The annual Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden is the food court of music. The biggest radio station in the country, owned by IHeartMusic (formerly Clear Channel) brings the biggest pop stars in for a four juke box that is unlike anything else in music. God bless Z100’s intrepid leader, Elvis Duran, looking suave and slimmed down, host of “The Z Morning Zoo.” He must wear ear plugs all the time.
And so it was last night as the teen scream level was off the charts, but the acts were on ’em: everyone from a lip synching Justin Bieber (who also looked, sorry, like he was unsure exactly of what was happening) to future icon Ariana Grande, from the hit n run Chainsmokers (they look and sound more like the Gum Chewers) to the effervescent Joe Jonas and DNCE (I have a sweet spot for “Cake by the Ocean”).
The good news first: young Charlie Puth, who I think tours in his sleep, plays the piano with flourishes and has actual songs. He’s the respite for the adults in the audience. He’s sort of the straight Barry Manilow for this generation. He’s very clean cut so I think he’s trying to look messy on stage. Puth already has a medley of hits to look back on after about three years in the business. Kudos to him. But Charlie, go home. Take a nap.
Ariana Grande’s voice gets better and better as her songs get worse and worse. She just should sing Charlie Puth’s songs. Otherwise, she’s shrieking and conducting an exercise class. I did like her giant ear muffs covering her in-ear sound systems.
The Jingle Ball takes four hours. Yes, four hours. The first three are pretty much a warm up act of one hit wonders and miscellaneous acts. Lost in this group was Ellie Goulding, who belongs in the star pack of the final hour. Like Puth, she’s actual artist with songs. And a voice. Ellie, talk to your manager.
That warm up pack– they attempted to perform “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and it was a train wreck. Ryan Seacrest’s East Coat avatar announced that “for the first ever” he’d gotten all the night’s stars to sing together and record this thing. Well, everyone but Bieber and Grande. Now, we all know this holiday ditty from the Crystals and from Bruce Springsteen versions. This one should be erased.
And so the evening builds toward Bieber, the star attraction. Formerly the shower of much skin on stage, Bieber is now covered from head to toe– swathed in white pants and t shirt, topped by a bright yellow hoodie, wearing black leggings. What is going on now? On top of that, he lip synchs like crazy. His songs are playing and he’s not making an effort to sing along. Sometimes he jumps in on a live mic, so you know he can sing. But he’s mostly doing karoake. The scream teens don’t notice, or don’t care. One girl said to me, “Oh yeah, that’s what he does.”
Bieber is no longer dancing. He has dancers, so why bother? He kind of lopes along while they dance. Last night he seemed heavy footed and not quite awake. He was watching the dancers to see where he might jump in. Good lord.
And still he’s a money machine. And the songs are more mechanized, and slicker than ever. “Sorry” seems to be the hardest word.
And yet the Jingle Ball is a celebration. Be there or be square. Even I, at this advanced age, dip into Z100 once a day just to see what’s going on. I suppose it’s no different from my halcyon WABC in its way, and every once in a while you find a gem (“Cake by the Ocean”) that makes it all right.]
PS Not a single black act– no R&B. Last year The Weeknd was on the show. But this was a white night. Drake, Rihanna, J Cole, Rae Sremmund– they’re all over the pop charts and Z100. No one was available?
photo c2016 Showbiz411 by Charlotte Friedman