Review: Jingle Ball 2011 is a perfect pop-music time capsule with Pitbull, David Guetta, Big Time Rush and more
The Jingle Ball format is perfectly suited to today’s iTunes, buy-it-now era – a nonstop playlist of hit after hit after hit, all delivered a la carte, with zero deep cuts in between. All killer, no filler. Life is an iPod, and every day we’re shufflin’.
Such was the case at Sunday’s 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball at at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. If there was a single fan in the building that has, in the past year, sat through entire albums by David Guetta, Big Time Rush and The Script, I’d be surprised. But despite this year’s lack of an obvious A-list headliner, the place was mostly packed, and the crowd spent most of the 4-1/2-hour show on its feet, dancing the evening away, pumping their fists to an endless succession of smashes.
No one at the Jingle Ball better exemplified the state of pop music in 2011 better than Guetta, above, whose signature arena-sized synths are tres en vogue in pop music these days. Introduced as “the No. 1 DJ in the world,” Guetta somehow seemed undersold by the end of his set. The Grammy-nominated French DJ/producer commanded the stage like a despot, transforming the Forum into a booming, pulsing rave – fitting, considering how much electronic music has grown in America in 2011.
“Tampa, are we gonna turn this place into the best club in the world?” Guetta asked. He did his part, bringing out a pair of stilt-walking robots that spewed CO2 and sparks from their shirtsleeves. (You don’t have to ask: Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds.)
Perched atop a monolithic riser lined with throbbing LEDs, Guetta worked his geeky magic on the monitor while a series of disembodied voices (Usher, Nicki Minaj, Ludacris) sang hooks the crowd knew by heart (Without You, Where Them Girls At and Little Bad Girl, respectively).
Even though the entire house was dancing by the end of Guetta’s set, you did kind of wish at least one of those artists had been in the house to sing their part live. That was one thing this year’s Jingle Ball lacked: Live collaborations. Last year, when Bruno Mars and B.o.B. hopped onstage together for Nothin' On You, it was a moment. When Marc Anthony’s head appeared onscreen to sing the hook to Pitbull’s Rain Over Me, it was … proof that video recording technology exists.
But that’s not a knock on Pitbull, who – despite sharing billing on nearly all of his best known hits – still managed to deliver a dynamite headlining set that solidified his reputation as one of the hardest-working men in pop. Backed by a badass five-piece band and DJ, he chrome-domed Cubano was a live wire onstage, barking out verses and sweating like James Brown in Burma, all the while refusing to let the energy in the house die for even a second.
Pitbull’s solo bangers (Hotel Room Service) rocked the house just as hard as his guest verses on other hits (Enrique Iglesias’ I Like It, Jennifer Lopez’s On The Floor). He closed with one of the year’s biggest pop hits, Give Me Everything, yet another smash where the chorus was sung by someone else. But when a stadium full of fans can provide the hook, does anyone really need Ne-Yo?
The lone true rock band on the bill, Irish trio The Script, pulled off one of the ballsier moves of the evening, choosing to open with their biggest hit, Breakeven. Singer Danny O’Donoghue, who signed autographs for fans outside the Forum earlier that afternoon, also delivered one of the night’s few moments of spontaneity, hopping from the stage to the pit to hobnob and sing with fans in the front row. The group came across as humble, hardworking and fun-loving, and in a night filled with pop posing, the crowd loved them for it.
And don’t let those fatcats in Washington tell you America is in a boy-band shortage. The made-for-Nickelodeon pinups known as Big Time Rush drew the biggest screams and squawks of the night, and nearly caused not one but two riots when they passed through the MetroPCS Celebrity Club. Making their Tampa debut, the made-for-TV group proved animated, disciplined and clearly well trained in the art of tween idolatry. There may not be much to their music (for now), but when Big Time Rush takes over the world in 2012, remember we warned you they were coming.
Elsewhere on the bill: Vampy, volatile Demi Lovato drew peals of squeals from the same fans who loved Big Time Rush, though the most notable part of her set may have been the cadre of backup dancers with disco-ball helmets. As the lone R&B artist on the bill, singer/dancer Jason Derulo sort of got lost in the mix, but his poppy single It Girl crossed all kinds of sonic barriers. And he also delivered one of the night’s memorable moments, stripping off his shirt at the suggestion of a 93.3 DJ, then dashing topless through a crowd of fans in the Celebrity Club.
Cobra Starship kicked off the evening with a short set that got the crowd moving early, thanks to the party-starting energy of affable spaz Gabe Saporta. (Extra credit goes to keytarist Victoria Asher, who admirably handled the thankless task of filling in for Leighton Meester and Sabi on co-lead vocals on the group’s two biggest hits, Good Girls Go Bad and You Make Me Feel…)
The one thing every act at this year’s Jingle Ball had in common was airplay. Somehow, a DJ (Guetta), rapper (Pitbull) and rock band (Cobra Starship) all managed to produce singles that occupied similar sonic turf, and all were good enough to get them all noticed by the same radio station.
Albums? Who needs albums? Not when the world keeps delivering singles like this.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photos: Luis Santana, tbt*