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I Heart Radio And Z-100's Jingle Ball 2014 At Madison Square Garden, December 12th, 2014, Reviewed

Jingle Ball 2014

Jingle Ball 2014

If Jingle Ball 2012 was the ultimate Christmas spectacular (read here) with Taylor Swift and One Direction augmented by Justin Bieber, the Wanted and more, 2013 (read here)was the must to avoid featuring Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus replaying the VMA awards with overlong sets, then 2014 was the point of diminishing returns, a fast paced, 15 set mad dash to the top of the charts. Too mad, too dash, it left you hungry for an actual performance.

Taylor Swift (read here) got 23 minutes, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams, Sam Smith, One Republic, Maroon 5, and 5 Seconds Of Summer got 15 minutes, and so far so OK,Iggy Azalea was mixing and matching, with Rita joining her on “Black Widow” but DJ Calvin Harris only got ten minutes, Rixton got a song, Shawn Mendes got two songs, Rita Ora got a song, Nick Jonas got a song, a goodie, though he did get to promote his 2015 tour with Iggy, Charli XCX got two songs, Jessie J did some mix and matching. Did we really need this much chopping and changing? And while I’ll agree with you when you say Charli and Rita were there to sing their featured spots on others songs, we needed less. Taylor needed 40 minutes (the same amount of time Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, indeed Taylor herself,  were given in the final slot at previous Jingle Balls) or at least long enough to add “Love Story”, removed from the setlist to make way for “Welcome To New York”. As for Meghan Trainor? Trainor has spent the previous three months in either the # 1 or # 2 spots on the Billboard 200 and we got two songs, forced into a medley,  for less than five minute. I bet we get a lot more than that next year. Plus, what’s with Taylor sending her a lousy text instead of dropping by backstage after Meghan said how excited she was to finally meet her?

Put it all together and it was like Jingle Ball mistook a concert for a radio show, live shows need a little time to gell and these performances didn’t get it right. I’ve seen most of these performers in full concert and we didn’t get what we get. Particularly Iggy who needs a little while to find her feet. The relentless parade of pop stars was like a pleasure overload and while I’m all about the bass myself, and who doesn’t love pleasure overload?, it didn’t work as well as it should have. It was all dessert.

How about some awards:

Most improved – Ariana Grande – She was already a pocket sized Mariah Carey last year, but this year her singing was better or maybe the material was better, though why she didn’t bring Iggy out for “Problem” I have no idea.Plus she was the only person who remembered the season.

Makes You Appreciate One Direction More Than Ever – 5 Seconds Of Summer had a lot to prove and failed to do so with fifteen minutes of full scale posturing. 1D in the exact same position in 2012 blew the house down.

What a Drag It Is Getting Old – Pharrell and Gwen -Not only did Pharrell open his set with “Blurred Lines” but he brought out Gwen for the awful “Spark A Fire” before performing “Get Lucky” and ending it with “Happy” . How March 2014 can you get?

Best Vocals: Sam Smith sounded immaculate, caressed every note and the teen girls ate it up… just a pity he hasn’t mastered stage presence yet.

This Year’s Ed Sheeran – With his opening slot on the Taylor Swift tour and a smart and charming two song acoustic performance, Shawn Mendes is getting ready for his close up.

Best Set – Taylor Swift’s birthday bash

Worst Set: The entire Charli to Jesse J to Iggy  featured artists didn’t quite work for me. Worse is relative, “Bang Bang” was the second best song of evening, but one song sets aren’t sets, they aren’t even mini sets.

Most Surprising: My loathing of Onerepublic is well documented but I was pleasantly taken by Ryan’s star turn here.

Making The Most Of His One Song: Nick Jonas, who brought out a Gospel choir for a soulful “Jealous”

Missing In Action: Where the hell was Nicki Minaj?

Best Song: “Shake It Off”

Second Best Song: “Bang Bang”

Third Best Song: “Breaking Up”

Longest Night: It drifted by the four mark, and into Taylor’s 25th birthday with no let down in energy.

If this is the state of the singles chart in 2014, and the only thing missing was Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go”, then the state is very healthy indeed. For pop music, and for both form and content, , 2014 may be seen as one of the best years ever. This is far from sterile beats and schtick, however much it may feel that way. Max Martin might work with both Ariana and Taylor, but Taylor is playing pop country (even as she denies it) and Ariana is a pop soul singer. Iggy is a real time rapper, Sam a cabaret act for the 21st Century and Maroon 5 and One Republic an alternative future of rock and roll.

We got to see the charts live last night, and a lot of it, but what we didn’t get was a cohesive concert for the most part. The power of Taylor Swift’s set was it was a musical concept maintained for 20 minutes, the problem was nobody else could do that in such a short time frame.

The idea of live radio is an old one, as Mike Holcomb noted to me the line up read like an old Alan Freed Show, and  as Helen Bach noted, the audience, teenage girls, must have loved it, so I realize my caveats might sound strange. Still, while it was a very good show, it was a little dissatisfying. They’ve done better with less.  It was like radio but since the medium wasn’t radio and since they pushed the concept of a live radio show well past the point of no return, it didn’t happen the way it should have.

Grade: B+

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