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During Monday’s second night of KIIS-FM’s annual Jingle Ball holiday show, Korean pop star and viral sensation Psy came onstage to perform one song. The singer, who presumably landed the gig thanks to the fact that he shares a manager with the show’s headliner Justin Bieber, gamely ponied to his worldwide smash “Gangnam Style” along with four dancers and a backing track, and then left. Psy, who noted “L.A. was the first place I started promo for ‘Gangnam Style.’ This is really a touching moment right now,” made no pretense at offering any other songs from his arsenal of albums.
Are pop stars so disposable that this is where we are as 2012 comes to a close? We just want to hear the one song, then we want them to go away until the urge for that single comes again?
Maybe, but that’s not to say that the rest of the artists who performed at the double dose of Jingle Ball in Los Angeles, including Bieber, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Flo Rida and Ne-Yo, weren’t given a fair shot to unveil nonsingle cuts. It’s just clear, particularly at a radio show, that we reside in a musical culture that is interested in the hits. On Monday, fun. — one of the few rock acts on the bill — offered an acoustic set featured stripped-down renditions of recent single “Some Nights” and album track “Carry On.” Noting the subdued nature of the crowd, singer Nate Ruess wagged his finger and said, “We’re not going to leave you without a single, all right?” And if there’s any question whether the pop audience has embraced fun.’s ubiquitous “We Are Young,” the crowd answered it with a resounding sing-along.
CONCERT REVIEW: Taylor Swift, Will.i.am, Jonas Brothers and More Perform at KIIS Jingle Ball
The vibe between nights was distinct, the first evening being a more politer and restrained crowd and the second a gaggle of shrieking girls with a specific endgame: Justin Bieber. But even if Bieber was the primary draw on Monday and Swift the motivation for Saturday’s audience, the Nokia Theatre still was largely full both nights when the shows kicked off at 7 p.m. Each evening was an opportunity to see the best of contemporary pop music, to be introduced to artists you might only had heard in passing on the radio (Ellie Goulding, Owl City, OneRepublic). Some artists took better advantage of that opportunity than others.
Up-and-coming DJ and producer Zedd, perhaps best known for his recent collaborations with Lady Gaga, brought Matthew Koma onstage to perform burgeoning single “Spectrum,” while Goulding balanced hits “Lights” and “Anything Could Happen” with the lesser-known “Only You.” Jonas Brothers, who are working on a new album, parlayed the love of their old hits into a chance to perform new tracks “Wedding Bells” and “Let’s Go.”
Even Afrojack, who earned one of biggest responses from the crowd, particularly when he delivered Pitbull to the stage for “Give Me Everything,” debuted new material. “This is the first time I’ve played this song,” the DJ told the crowd. “You’re the first people in the world to hear it.” The track? “As Your Friend,” which features Chris Brown.
VIDEO: Justin Bieber Covers Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”
The show had the momentum of pop radio, featuring the artists consistently playing on a rotating stage and intercutting the sets with actual commercials and appearances by B-list celebrities such as Kylie and Kendall Jenner and the six finalists of The X Factor. KIIS-FM’s DJs, led by Ryan Seacrest, enthusiastically emceed both evenings, quickly realizing that the only thing you need to do to rile up a crowd is mutter “Justin Bieber” into your microphone. Jingle Ball’s presenting sponsor, G by Guess, left foam sticks in each seat, which glowed orange and weirdly gave the effect that the entire audience was trying to land a plane as they waved them along to the music (maybe a different color next year?). Despite a few lags and the unfortunate cancellation of Maroon 5 as the special surprise guest on Saturday night, Jingle Ball — split into two evenings for the first year — was an effective and notably fun way to see a slew of pop artists.
Bieber and Swift, the unofficial headliners of the nights’ festivities, each leaned on one side of the promotional spectrum. Swift, who is only just launching into her campaign for new album Red, offered excited, invigorated performances of old hits like “You Belong With Me” and new singles “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Bieber, on the other hand, is nearly finished promoting his album Believe, and the fatigue was evident as he rushed through “Beauty and a Beat,” “Boyfriend” and “Baby,” reciting scripted banter like: “I see a lot of girls out there. I just want to know how many of you are single? I just wanted to let you know that if I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go.”
STORY: Ke$ha on New Album: ‘I Wanted to Give the Finger to Anybody Who Thought I Was a One-Trick Pony’ (Q&A)
Bieber still got the screams from the crowd, but his performance paled in comparison to the two that preceded him from Ke$ha and Flo Rida. Flo, who bounced around to “Whistle,” “Wild One” and a rendition of “Low” that got even the venue employees dancing, wins for best in show for both nights of Jingle Ball. The rapper-slash-pop star, who brought a cash-throwing hype man with him onstage, fully embraced the spirit of the evening, showcasing the fan favorites in a way that gave them new life. That is, Flo Rida made everyone want to go listen to Flo Rida, which should be the entire point of a radio promo show.
So is it concerning that Psy only showed up on Monday to perform one song? Absolutely. But was it also an epic moment to see him bound around the stage to “Gangnam Style”? Of course. Maybe next year he’ll get to play a whole set — but, of course, that depends entirely on what gets played on the radio.
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