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Z100's Jingle Ball 2012 At Madison Square Garden, Friday, December 7th, 2012, Reviewed

More like a  High School cafeteria than the Billboard 200 comes alive, Taylor is dating Harry and Justin has broken up with Taylor's best friend forever, meanwhile Ed, the perennial guy no one sleeps with,  is scurrying between TS and 1D muttering "Don't call me Ginger".  Is this any way to run the US Top 10? I mean, honestly.

Apparently it is. At Madison Square Garden Friday night,Z100, the teen top pop New York radio station, gave tens of thousands of young girls, a clutch of parents and me perhaps their strongest line-up ever. One Direction, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber could have sold out MSG separately no questions asked, and just everybody else could sell out Radio City, put them together and you get a snapshot of popular music.

Or maybe that isn't quite right, more than just a segment of pop but less than a portrait of the finished art form. Both dance, rap and r&b are woefully represented. Atlanta rapper B.o.B. is no substitute for Kanye West, there is no Rihanna equivalent at all, and while Ne-Yo is certainly a modern soul man, he isn't Frank Ocean. Except for fun., rock and roll is non existent and to be perfectly straight, fun. is to rock what Glee is to Broadway.

As for dance, I will forgive them for the absence of a DJ (David Guetta was excellent last year) because, well, House failed to rule the world and dubstep is so 2011. 

Both Olly Murs and Cher Lloyd ably represented 2013 as cusp artists (and reality stars) and Jason Mraz was a revelation.

But was it a good year for Jingle Ball? The first hour was a seamless piece of superstar pop music.  It opened with One Direction's sublime four song set, ended with Taylor Swift's Red Tour taster and in between Olly did nothing but favors for himself. But after that, the evening floundered in a morass of interruptions  with Z-100 reps and commercial breaks which managed to curtail the flow once too often: between the second and third hour there was a commercial break after nearly every performer. And Justin Bieber plus the Wanted in the third hour simply couldn't compare with Taylor Swift plus One Direction in the 1st.

So again, what is the story of pop in 2012? The story is that the heroes of pop 2012 were not actually there. Rami Yacoub and Carl Falk, Dr. Luke. Shellback (between "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"  and "One More Night") was never out of the charts. A Swedish invasion of pop producers worked indiscriminately with the biggest stars of the year. It is reminiscent of the disco era where Giorgio Moroder was a starmaker and there is a reason why this pop moment is so fine. Folks like Shellback are experts at hitting the sweet spot. Swift used them (after essentially handling most duties herself on Speak Now) because while she could and probably did write the lyric and music to "Never Ever" by herself, she couldn't have handled the spoken word portion. She wouldn't have added the counter beat. 

One more thing, since we are talking (about to discuss) youth, Mraz is 35, Ne-Yo is 33, Nate Ruess is 30, and everybody else is much much younger… Pop music has become professional sports, people are over before they hit 40 years of age.

One Direction – Began the night very aptly with "Live While You're Young" and, yes, the rumors are true, they are popular. The smartest thing Z-100 have ever done at Jingle Ball was opening the evening with the biggest boy band since NSYNC. The boys are pretty and professional, blasting through four songs,two off the newbie and ending with "What Makes You Beautiful" and unlike NSYNC, they don't mine r&b and unlike Justin Beiber, they don't mine hip hop for anything much more than lessons in production. There is an easy going liveliness about the boys and the Beatles comparison might well be to do with the good humor they project towards their fans. There was an effortlessness to 1D, it is like discovering your boyfriend is a real good driver, you can relax and program the radio secure and happy to let him take the wheel – Grade: A

Olly Murs – 1D segued seamlessly into fellow UK "The X Factor" contestant Olly. Olly hasn't broken the US yet but as I wrote last week, 2013 will do it. And judging by the singalong to his new single "Troublemaker", it is gonna happen sooner rather than later. In pork pie hat and perpetual smile, Olly does use hip hop the way 1D don't bother with and he is better dancer than anybody except Ne-Yo will be tonight. I bet you he gets half an hour next year – Grade: A

Taylor Swift – In red shorts and red lipstick and in front of a big block of letters spelling out RED, no prizes for guessing what Taylor is pushing, and with a tiny wave from the knuckle of her hand to her palm, it is obvious this isn't your big sisters Taylor Swift. But Taylor is such a consummate pro, she threw in "You Belong With Me" and "Love Story". If this is a dry run for the 2013 tour, the 2013 is going to be best ever. Taylor was better than the 2011 Jingle, maybe she was much better. Her voice is clearer and she can sing the hell out of "State Of Grace", surely one of the best songs of the year. She saves "Everything Has Changed" from mid-album doldrums by bringing out Ed Sheeran who gets a loud loud cheer. And while "Love Story" is rushed and I myself would have dropped "Troublemaker" for "22", "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is everything she could have hoped for. Admittedly, "Love Story" is the girl anthem without compare, still "Never Ever" is undeniable pop moment. I can't wait for a full set  – Grade: A

