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“Are you ready?”
That was the greeting offered by nearly all 14 artists who performed at Southern California’s annual Wango Tango festival — brought to you by the good folks at 102.7 KIIS FM, Los Angeles’ top-rated pop station and Ryan Seacrest’s second home. It was also the unofficial motto of the day, which saw a vast range of artists from Fall Out Boy to Bruno Mars to Afrojack take the rotating stage in the outdoor Home Depot Center arena, because, as it turns out, radio audiences are nearly always ready for something.
As the heat bore down on the sold out crowd Saturday afternoon, the event’s guest host Britney Spears welcomed one and all by appearing onstage and yelping — wait for it — “Are you guys ready to party?” Spears, who likely then was shuttled back to her car service to go home, acted as the introduction to Bruno Mars, the first artist to offer an abridged set of mainly radio singles.
Mars, whose amiable band chorography was difficult to see in the blaring afternoon sun, rolled through “Locked Out of Heaven,” “Just The Way You Are” and a condensed cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Billionaire.” The singer drew the greatest applause for recent hit “When I Was Your Man,” of which he noted, “This next song I’m about to sing I’ve never sung in broad daylight before.”
Subsequent sets, which seemed presented with little rhyme or reason to their order, were primarily terse showcases for pop singles. Avril Lavigne performed five songs, opening with her latest single, “Here’s To Never Growing Up,” and closing with “Sk8r Boi,” while notably popular Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande bounded onstage for just two numbers — single “The Way” and a rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Believe In You And Me.”
Krewella and Emeli Sande, the artists who followed Grande, performed laudable sets but received applause mostly for “Alive” and “Next To Me,” their respective singles. One of the afternoon’s best performances came by way of Jason Derulo, who was introduced by his America Idol girlfriend Jordin Sparks. “He’s my lover and my best friend,” Sparks told the screaming crowd. “He’s been waiting all year for this and I know you have too.”
The rapper, who broke his neck early last year during tour rehearsal, was clearly happy to be back onstage, where he was backed by a slew of dancers. “I’m coming off a very very crazy experience,” Derulo said between songs, which included “Don’t Wanna Go Home” and “The Other Side.” He added, “This is my intro back to the world, about a year and a half later, and I’m so grateful to be here.”
Icona Pop, who have garnered significant attention for their dance pop single “I Love It,” were Wango Tango’s flattest moment, the duo failing to embrace the stadium aesthetic during their three songs. As they repeatedly shouted “Are you ready?” the pair tried to balance DJing and running around the stage to sing, but never quite found an appropriate balance, inevitably revealing that not all acts with a hit radio number are ready to play an arena to support it.
Miguel, who followed despite a delay caused by technical difficulties, recaptured the crowd’s attention, mainly performing in support of last year’s album Kaleidoscope Dreams. Despite rumors of a Mariah Carey appearance (Miguel appears on her new single “#Beautiful”), the climax of the set was Miguel’s compelling single “Adorn,” before which he raised a hand to the crowd and said, “Cheers to health, wealth and prosperity. And to never ever ever stop being passionate.”
The artists that best embraced the extensive stadium atmosphere of the day were Afrojack, Fall Out Boy and Demi Lovato, who offered perhaps the most entertaining sets of the day. From Afrojack’s buoyant DJ turn, which compelled hundreds of fans to raise orange glow sticks (one was left on each seat), to Fall Out Boy’s surging renditions of “Dance Dance” and “Sugar We’re Going Down,” it was clear that crowd at Wango Tango was ready … to dance. “We designed this song to be played in stadiums like this,” FOB’s Pete Wentz told the amped up audience as they closed with current hit “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark.”
For Lovato, whose new album Demi comes out Tuesday, Wango Tango was an opportunity to perform two new songs, “Heart Attack” and “Made In The U.S.A.” It was also a chance to remind fans, and there were many in the Home Depot Center, how sincere and skillful her performances can be, a fact that was particular apparent as she sang “Skyscraper.” Radio audiences, it seems, want music to do two basic things — make them dance and make them cry. Although there was notably more of the former throughout the evening yesterday, Lovato’s set juxtaposed perfectly with Fall Out Boy’s and the succeeding set from will.i.am, reminding fans that while a dance beat is great, there’s always room for genuine emotion in a good pop song.
will.i.am, who primarily DJed his own material as well as some inexplicable remixes of Blur and Nirvana, was an audience favorite, second only to Maroon 5. The Black Eyed Peas frontman, who shouted directives like, “Everybody in the house, let’s go crazy on this drum!” and “Where all my crazy people at?” (as well as the requisite “Are you ready?”), didn’t even actually have to perform his music. The audience went wild for the equivalent of listening to “Scream and Shout” on their car radio (if there’s ever been a booking fail, it was not paying Spears to stay until the end of Wango Tango and appear to sing on the single in real life).
Maroon 5, whose audience has clearly surged alongside the popularity of The Voice, ran through hits like “Payphone,” “This Love,” “Daylight” and “Moves Like Jagger.” Adam Levine competently led the band through their songs and not much new or exciting happened except that the videographer in charge of the giant LED screens figured out how to make it look like there were three of Levine in one shot.
Six hours and 13 artists in, the audience was clearly burning out, as evidenced by the mass exodus during Flo Rida’s set. To his credit, the rapper (pictured below) kept the rest of the crowd in place by opening with “Right Round” and was a better choice to close Wango Tango, if only because his songs really do answer that initially query: “Are you ready to party?” Flo received the loudest cheers for “Good Feeling” and didn’t stay onstage long, recapturing the fading audience for a fleeting few songs.
Wango Tango kicked off back in 1998 as a celebration of pop radio, and that idea was in full effect on Saturday. Although there were some lags (and 14 artists is an awful lot of music to sit through in such a short span of time), the festival allowed the acts who currently hold the top of the Hot 100 chart to showcase their songs live for better or worse. It’s hard to pick a winner, although it’s fair to say that most would have been stoked for several more hours’ worth of Afrojack. If anything, those who came out on top were the fans, who helped drive these songs up the radio charts with such fervor. Whether those choices reflect the best of pop music is for the people to decide for themselves.
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Jamie Lee Curtis
Monday Night Football