Every December, the pop-music gods gift the masses with a holiday concert sent from Top 40 heaven. 93.3 FLZ’s Jingle Ball 2013 — part of the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2013 Tour — made a stop at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Wednesday night, with the year’s biggest hit makers filling out the bill. [Text by Melanie, Photos by Tracy.]
Miley Cyrus — one of pop music’s most polarizing figures with her hugely-successful singles and inescapable antics — headlined the roster, which also included Robin Thicke, Enrique Iglesias, Flo Rida, Austin Mahone, Ariana Grande, Jason Derulo, Fifth Harmony and Travie McCoy.
I witnessed countless tweens and teens getting dropped off outside the venue by parents, or accompanied by adult chaperones. Luckily, Jingle Ball’s date coincided with Christmas break — otherwise, there may have been a considerable dip in mid-week attendance at local middle and high schools.
Girl group Fifth Harmony — made famous on the second season of The X Factor — opened the concert with (surprise) five-part harmonies and synchronized hip shakes. I blinked, and their set was over.
Travie McCoy seems like a more obvious choice for the Vans Warped Tour lineup than the Jingle Ball roster, but he’s veered away from the fusion of alt rock and hip hop he’s known for as a member of Gym Class Heroes in favor of solo pop collaborations with Bruno Mars, Adam Levine and Jason Mraz. His short set included “Billionaire,” “Stereo Hearts” and “Rough Water.” McCoy seems to have committed to a successful formula for creating harmless radio hits.
An on-stage proposal segued into Jason Derulo’s performance of “Marry Me,” and some awkward slow dancing on stage by the newly-engaged couple ensued. Backed by several dancers, Derulo cranked out “Ridin’ Solo,” “Whatchu Say,” “Other Side,” and a short dance breakdown to a medley of R&B hits, courtesy of his mohawked DJ. Derulo brought something to the Jingle Ball stage that was definitely lacking in later performances — energy and passion.
The two most seasoned pop stars on the lineup, Robin Thicke and Enrique Iglesias, delivered unremarkable performances of their most current hits — including Thicke’s monster track, “Blurred Lines,” and Iglesias’s electro-pop radio staple, “Heart Attack.” Vocally, both performers were clean and consistent — yet overall rather forgettable.
Though the heartthrobs' sets both left something to be desired, the overall production of Jingle Ball was consistently impressive. Lag time between sets was almost non-existent, and the sound/lighting values were pretty exceptional.
Flo Rida also injected a much-needed dose of energy and spontaneity into the Ball. Accompanied by a female backup singer, his renditions of “I Cry” and “Wild Ones” were possibly some of the most authentically fun moments of the evening.
It is impossible to watch Austin Mahone without considering the blaringly obvious comparisons to a certain pop superstar. I applaud the A&R person who felt the need to rep a clone of Justin Bieber circa 2009 — not because they've have given the music world anything valuable; but, because they were successful. Mahone’s floppy brown hair and choreography elicited Bieber-caliber screams during his set.
Ariana Grande — who somehow remained standing despite 45 pounds of hair weave — has garnered comparisons herself. Her voice is definitely Mariah-esque, and she was able to fill the Forum with it, belting her hit, “The Way” and a rendition of “Last Christmas.”
With anticipation in the venue reaching a peak, Miley Cyrus was introduced and appeared on stage behind a clip of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Wearing an itsy bitsy Santa Claus leotard and a fuzzy Chanel messenger bag, Cyrus performed her 2009 hit, “Party in the USA.” She was joined on stage by her usual cast of characters in seasonal attire — backup dancers dressed like reindeer, a drunken Santa Claus, and an aptly named burlesque dancer, Amazon Ashley, dressed as a giant Christmas trees.
Jumping right into “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball,” Cyrus seemed to be phoning in her performance. She mentioned before her cover of “Summertime Sadness” that she'd become sick as a result of “making out with everyone backstage.” Possibly an excuse for her lack of energy? A dispassionate run through of her upcoming single “Adore You” followed. Watching her perform, I couldn'y help but wonder if even Miley Cyrus is becoming bored with Miley Cyrus.
The anti-climactic presentation was capped off with boatloads of confetti and inflatable signs promoting the upcoming headlining tour for her new album, Bangerz, which brings her back to the Forum in March. Well played, Miley. Well played.