So, Friday night was the 2008 installment of Z100′s end-of-year-fest known as the Jingle Ball, and while this year’s lineup didn’t have any guaranteed swoon objects like last year’s Jonas Brothers fest, the lineup was nowhere near the crapfest that was Zootopia. Kanye West and Ne-Yo and Rihanna (and even Leona Lewis and David Archuleta, to a lesser extent) made me realize that while the ever-shrinking beast that is “pop music” certainly has its problems in 2008, its high points can still bring smiles to faces and twitchiness to butts.
Let’s start with the best: Ne-Yo. Yes, yes, I am in the tank for him. But his set—nestled in between Katy Perry and Jesse McCartney, and too abbreviated (by which I mean it didn’t last all night)—was all showmanship, with him clad in a form-fitting suit and channeling Morris Day and Joe Tex while pummeling through tracks from Year Of The Gentleman and a few older radio hits. (“So Sick” had everyone singing along.) The audience, which was mostly made up of teenage girls and their parents/older siblings (I sat next to a semi-aggrieved 20-year-old from Long Island who was chaperoning his 13-year-old sister and her friends; meanwhile, my companion and I were some of the oldest women in attendance who weren’t mothers), was happy to see him at first, but by the time he did his show-closing cane-twirling routine (!!) they were in full-on freak-out mode. It almost made me feel bad for McCartney, whose oversized suit was about as ill-fitting has his set; he’d received the loudest cheers from the crowd when his face came up on the Jumbotrons, but the response to his actual performance was lackluster.
Because my friend and I arrived 25 minutes late, we missed the first three acts on the bill. (These shows are run with military precision, although I guess Z100 does employ a traffic coordinator, so it knows about the importance of tight scheduling.) We arrived just in time for Leona Lewis, whose capable set was marred by its consistent tempo, which could best be described as “mid.” Give that woman some beats! Katy Perry was next, and while my companion was horrified at her inability to run, sing, and breathe at the same time, well… at least she looked sort of cute in that sparkly red dress, which she referred to as her “Slutty Claus” outfit. She sure does like to get boys’ attention!
Kanye West’s set was 80/20 old/new, and the new songs did seem to bum out a lot of the kids in the crowd, but I relished his performance—and loved that he just ended, without fanfare or saying good night. It was a marked contrast to Ne-Yo, but then again, Ne-Yo’s performance was much more about bringing the audience in, while Kanye, who sang on a few non-808 songs (including “American Boy”!) was seemingly trying to keep people out.
The final two acts of the night were both pitched directly toward the swooning girls; David Archuleta played four tracks, including a sprightly cover of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” while Chris Brown presided over a set that threatened to turn into America’s Best Dance Crew 3 way too often for people to stay interested. Only when Rihanna came out did the stage become electrified, thanks to the undeniable sexual chemistry between her and Brown (the crowd went into hyperdrive when Brown put his hand on Rihanna’s midriff) and the unquenchable pop quality held by both her and the songs she performed, “Umbrella” and “Live Your Life.” In a week where Brown was crowned the No. 1 pop star, it was his rumored paramour who almost stole his set out from under him.
Jingle Ball 2008 [Z100]