Z100 Jingle Ball At Madison Square Garden, Friday, December 8th, 2017, Reviewed
Elvis Duran, the head DJ at the top teen Hot 100 house of pop Z100, called Friday nights Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden the best ever, and while some aspects of it came close, I beg to differ. Friday night opened with Ed Sheeran, closed with Taylor Swift and had the biggest names in pop, Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, half of One Direction, and many more, between them for nearly five hours of the charts come to life. Impressive, right? 2012, which opened with One Direction and closed with Taylor and had Ed Sheeran in the middle, was better. The 2011 had the best Lady Gaga set I have ever seen and Pitbull well on top of his game. In 1994 the discerning audience booed Hole off stage so they could get their hands on Green Day.1999 had Jennifer Lopez first public performance as a pop star, lip-synching her little heart at and the tragic LFO (Rich Cronin would die in 2010 at the age of 36). Among the worst were last year with The Weeknd way over his head, and 2013 with Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke not as iconic as they thought they were.
So, sure, Friday night was good, excellent, but not the greatest. I was at the 2011 Jingle Ball when One Direction were there just to introduce a band and the response was so huge, I knew I was watching a phenomenon in the making. I saw Justin Bieber in 2009 when he performed his set ON CRUTCHES and I thought, now that is star power: he was fifteen years old. Friday had no moments that stick with you like that, nothing close to Taylor celebrating her 25th party on stage in 2014. What Friday’s show did best was maintain a dramatic and consistent, military like precision. There was no waste, no dodginess, it was so precise it was a wonder within itself. Fourteen acts in about five hours. That is 21 minutes per performance… just think of that for a second, because a second is all you have.
The evening ended up being a battle of the sexes: badass women versus sensitive men. For the men, Charlie Puth (Grade: B+), who looks like Peter Parker before the spider bit him, was sensitive and loving, dedicating “See You Again,” to Chris Cornell. Two of One Direction, Niall Horan (Grade: B) and Liam Payne (Grade: B-), both with swift sets, and Liam putting the lie to backstage being one big popstar frat party by admitting he didn’t even know whether Nial and Charlie Puth had played (they had). Ed Sheeran (Grade: B) who has the best album of 2017 under his belt, was a little uninspired during his four song set. Logic (Grade: A-) wasted his “peace, love, and positivity,” fifteen minutes wishing happy birthday to a thirteen year old girl in the front row (like she needs anymore specialness) and yet it worked and his good vibes were one of the best things about the evening. The Chainsmokers (Grade: C+) brought out Halsey and Emily Warren, but were nowhere near as good as this summer’s Forest Hills gig (though better than last year). Fall Out Boy (Grade: C+) were the oldest boys there and not up to much, though the “Uma Thurman” is always fun, Why Don’t We (Grade: C+) are a modern day NSYNC who may or may not break big. The award for best performance by a male goes to Sam Smith (Grade: A-), who I have ragged on all year long but slaughtered “Pray” and “Not The Only One” was a massive, show stopping singalong. I was with my fifteen year old great-niece Juliet Cruz, and she called Smith out as the best performance of the evening.
For the girls, Julia Michaels (Grade: B) updated the audience on who she is, Justin Tranter’s songwriting partner and behind big songs like “Bad Liar,” as well as a newly minted pop star, and closed with the world beating “Issues” -one of the best singles of the year. Camila Cabello (Grade: B+) admitted to splitting her pants backstage (hey, maybe Liam missed out), a year after her last Fifth Harmony performance, she was a solo superstar while pulling up her bustier which kept slipping down. A fine performance highlighted by another best song of the year, “Havana” and some of Kendrick’s “DNA”. Demi Lovato (Grade: A-)(the one artist I bought a tee-shirt of, I already owned the Chainsmokers, Ed Sheeran, and Taylor Swift shirts) sure knows how to take over a stage, with those incredible pipes she blew the roof off. Personal best? “Sorry, Not Sorry” though the one where Cheating Codes joined her was close. My problem with Halsey (Grade: C) is Halsey, I get the genre,, singer songwriter meets EDM, but not the execution. Also, her boyfriend G-Eazy? No. Finally, Taylor Swift (Grade: A-) I reviewed yesterday (here) but let me add that both her singing and dancing have improved vastly and she was the best performer of the night.
OK, so what’s missing? The Weeknd headlined last year so I am certainly not suggesting racism, but Trap was the genre of 2017, why couldn’t they even get one representative? Future would have showed up, he’ll play anything, and he was on “End Game” with Taylor. Beyonce? Drake? Oh yeah, and not one reggaeton track? Luis Fonsi was huge in 2017, “Despacito” at the top of the charts for the longest EVER. SIXTEEN WEEKS!!! Where was he?That isn’t acceptable,that isn’t Z100 playing to its fans, its fans listen to the Top Ten. If they had added Future and Fonsi and taken off Liam Payne and Fall Out Boy (FOB did nothing in 2017), perhaps they’d have the best Jingle Ball ever… till then…