The KIIS Jingle Ball rolled into Los Angeles last night (December 6) and the who’s who of the pop world turned up to entertain the sold-out crowd at Staples Center. It’s a genius format. Each act performs between two and six songs, so the emphasis is on big hits and grand gestures. Think 11 encores in a row from an oddball mix of superstars.
While the event flowed smoothly and delivered no shortage of highlights, it also had a couple of dramatic moments due to audio issues and a very public meltdown from one diva having an awful day at the office. The thing is — those blips just upped the entertainment level. In addition to great music, fans also had something to talk about between performers. But more about that later.
An out of place Travie McCoy kicked off Jingle Ball 2013 with a bunch of relatively stale hits, while an unexpected cameo from Neon Hitch just left people confused. Next up was Danish indie-pop band New Politics, who impressed with an electric live set built around breakthrough hit “Harlem”.
The first chart force to appear was Jason Derulo. He channeled vintage Janet Jackson with his (rarely used) headset and vigorous choreography — putting the focus on performance instead of vocals, which is perfectly understandable given the nature of the event. The audience lapped up his occasionally shirtless dancing and current hit “Marry Me” had everyone singing along.
Fifth Harmony then belted out a couple of songs before the party really got started with two veteran crooners. Enrique Iglesias stuck to his recent output (as opposed to signature hits) but it didn’t matter a bit. He climbed up amps, jumped into the crowd and even made one lady’s life by serenading her. Next up was Robin Thicke, fresh from the Grammy nominations ceremony.
Obviously in high spirits after his trio of nods, the blue-eyed soul singer urged the crowd to follow their dreams, because they will come true — eventually. He only performed two songs but made them count. “Give It 2 U” was a sexy, slinky triumph, while “Blurred Lines” probably got the warmest reception of the night. Robin dragged out T.I. (much to the crowd’s delight) and finished the smash hit on top of his piano. It was a awesome demonstration of showmanship that promises great things from his headline tour in 2014.
After a streak of brilliance, it was almost inevitable that something would eventually go wrong. I just didn’t expect it to happen to Selena Gomez, who impressed greatly at the same venue less than a month ago with her flashy Stars Dance tour. The usually perky diva was out of sorts from the moment she hit stage, playing with her headset while performing an unlikely trio of non-singles (“Birthday”, “BEAT” and “Undercover”).
The 21-year-old looked increasingly distressed and stopped dancing at one point to try to fix the issue. The lights then went down but her mic was still live and everyone heard her loudly exclaim “what the fuck!” She then gathered herself enough to address the crowd, saying “there are much cooler people than me performing tonight” but asked for the crowd to support her through two more songs. It was a touching moment and she got a loud round of applause.
But her microphone issues were not resolved and she half-heartedly mimed her way through “Come & Get It” before rushing off stage without performing “Slow Down” or saying good night. Selena’s mini-meltdown swiftly became the main topic of conversation, which seems a little melodramatic. Other acts performing choreography (Jason Derulo and Austin Mahone, for starters) sang over a tape and the vast majority of performers swore a lot more than her. If anything her stumble was humanizing. Nobody can be perfect all the time.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis got the evening back on track with an energetic, hit-filled set. They celebrated their swag of Grammy nods with special guests Mary Lambert and Ray Dalton, bringing everyone to their feet with “Same Love” and “Can’t Hold Us”. After that blistering set, Austin Mahone seemed a little out of place with his minor hits and stiff choreography.
That left two budding superstars to close Jingle Ball. Many expected Ariana Grande to steal the show with her powerful pipes but she strutted on stage in one of her trademark quinceañera dresses and belted out “Right There” — without her microphone being on. Fans stared at her blankly until she got the message and rushed off stage for help. The 20-year-old came back with a new mic and quipped “at least now you know I’m not tracking”, a comment that was construed by many as a dig at Selena Gomez.
Ariana then performed a surprisingly pitchy rendition of “Last Christmas” before belting out acoustic versions of “Honeymoon Avenue” and breakthrough hit “The Way”, which sounded much better. The pint-sized diva can sing but she lacks charisma — a fact that was highlighted by Miley Cyrus‘ personality-filled display.
The Bangerz era has been a hard pill for some long-time fans (myself included) to swallow but it makes much more sense live. The hyper-sexualized imagery, which disturbed in photos and videos seems playful and cartoonish in person. Take her outfit last night. Miley hit the stage wearing a sequined Christmas thong and fluffy Chanel handbag accompanied by a dancing tree, a drunk Santa and a silver bodysuit-clad little person. It’s impossibly not to be swept away by her kooky aesthetic, particularly when she has the talent to back it up.
“Party In The USA” sounded brilliant and Miley camped it up with her kooky entourage. Next was “We Can’t Stop”, which benefitted greatly from the live arrangement. Album track “Get It Right” was an odd choice, while the 21-year-old momentarily lost the crowd with an unnecessary cover of Lana Del Rey‘s “Summertime Sadness”.
But she more than made up for those missteps with gorgeous new single “Adore You” and career-best song “Wrecking Ball”, which she sang beautifully as tears filled her eyes. It was a terrific display of talent, creativity and personality. Traits that her female competitors couldn’t bring to the table last night for one reason or another. Bring on the Bangerz tour!