Swizz Beatz Rocks DJ Set at NYC Blowout on MJ's 54th Birthday
Some of R&B's biggest stars paid tribute to the King of Pop on Wednesday night. At Billboard and Pepsi's latest Summer Beats concert, Ne-Yo, Melanie Fiona, Swizz Beatz and DJ Cassidy performed at New York's Gotham Hall, celebrating what would have been Michael Jackson's 54th birthday.
Pepsi & Billboard Summer Beats
The event continued Pepsi's year-long homage to Jackson's 1987 album "Bad," which turned 25 this year and will see an anniversary reissue on Sept. 18. The hit album, the follow-up to the iconic "Thriller," spent 38 weeks in the Billboard top 10 upon its release.
After an introduction from Quddus, Canadian R&B diva Melanie Fiona stormed onto the stage, tackling "The MF Life" track "Watch Me Work" and the retro-inspired "Give It To Me Right" with a pair of back-up singers.
"How many bad M-Fers I got in this house tonight?" she asked the crowd, before toning it down for "Fool For You," originally a collaboration with Cee Lo Green. Her set spanned the highs and lows of "love and life," with Fiona addressing the "ladies" and "fellas" in the crowd during "Change the Record." Throwing on a glam gold-and-black jacket, Fiona turned to covers of Jackson's "Dirty Diana" and "Bad" as visuals from the classic video played behind her.
Melanie Fiona: "Dirty Diana" | More Videos at Pepsi.com
"We're going to celebrate all night," DJ Cassidy said to start his set, which opened with Jackson's "Rock With You" and continued through the King of Pop's lengthy career, including "Thriller" hits and his childhood beginnings with the Jackson 5. After his all-Michael set, the DJ exited the stage to make way for Ne-Yo, who continued the night's flashy fashion trend with a jacket with a sparkling lapel. The R&B star entered to a horn fanfare and his backing band chanting, "Are you ready for Ne-Yo"? The crowd was indeed, raising their smartphones and cameras to get a snap of the singer.
"Because he was, I am," Ne-Yo said. "Happy birthday, Mike." Backed by an array of keyboards and horns, he dove into 2008 hit "Closer." He sang "One In a Million" after explaining that he had "a woman in mind" while writing the track. "I feel like this song makes sense because MIchael Jackson was truly one in a million," he added. Ne-Yo segued from older material to "Lazy Love," a song from his upcoming album "R.E.D.," which he said was likely due in "early November." With his jacket long gone, the audience wanted more.
"'Take it off, take it off,' calm down!" he teased the crowd. "Ain't nothing wrong with a woman who knows what she wants," he added, before singing "Miss Independent."
His set then stepped into the Jackson catalog, with the band vamping on the "The Way You Make Me Feel" chord changes as Ne-Yo changed outfits offstage, returning in a white suit and tie for "Smooth Criminal." He showcased his dance skills alongside his powerhouse vocals, turning more tender on "Bad" duet "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." "The Way You Make Me Feel" followed, this time without the lengthy intro.
Ne-Yo: "Smooth Criminal" | More Videos at Pepsi.com
"You don't sing Michael Jackson songs," Ne-Yo said, before the set returned to his own material with "Burnin' Up." "You attempt Michael Jackson songs." He continued to explore new material, bridging the gap between his R&B and pop sides with "Let Me Love You," the second single from "R.E.D."
"I like to call this pop with soul, pop with depth," he said of the new track.
Following Ne-Yo was a hits-laden DJ set by producer-rapper Swizz Beatz, who has produced 14 top 10 singles on our R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. He whipped the Gotham faithful into a frenzy with tracks including Rihanna and Calvin Harris' "We Found Love" as well as favorites from DMX and Rick Ross.
Previous Summer Beats shows included Katy Perry stopping traffic to premiere "Katy Perry: Part of Me" at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles, Gloriana performing in Nashville and Nicki Minaj taking New York's Roseland Ballroom.