TAMPA — Could it be that the current pop landscape isn't a desolate wasteland? After all, if the sold-out 93.3 FLZ Jingle Ball at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday was a representation of what's hot on the charts, then today's hitmakers are inventive, energetic and genuine.
Except for Maroon 5. Those dudes make me want to pour acid in my ears.
But hey, positivity first, boys and girls! The radio-sponsored bash is usually an annual parade of style over substance, myriad disposable one-hitters more intent on making lucrative appearances than delivering decent music.
This one was different, though. There was still too much time between sets; the jack-up-the-crowd schtick was already tired before the second act, Mike "Cooler Than Me" Posner, showed up. But such is the sacrifice when artists proudly demand their own gear instead of singing over recorded tracks. Plus the 8,093 Santa-capped kiddos in the crowd didn't mind shaking it to the pumped-in party beats.
You know it's a strong lineup when the third act is Bruno Mars, the most influential, and promising, singer-songwriter-producer of 2010. Nominated for seven Grammys, the 25-year-old Hawaiian native played both the drums and guitar on an opening cover of Barrett Strong's 1959 classic Money (That's What I Want), which cleverly mashed into Travie McCoy's faux-reggae romp Billionaire, which Mars co-wrote.
With a five-piece crew behind him, the exceptional talent ended with Just the Way You Are, which retained a simple grace even with a booming beat.
Led by singer Pat Monahan, San Francisco roots-rockers Train scored a comeback hit this year with Hey, Soul Sister." And that ubiquitous, Mr. Mister-referencing strummer made for a chummy singalong. But the resilient '90s holdovers have a deep songbook and dusted off Shake Up Christmas and Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me), the latter inspiring an onstage marriage proposal.
Atlanta rapper-singer B.o.B. didn't have a band, just a DJ, but the multi-hyphenated talent — part Kanye West, part OutKast — filled up the stage fine, opening with Don't Let Me Fall. (Vulnerability is in short supply in the rap game.) He also unveiled the delirious Magic, the hook for which was recorded by Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, who wasn't there. But Bruno Mars was, of course, and he provided his part on No. 1 hit Nothin' on You. Awesome. Loved it.
Enrique Iglesias is a handsome son of a Julio, but his sprawling band of percussionists promised an organic set that never materialized. Instead, Tonight (I'm Lovin' You) and I Like It were club-sterile. That said, his serenading of a fan during Hero was absolutely adorable.
Finally, there was Maroon 5, the L.A. neo-disco stiffs who were, admittedly, beloved by the locals. Maybe I'm just jealous that lead singer Adam Levine dates supermodels despite possessing the panache of the seafood-counter guy at Publix? Bah! Moving on! It was a refreshingly jolly Jingle Ball, not to mention a hopeful night for the pop universe.