lesser presence, with only Danity Kane bringing the girl-group style (and not bringing it very well).

I suspect that the first question on most Idolator readers’ minds will be “But how were New Kids On The Block??”–and I have to say that their set was something of a disappointment, from song choice (the only retro cut to get a full airing was the Beatles-aping “Tonight”) to the mix (unfortunate) to Joey begging the crowd to request “Summertime” so that Z100 would play it “five times a day” (uh) to the cake that was brought out to celebrate Jordan’s birthday midway through the set (it had what looked like a big thumbprint in it, and its candles were falling over near-dead). If this was Irving Azoff’s attempt to gin up demand for the Kids’ reunion tour, well, it failed. And whoever had the idea to have Donny, Joey, Jordan, Danny, and Jon be joined onstage by five bikini-clad backup dancers should be fired immediately. You’re trying to resell the fantasy to your now-older-than-said-booty-shakers base, guys!

Perhaps to please the New Kids fans in the crowd, the night was heavy on the ’90s signifiers–in addition to the New Kids and the Spawn Of “Achy Breaky” being on the bill, and Katy “I Kissed A Girl And I Liked Getting The Attention” Perry showing up to remind the crowd of her existence, one of the sponsors was Do Something, the Andrew Shue-founded youth action group that had a few PSAs running in between sets. (Shue, alas, was nowhere to be found in the video packages, although Jordin Sparks was.) You may not be surprised to know that every time the Jonas Brothers appeared onscreen, I was reaching for my earplugs again.

Speaking of the JBs, they played a tight little set that was something of an improvement of what I saw during their Jingle Ball appearance in December–not only could I actually hear the music through the discrete screeches of young ladies thanks to my relocating to a conveniently located breezeway midway through their set, the band sounded pretty tight, and Kevin Jonas’ stage-presence quotient has gone through the roof, with his white pants and purple sweater making me wonder if he’s started taking notes on Gabe Saporta’s crowd-working strategies. (This is probably a good place to note that the arena runners were even expecting a turnout that was so lady-heavy they gave over entire mens’ rooms to women, a transformation that led to me witnessing five or six 12-year-olds coming face to drain with urinals for the first time in their lives.)

In an effort to appeal to those pop fans who had just graduated from tweenpop world, Z100 also booked a lot of piano-playing troubadours, the types of singers who seemed to come directly out of the Billy Joel-blaring drama-club rooms of America’s suburban high schools. Gavin DeGraw’s songs had the most oomph out of all of them, but he was hamstrung by sound problems; Sara Bareilles got the one-song-only treatment, even though she has a new video where she smirks at the camera and everything. Out of all of them, though, I felt worst for Ferras, who some of you may know as the guy who sang the American Idol see-ya song for the first few weeks of this season; at the end of his one-song set, he tried to remind the audience of his MySpace username, which had the unfortunate quality of being eleven characters long and very misspellable (Ferras or Feras? Or is he named Ferrous, you know, like iron?)

So straight-laced was the night that when Flyleaf was brought out for its “grin and introduce it” appearance, the one guy with Alice Cooper eyeliner and a top hat looked kind of menacing, where usually he’d look mostly ridiculous. Although I guess the “ridiculous” aspect of that appearance was taken care of by the DJ seriously introducing his band as one of the best rock bands in the world.

Z100′s Zootopia 2008 [Official site]
[Photo: Getty]

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  • Chris Molanphy

    I wonder if the Z-folks have done demographic studies that show a particularly high quotient of white girls going to these things. I mean, Z100, the radio station, has a solid listenership of mixed-race and especially Latina teens, and past Zootopias/Jingle Balls have had a better mix of genres.

    The whiteness of this lineup just puzzles me. Unless they’re actively trying to reposition themselves toward a whiter-bread demo a la their short-lived alt-pop swing in the mid-’90s.

  • ObtuseIntolerant

    That was JOE Jonas in the purple sweater and white pants.

  • Maura Johnston

    @ObtuseIntolerant: I knew I should have asked someone instead of relying on AP’s photo captions.

  • ObtuseIntolerant
  • Anonymous

    i agree, no dancing girls on the nkotb set. they’re too young, they don’t fit the set, and as a current soccer mom w/ a bleeding nkotb heart, we don’t want them there(!)