Fast forward to 2015. Puth is on top of the world with nominations for both the Grammy Awards and the Golden Globes for “See You Again,” a song he wrote after the death of Fast and the Furious Star Paul Walker. The collaboration with Wiz Khalifa spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Puth still seemed stunned by that feat as he thanked the crowd for keeping it there for that long.
Puth, who was introduced by actor Michael J. Fox, was one of a quartet of Jersey natives taking the stage at the radio station’s annual holiday concert. Nick Jonas -- who was commanding and impressive with his four-song set that included hits “Levels,” “Chains,” and “Jealous” and a nod to Bell Biv DeVoe with a snippet of “Poison” -- talked of growing up in the Garden State and reveled in playing for his “hometown station.” Joe Jonas and his band, DNCE, entertained with a lively set as well.
Paterson, N.J., native Fetty Wap whipped out hits “679” and “Trap Queen” as he sat on a giant throne (perhaps he’s still hurting from his motorcycle accident?) and took on the role of Santa Claus, gifting the audience with money thrown into the crowd. He seemed to enjoy recreating the same hysteria as he did when he pulled the same stunt at a Paterson shopping mall earlier this fall.
The rest of the lineup -- Selena Gomez, The Weeknd, 5 Seconds of Summer, Tove Lo, R. City, Conrad Sewell, DNCE, Zedd, Hailee Steinfeld, Shawn Mendes, Fifth Harmony, Demi Lovato and Calvin Harris -- each provided memorable moments as deafening screams filled the arena for each act.
Ryan Seacrest and Elvis Duran set the tone early on, as the American Idol host summed up the evening as the “biggest artists in music and the breakout songs of 2015.”
5SOS exploded on the stage with thrashing guitars and a pounding back beat, thanks to drummer Ashton Irwin, who's a real presence behind the kit. “Hey Everybody," with its Duran Duran melody of “Hungry Like the Wolf," and “She’s Kinda Hot” had the crowd screaming in unison. And it’s nice to see guitarist Michael Clifford rebounding after suffering an onstage burn injury early this summer.
Swedish singer Tove Lo donned a black leotard and showed great vocal control on hits “Habits” and “Talking Body,” while rap group R. City playfully quizzed the audience about songs they had written for “artists you know” (the ghost of Christmas Jingle Ball past haunted The Garden as Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” played to cheers from the crowd) before playing their own song "Locked Away" (alas, no hologram of Adam Levine).
Australian vocalist Sewell was overjoyed to announce that he “just played Madison Square Garden” after his turn, which included his Josh Groban-meets-EDM anthem “Start Again.”
You’ve got to hand it to Joe Jonas for creating a frenzy. Introduced by YouTube star Tyler Oakley, Jonas’ new band DNCE made it a mission to make the most of their stage time, bringing out a throng of dancing Santas for the anthem “Cake By the Ocean.” For added excitement, Jonas leaped into the audience and bounded into the lower level to perform amongst the fans in the stairway. After his victory lap, the band took a bow to Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
Of course, no Jingle Ball would be complete without surprise collaborations -- and the first one of the night came courtesy of Zedd and former girlfriend Gomez for “I Want You to Know.”
“Make some noise for Selena Gomez right now,” Zedd announced,” as MSG went nuts.
For her own performance, Gomez was in control setting the tone immediately with “Same Old Love” and slinking her way through “Good For You” as she was backed by male dancers and worked a set of red steps. The Revival star wisely used her time to showcase third single "Hands to Myself" and graciously gave a nod to radio for giving her a chance with “Love You Like a Love Song.”
The festivities continued, as birthday girl Steinfield celebrated her 19th year on the planet with 20,000 of her closest friends, just as her pal Taylor Swift did at last year’s Jingle Ball. Her short and sweet set preceded a well received acoustic turn (almost -- he planned to use a white electric guitar but awkwardly returned to the acoustic after a slight malfunction) by Mendes, who invited Fifth Harmony’s Camilla Cabello to join him for their duet, “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
The first time Cabello’s group Fifth Harmony played the Jingle Ball in 2013, they were still finding their way competing on the reality show X Factor. Two years later, the ladies have come into their own. Dressed in blue, the quintet took the stage showing off lovely harmonies with a pretty version of “Silent Night.” After that, it was time to party, as Normani Hamilton asked the crowd, “Are you ready?” setting up choreographed performances of “Bo$$” and “Worth It.”
The original X Factor queen, Lovato, was introduced by Saturday Night Live comic Jay Pharoah, who recited a letter inviting her to watch Netflix with him and “chill.” She clearly had no intention of chilling, as she dominated with a set that was more rock than pop, and the singer attacked every inch of The Garden with ferocity and intense vocal power. Opening with “Heart Attack,” Lovato turned it up to 11 with “Confident” in a performance that not only shredded, but completely destroyed MSG. Lovato was possessed as she sang “Stone Cold,” and it was truly something special to watch as she became enraptured in the lyrics, tearing each word inside and out. Which it why it was so endearing that Lovato made an admission to her devoted Lovatics.
“Today I don’t feel confident,” Lovato said, sharing that her “pop off nails” came off during the first song.
That admission proved prophetic when the former Disney star went to exit the stage after the conclusion of “Cool For the Summer,” and took a tumble over a mic stand. To her credit, she rolled over and turned it into a humorous moment. She later tweeted about it on Twitter, joking "Guys don't you get it by now? Only cool kids fall on stage....."
EDM star Harris turned The Garden into a club with a laser light show, and asked the crowd to whip out their phones and turn on their own lights to add to the ambience as he rolled through his catalog, including “How Deep Is Your Love?”
Closing out the night was The Weeknd, who was well worth the wait. Even though he went past midnight, he couldn’t help himself welcoming the audience to the “biggest party of the year” as he cruised through hits “In the Night,” “I Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills,” literally setting the stage on fire.
The iHeartRadio Jingle Ball will be televised on the CW.