TAMPA — Puberty can be a buzzkill for a teen pop star, but give Justin Bieber credit for manhandling his budding testosterone and thus far averting dreaded dorkdom. For all you naysayers who had the Canadian idol in the "one-hit-wonder" pool, there were 13,886 Beliebers at a sold-out Tampa Bay Times Forum on Sunday who think you're totally out of touch.
Eighteen-year-old Biebs was the headliner at 93.3 FLZ's Jingle Ball, a four-hour-plus smorgasbord of what's-hot-now that also featured L.A. bad girl Ke$ha, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, Ohio postpunkers Walk the Moon and more. (Gangnam Style's Psy was supposed to be here, but was beckoned to the White House. He did bust out the horsey dance during a quick visit to University Mall on Saturday, video from which was played at the Ball.)
I'll provide your dreamy JB fix in just a sec, but first this: The radio holiday grab-bag is a tradition that dates back decades. It gives quick hits of current pop culture, and nods to trends. This one was fast-moving, smartly produced. It was also really flippin' loud; when it comes to devastating your hearing, AC/DC has nothing on the 14-year-old girls of Tampa Bay.
Here are a few highlights: Red-headed British scamp Sheeran is an indie busker type who has nevertheless become a heartthrob by penning cuts for boy band One Direction and recording a duet with Taylor Swift. His only hit is The A Team, a folky rumination on addiction, but equipped with just a guitar and effects pedals, he also made a Dylanesque racket on You Need Me, I Don't Need You.
Sheeran was followed rather jarringly by EDM (electronic dance music, yo) artist Zedd and his rave-up antics. Then came the Ryan Tedder-led OneRepublic, which delivered a streamlined set of anthemic touchy-feely sing-alongs: Secrets, Good Life and Apologize.
A parent's nightmare but a misfit's hero, 25-year-old Ke$ha arrived onstage for her six-song set held aloft by creepy dancers. She wasn't wearing much, sort of a Mother Earth-meets-Madonna getup. But she's more than writhing sex appeal (although she certainly excels at that). She wailed on a guitar for opener We R Who We R, then launched into Blow, which proved that she has a screechy voice but the innate gift to ignite an audience. Tik Tok and Die Young were hedonistically, irresponsibly fun. The world needs rock stars, and she's good at it.
And then, finally, the Biebs. He's a pretty big act to be doing a radio-show bill, but this was an easy paycheck, as he (and his dancers, singers, full band, confetti specialists, fireworks igniters) opened a 10-song, 40-minute set with All Around the World. With hair high and white sneakers blinding, he kicked into current, if totally forgettable, hit Beauty and a Beat.
Now, it would be unwise to start this review by admonishing non-Beliebers, and then question the kid's durability. So I won't — for the most part. But the Biebs proved he can sing soft acoustic ballads (Be Alright, Fall), and he was even cool enough to be the only Jingle Ball act to actually do holiday songs, including Christmas Love and Mistletoe.
That said, the more overproduced a song is (As Long as You Love Me), the more he gets lost. That could be a problem, as the crowd was far less into his clubbier stuff as they were for the funky Boyfriend and the show-closing Baby, the ridiculously catchy hit that made him.
But hey, right now Bieber Fever is impenetrable — especially when Christmas came early for Tampa Bay and the pop star doffed his tank top. Puberty still has a little work to do, but from the ear-bleeding reaction of the crowd, they'll be more than happy to stick around to watch him grow up.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.