When considering how to cover New York City’s biggest holiday concert — “Jingle Ball,” sponsored by pop powerhouse radio station Z100, featuring Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, LMFAO, David Guetta, and many more, at Madison Square Garden on December 9 — we could’ve assigned the review to any number of professional critics who would’ve provided plenty of savvy contextualizing and quippy gibes. Instead, we asked an actual New York teenager to observe the teen-pop pageant, and she gave us, well, plenty of savvy contextualizing and quippy gibes. Go figure.
I first learned about Z100’s Jingle Ball three years ago when I was 10 and, finally, this year I got to go. Mostly, I enjoyed it.
Hot Chelle Rae were the first act to perform. A relatively new band, they did a remixed version of their hit “Tonight Tonight,” which got the audience excited and on their feet. It was all right, but nothing special. I think they sound better on the radio than they do live. Foster the People did a weird techno-esque thing with “Pumped Up Kicks,” which completely ruined a great song. At one point, I could hardly tell what they were playing. Demi Lovato performed her hit “Skyscraper,” as well as some other songs from her new album. She’s broken away from the whole Disney Channel thing and is back from rehab and it seems as if she’s trying to “reinvent herself.” However, reinventing herself included strange backup dancers wearing sparkly disco balls on their heads (wanna be Lady Gaga much?). She sounded like a cross between Britney Spears and Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Gym Class Heroes were okay. They performed a few of their older songs, as well as newer hits “Billionaire” and “Stereo Hearts.” Travie McCoy’s rapping was pretty good, but I’m sure that nine out of ten people can’t name any members of the band except for McCoy. LMFAO followed and put on an engaging show — everyone was shuffling the whole time. There were giant inflatable zebras onstage, with fireworks and colored strobe lights. If it had been anyone else, it would’ve been overkill, but since they’re LMFAO, they were able to pull it off.
Kelly Clarkson is definitely making a comeback, but when she sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Demi Lovato, honestly, it was terrible. Their voices just do not work together. It wasn’t boring, it was just bad. Meanwhile, David Guetta did some weird things, remixing a bunch of songs and using all these blinking neon lights. At first it was pretty cool, but it got tired after about three minutes. I was with my 16-year-old sister Maria and we agreed that the special effects were too much and separated the audience from the performer. It was less about the music and more about the flashy explosions.
And what about Pitbull, a.k.a. “Mr. 305,” a.k.a. “Mr. Worldwide”? Well, besides being an obnoxious egomaniac, his music is downright lousy, and he hardly played any of it live. Since he does so many collaborations with other artists, most of whom apparently had better things to do than spend time singing with him at Jingle Ball, the songs were mostly just recorded with Pitbull singing/rapping his parts. It was repetitive and annoying and he was onstage way too long. Too much Pitbull!
Suddenly Karmin [white female rapper Amy Heidemann, best known for her goofy YouTube cover of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”] arrived out of nowhere. She reminded me of Nicki Minaj, and her songs were fun and got people dancing. Then the Script did their set from somewhere deep in the stands. The only way I could see them was by looking at the big screen, which, again, made the concert seem less personal and separated the audience from the performer. Still, the Script are talented and I can see that they’re inspired by U2, especially on their ballads “For the First Time” and “Nothing.”
Finally, the best act of the night: Lady Gaga. When first announced, Gaga wasn’t visible. There was very little onstage, just Christmas trees and a piano. Then she started singing, and all we could see was her blonde head poking out of the trees, singing “Bad Romance.” Then, she kicked over one of the trees — surprisingly, they were real. (Gaga had announced that she wanted real trees because she didn’t have the time to get a Christmas tree for her home.).
She told the story of her mother taking her to Jingle Ball when she was 11 years old and she decided that she wanted to be a singer. She spent a while just skipping around the stage in her skimpy outfit that involved lots of black leather and silver rhinestones, talking about how she was so happy to be back home. There were also streetlights and a motorcycle on the stage, so it looked just like a busy New York City street at Christmas. When she sang the classic “White Christmas,” she decided to add a new verse. Most of the crowd loved it, me included. But some parents with young kids thought Gaga’s sex joke [she compared the song to a “bad orgasm” because it’s too short] and her suggestive dancing were too much, and they headed for the exits.
I was glad I stuck around. If someone else had tried to add a new verse to a Christmas favorite, it would have fallen flat. But Gaga has so much confidence and such a big personality that it came naturally to her. Gaga’s voice was sweet and flowing, but also had a strong, tough quality. It’s the kind of voice that sounds so much better live than it does on the radio, and I’ve found that’s pretty rare for pop singers these days. Afterwards, they showed the first few minutes of Gaga’s new music video for her single “Marry the Night” and she sang the song. She finished with “Born this Way” after talking about the anti-bullying charities she’s supported and her desire to make a difference [the group STOMP Out Bullying received proceeds from the concert]. As she sang, cannons exploded with tons of red confetti. We were basically drowning in it and I spent the rest of the night pulling it out of my hair. I think they went a little over the top with that one, but Gaga always goes over the top. It was by far the best performance of the night and a perfect way to end the show.
I had fun and I’m a little sad that it’s over. I look forward to Jingle Ball 2012 — that is, as long as Pitbull stays in the 305.