B.o.B. – Taylor joined B.o.B. for last song "Both Of Us" during the Atlanta rappers continuing, somewhat successful attempts, to break pop. Before than, "Beautiful Girls", "Magic" and "Airplane" all make appearances and the audience are well versed in the songs, though "Airplane" dates for 2010, that is ten in pop music years. The last time I saw B.o.B. on stage he was proving he wasn't ready for prime time, opening for Eminem and Jay-Z at Yankee Stadium. But he is much better now and while he will never be a major rapper, he was very good and very committed – Grade: B+

Fun. – After an enervated performance on SNL, Nate seems alive again, probably energized by a fandom that knew every single word of "Some Nights" and sung it at the top of their voice. Fun. only played three songs but when the other two are "We Are Young" and "Carry On" you really don't need much more. Early this summer fun. blew me away at T5, but by now the band has no surprises left and are in desperate needed of an injection of something or the other. Maybe new songs. fun are playing Radio City in February, hopefully that's the last night of the tour – Grade: B+

Cher Lloyd – I claimed Swedish DJs were the unseen stars last night, but I might be wrong. It might be Simon Cowell, responsible for 1D, Olly Murs and Cher Lloyd who only played "I Want You Back", although she has the hit "Grow Up"  patiently waiting in the wings. Lloyd can actually rap and she has a sunny disposition like a mix of Lily Allen and the Streets. Somebody tweeted "I have a girl crush on Cher." I bet – Grade: A

Ed Sheeran – GINGER!!!! With only two songs in his set, and just an acoustic guitar (and some unseen back up), Ed received a huge response. He must have been overjoyed that he took what he did in Mercury Lounge, moved it to MSG and lost not a damn thing. We got "Legoland" (which he bafflingly claimed, wrongly, he had never performed solo before) and an "The A time" with a lovely extended coda where he used his falsetto to great effect – Grade: A

The Wanted – Now I got it, the Wanted are the Monkees without the TV show or the songs or the Monkees -a pre-fab result of an audition process that shoulda been a reality show. . Better than opening for  Bieber last week, if only because there is less of it, all the ease of 1Ds performance is absent in this irritating busy body set, reaching its nadir when they pull some poor girl out from the audience and sing "Glad You Came" before dumping her mid song. Kinda like what they did to Lindsay Lohan.  What twats – Grade: C-

Jason Mraz – I hate this bloke so much. Or do I mean hated him so much? On the small stage in the middle of the floor with a guitar and a woman singing back up, Jason was superb. Owl City sucked on this stage last year (Susanna Hoffs did better the year before) but Jason is up to the task, playing "I'm Yours" as a perfect singalong before segueing into "Three Birds" and ending the set with "Winter Wonderland". Jason is playing the same venue on Monday, and might be well worth checking out – Grade: A

Ne-Yo – This off Wikipedia: "R.E.D. charted five places higher and sold 46,000 copies less than his last album, Libra Scale." Ne-Yo has possibly the best voice in soul today but he is too busy trying to be Michael Jackson to actually ever do so. Except, he can really dance and like I said, he can really sing.  Starting with Calvin Harris House monster (the first nod to dance all night), "Let's Go", Ne-Yo fell into his epitaph: "It's not about what you've done, it's about what you're doing". Ne-Yo is a sexy presence and a marvelous mover, Justin must be sick as a rabbit when he watches him. And another dance track, Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" had the audience singing at the top of their voice and Ne-Yo worked em good and right. He closed his set with most annoyingly named song on earth "Let Me Love You (Till You Can Love Yourself) – Grade: A-

Justin Bieber – What gives with Justin? Everybody knows the rules, shut up and sing the hits. Justin plays two songs off last years Christmas album with only "Mistletoe" sticking,. That was a part of a never ending acoustic middle. Two songs, "All Around The World" and "Beauty And The Beat on one side, and "Boyfriend" to end. The other two acoustic songs sucked big time. Oh, that remindsme.  Bieber takes off his shirt and in his wifebeater I have just one question, why is everybody claiming he is packing gun arm muscles) . Some chick on stage salivates "Have you seen him lately?" Yes, I have, no, he isn't  packing guns. – Grade: C

So that's it folks, on your bikes. Another Jingle Ball in the history books. See you next year

Jingle Ball: Grade: A-

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