Review: Pitbull shows Florida lots of love at Tampa's pop-powered Jingle Ball at Amalie Arena
It was the biggest pop party of 2016, Tampa’s moment to celebrate everything that made radio great over the past 12 months -- and the star attraction was a man embroiled in a million-dollar, bikini-wrapped boondoggle that cost state tourism officials their jobs.
As if this year could end any other way.
Every year gets the Jingle Ball it deserves, and so it was Saturday at Amalie Arena, where the out-of-control tire fire that was 2016 ended with a soiree steeped in unexpected controversy, courtesy of headlining heavyweight Pitbull.
It was the Miami rapper’s first concert since getting sued by Florida’s Speaker of the House over the secret terms of a $1 million contract to promote the tourism agency Visit Florida; then releasing the terms himself, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to call for the resignation of Visit Florida’s CEO.
You can bet iHeartMedia, the corporate overlords who run the 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball, wanted no part of this when they snagged Mr. Worldwide to headline what’s normally a night of fuzzy, fluffy escapism. But good brand ambassador that he is, Pitbull did his dogged best to turn all the bad press into something positive.
“The state of Florida this week tried to talk about me in a way that I would ever want anything bad to happen to the beautiful state of Florida,” Pitbull told the crowd of just under 12,500.
“If I represent Miami, that means I gotta represent everything -- Naples, Fort Myers, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Daytona, Orlando, Jacksonville. And that’s what we’re doing all over the world. So to those folks from Florida, I just want to tell them, that’s all we do, is love the state of Florida.”
He played like it in his typically cranked-to-11 set. Flanked by a gaggle of dancers, Pit flashed his gleaming chompers and barked adrenaline-fueled jams like Fireball, Feel This Moment and Give Me Everything with indefatigable enthusiasm, working each beat like he was thrusting for tips.
“One thing we know how to do in Florida is have a great time, get loose, get off the chain, escape and party,” he said. “That’s what everybody wants from Florida. That’s why since we got involved, tourism went up 800 percent.”
A dig at critics of his contract? Maybe, especially considering he didn't play his #LoveFL-branded single Sexy Beaches. But that was as negative as Pitbull, or anyone else, got at Tampa’s Jingle Ball. No one was there to wax political anyway. Everyone just wanted to dance.
“Every person in the stadium, performing on stage, is just in love with music,” said singer and Girl Meets World actress Sabrina Carpenter, 18, who performed at a free outdoor pre-show Saturday afternoon. “It’s just a room full of people, and there’s just so much love. Especially during the holidays.”
The boundless energy of youth was indeed all over the stage Saturday – and with only eight performers, the fewest of any Jingle Ball in years, fans got a lot more music for their money.
Charismatic rapper Jon Bellion, soulful Danish piano-popsters Lukas Graham and goof-rockers outfit DNCE all delivered sets of admirably combustible funk and disco. DNCE, in particular, lit up the crowd by warming up to their hit Cake By the Ocean with a medley that included the Spice Girls’ Wannabe, Britney Spears’ Oops!…I Did It Again and Kanye West’s Fade, then sending singer Joe Jonas scrambling all the way up to section 114 to dance surrounded fans.
Speaking of dance music: Opening the night was one of the biggest hitmaking acts of 2016, Grammy-nominated DJ duo the Chainsmokers, who came out broin’ with a PG-13 bang (“Make some f---in’ noise!”), streamers, spurts of flame and a string of pop smashes including Closer, Roses and Don’t Let Me Down, on which they were joined by guest singer Daya.
And later, making his Tampa debut, was Dutch EDM wunderkind Martin Garrix, 20, who was recently rated the world’s top DJ. Technical issues gummed up the intro to Garrix’s change-of-pace set, but he rebounded with a set of throbbing house singles like the 8-bitty Oops, the anthemic Name of Love and his signature smash Animals, which sent beat fiends in the house scrambling for their cell phones.
Finally, there was girl-pop quintet Fifth Harmony, who’ve endured an even more tumultuous year than Pitbull -- members quitting mid-show due to anxiety; others quitting social media due to harassment; Lauren Jauregui coming out as bisexual and then, just this week, missing a show after getting cited for pot possession at an airport.
Coming out in matching Tampa Bay Lightning jerseys, the group popped, locked, wiggled and vamped through hits like Worth It, Sledgehammer and Work From Home. Unlike Pitbull, they opted against addressing their lives from the stage, instead mainly shouting out iHeartMedia every chance they got – just as you would expect at such a tightly programmed, tightly branded pop carnival. Everyone came for a night of song and pep, and that's exactly what they got.
“Music breaks down borders, barriers, sees no limits, no matter what you believe in, what your culture may be, where you’re from,” Pitbull said. “It brings everybody together. It’s the true universal language.”
Hard to argue with that. Maybe this was a good way to shut down 2016 after all.
-- Jay Cridlin