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This was a problem.

Dua Lipa cancelled due to illness and Doja Cat cancelled due to a Covid 19 illness in her entourage and it made a somewhat anemic line up for the 2021 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden on Friday night that much quieter. Since 2009 (the one where Justin Bieber performed on crutches -I know) to last night I’ve made it to MSG’s spectacular except 2020 and no prizes for guessing what happened last year. In the pre-rocknyc era, I went to maybe as many as fifteen of the first twenty shows. So when I say it was anemic what I mean is… well, in 2015, for instance, there was Taylor Swift, One Direction, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber. While, for me, Saweetie and Lil Nas X alone are enough reason to go, they are missing that one A lister to put it through the roof… and then they lost two of the biggest acts and apparently their rolodex is in cobwebs as they failed to replace them. The loss skewered the evening, it was too male centric (and male centric isn’t 2021).

If the lack of the killa dilla is a problem, the final ripping off the vestiges of Jingle Ball the tradition occurred, they got rid of the twitter board where attendees (now as then, mainly teen girls) got to see their name in lights, the vibe was less “wow, I can’t believe we’re here than I have ever seen). Ever since CW signed on to film and present the show on the network they’ve been chipping away at it, streamlining and making it more like everyone else.

None of that mattered. The ten artist line up saw everyone bringing their A game and with a little longer time on stage (Jonas Brothers received HALF AN HOUR) they actually didn’t waste it at all. Tate McRae (awful at Gov Ball in September, here) and especially Dixie D’Amelio were overwhelmed to be performing (“Two years ago I was up there,” she said, pointing directly at me) , AJR and Jonas Brothers were balls of energy. Bazzi? IFLH. Kane Brown was given the shortest set, just two songs. I could have watched Saweetie (MC Hammer’s niece) all night long as she danced up a storm on neo-classics “Tap In” and “Icy Chain”. Ed Sheeran performed a finely judged set with this year’s two hits and two ringers off Divide. And the evening closer, Lil Nas X, a man I’ve been dying to see live since 2019’s 7., the vision of 2021 in a sparkly dress.

It’s impossible to overstate the case for queer icon Lil Nas XXXmas. More than any rapper, he has changed the landscape for gay, black men in the music industry (baby). With a chorus of half naked black male dancers surrounding him, he became the bottom with the most and Gen Z embraced him hard and not because they’re open minded but because his twenty minute set was wall to wall ear candy (Montero is in my top five albums of the year), he blows up on opener “Industry Baby” and follows it with the humongous “Old Town Road,” you’d be excused for expecting evening ender “MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)” to be the one, but one song earlier “Lost In The Citadel” brought the house down.

In some ways it was the first sorta post-pandemic show, only Joe Jonas mentioned it and that was when he stopped the hits filled set (“the best thing about short sets is it forces us to play songs you know” claimed Ed earlier) to tell us it has been two years, get up and dance. A valid point.

This wasn’t like 2014, when Taylor celebrated her 25th birthday on stage, or 2013 when Lady Gaga got dressed as a Christmas Tree, it didn’t feel major (and without two of the headliners, LA was the better lineup, they got em both and BTS), it didn’t feel huge. But it was great anyway. Every single artist was excellent, even Tate (and even without “Rubberband”). It was an easy going Christmas party where no one got drunk and threw up on the boss and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Grade: A

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