“What is going on?” said a clearly surprised Steinfeld, emotional with happy tears.
Steinfeld had plenty to celebrate — just moments before, she performed her hit, “Starving,” which she excitedly told the audience had just gone platinum.
It’s certainly an unforgettable birthday month for Steinfeld, who turns 20 on Dec. 11. Earlier in the day, she hosted the Billboard Women in Music Awards. A beaming Charlie Walk, president of Republic Records, tells Billboard that signing Steinfeld to the label was determined by going with his “gut, not data.”
“When I looked in her eyes and she said she wanted to sing, I never had her audition for us. I never heard her sing,” he says. “I believed in her. I figured any girl who could be nominated for an Oscar at 14 who says she wants to sing, I’ll bet on that.”
It was a night of surprises, and the MVP of the night was Fifth Harmony star Camila Cabello, who joined Machine Gun Kelly for a collaboration of their hit “Bad Things” (which samples the 1998 Fastball song “Outta My Head”). The duo flew in last minute from London for the performance, and a source tells Billboard the surprise addition was to make up for the absence of scheduled headliner Meghan Trainor, who had to cancel and is on vocal rest due to doctor’s orders.
Trainor wasn’t forgotten, however, as Puth performed a fine set of hits that included their duet, “Marvin Gaye.” This is the second year in a row Puth celebrated the holidays on stage at Madison Square Garden for Jingle Ball, and he made sure to shout out to his “hometown station” as he sat at the piano for “One Call Away,” “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” and his Golden Globe nominated anthem, “See You Again.”
Another surprise guest included MØ, who joined Diplo for a live performance of her hit with Major Lazer, “Lean On,” and her song with Justin Bieber, “Cold Water.” Bieber later performed the song himself in a stripped down moment.
Jingle Ball is not only a celebration of the biggest hits of the year, but also an opportunity to embrace the biggest music stories of 2016, so it was fitting that 12-year old America’s Got Talent winner Grace Vanderwall made a brief appearance introducing Ellie Goulding, whom she praised “writes her own songs just like me.” The self described “New Yorker” must have been overwhelmed as she led a sing-along with an audience that knew all the words of her song “I Don’t Know My Name."
Other native New Yorkers onstage included the Chainsmokers, who are improving with each live performance. Their set included No. 1 chart topper “Closer” (Halsey was not in attendance), a snippet of Coldplay's’ “Yellow” and a duet with Daya, who joined them for their hit,“Don’t Let Me Down.”
The screaming intensified later in the evening for Ariana Grande, fresh off her performance on Fox’s Hairspray. It was a family affair backstage, as proud brother Frankie Grande, mother Joan Grande and dad Edward Butera were all on hand to share the moment with the hitmaker who wrapped up a successful 2016 chart run with a set that included “Side to Side,” “Into You” and “Dangerous Woman.” Dressed all in black in a stylish wintry ensemble — including black earmuffs and furry boots — Grande remarked how “warm” it was onstage before digging into a medley of holiday songs from her album Christmas and Chill. Backstage, Grande held court with Wolverine star Hugh Jackman, who later thanked her on Instagram for “(unofficially) making me the cool dad.”
The night, however, clearly belonged to headliner Bieber, who readied himself like a prize fighter backstage as he prepared to close the night.
“This is the latest show I’ve done,” he said to an electrified crowd. “You guys wanna stay up all night? Maybe an afterparty?”
It’s been a few years since Bieber last headlined Jingle Ball, and his growth as an entertainer and artist showed during his set. Introduced by iconic New York actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who referred to the show as “the coolest night of the year,” Bieber took the stage dressed in a yellow jacket and white shorts for his opener, “Where Are U Now?” He quickly segued into “Company” and performed his choreographed dance numbers with his skilled backup dancers.
In a nice moment, the pop star ditched the dancing all together and stood center stage armed with just a guitar for an acoustic version of “Cold Water” with an an invitation to sing along, saying “I know you know the words." That stripped down moment, as well as "Love Yourself” (sung in a lower key), showcased another side of the singer. It’s nice to see him embracing the instrument as he did a few years ago when he did an acoustic version of the 2012 song "Fall." Bieber, a lefty, also noodled a bit on the instrument even as the song concluded, almost as if he didn’t want to part with it.
Still, the Grammy nominee knows how to get a crowd into party mode, and in a spontaneous moment he noticed a gentleman on the side of the stage singing along to hits like “Sorry,” "Let Me Love You" and “What Do You Mean?” Amused, he turned and encouraged the man on, who responded by flinging what appeared to be a stack of dollar bills into the air.
“I’m honored to be here,” he told the crowd. “This is one of my favorite places to perform.”
Openers Fifth Harmony — introduced in a recorded message by DJ Khaled as “the biggest girl group in the world”— ignited the crowd with the girl power anthem “That’s My Girl,” “All in My Head (Flex),” “Worth It” and “Work From Home.” The growth of these girls since their first Jingle Ball appearance has been quite a journey, as each one (Cabello, Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Lauren Jauregui and motivator in chief Dinah Jane) gets a turn in the spotlight. The group is one of the hardest working acts in show business: earlier in the day, the girls pitched in at the Billboard Women in Music Awards to perform “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” for the ailing Trainor.
Other highlights included Danish pop band Lukas Graham leading the crowd with its hit “7 Years,” Niall Horan’s too brief appearance for his song “This Town,” DNCE covering “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, Goulding overcoming bronchitis to soldier through her 50 Shades of Gray hit “Love Me Like You Do,” and Daya, who is coming into her own as a pop star young girls can look up to. The reaction to her song “Sit Still, Look Pretty” is an encouraging sign that she will remain a force into 2017.
In addition to the action onstage, the excitement mounted behind the scenes as Victoria’s Secret model Hailey Baldwin slipped in to catch the show. YouTube stars Jack and Jack (Jack Gilinsky and Jack Johnson), who performed earlier in the day at the Z100 and Coca Cola All Access Lounge, and former Wizards of Waverly Place star Jake Austin hung out and snapped pictures with fans. Real Housewives of New York star Romana Singer playfully filmed backstage shenanigans for her Snapcat, and Bachelor in Paradise star Ashley Iaconetti mingled with guests.
New York 's Jingle Ball is the coda to iHeartRadio’s Jingle Ball Tour, presented by Capital One, and the action will air on the CW Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. EST.