Z100’s annual Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden Friday night (December 7) was bookended by an opening performance from One Direction and a closing headline set from Justin Bieber, with plenty of teen pop, British imports and R&B thrown in to make this year’s event an exceptionally youthful, zeitgeist-courting occasion — and a brisk one at that. Ten acts were squeezed into a set that came in just under four hours, with only Ne-Yo, Taylor Swift and Bieber getting enough set time to play anything close to a non-single.
Alums from the UK “X Factor” were in particular abundance this year. Fresh off their first headlining gig at the Garden just this Monday, One Direction powered through their four biggest hits – “Live While We’re Young,” “One Thing,” “Little Things” and “What Makes You Beautiful” to rev up the crowd, transitioning seamlessly into a quick two-song set from Olly Murs. The stage was later graced by Cher Lloyd, who cameo’d to perform her top 20 hit “Want U Back,” and Scooter Braun-backed boy band The Wanted, who played a lively, five-song set that included rising single “I Found You” and top 3 smash “Glad You Came.” Singer Max George, the subject of an alleged club confrontation involving Lindsay Lohan in New York last week, wore a cheeky T-shirt brandishing the phrase “You Mad, Bro?”
Singer-songwriter pop was also well represented, particularly in the form of Taylor Swift. Clad in a sparkly silver top and high-waisted red hot pants, Swift was backed by a giant “Red” setpiece – lest anyone forget the title of the album that’s already sold 2.2 million copies since its late October album. She powered through hits like “Love Story” and “You Belong To Me” and also gave one of her first live performances of new popstep single “I Knew You Were Trouble,” believed to be inspired by her recently on-again romance with One Direction’s Harry Styles. “Have you ever seen someone for the very first time, locked eyes with them from across the room, and think to yourself, ‘Aw, he’s trouble,'” she told the crowd.
Jason Mraz also made a brief appearance on a separate mini-stage to serenade the crowd with top 10 ballad “I Won’t Give Up,” the ubiquitous “I’m Yours” and his bubbly take on Christmas classic “Winter Wonderland.” The intimate appearance was a warm-up to Mraz’s tour-closing show at the Garden this coming Monday.
Perhaps the night’s most ubiquitous presence was U.K. folk-pop singer Ed Sheeran, who wrote One Direction’s “Little Things,” performed “Everything Has Changed” with Swift during her set and also played two of his own hits to a rapturous crowd, including hit “The A Team.” Also playing his second show at the Garden this week following his opening slot for One Direction on Monday, Sheeran took in the moment by asking the crowd to light up their phones so he could take a picture.
On the R&B/hip-hop front, B.o.B. bounced through his 2010 hits “Magic,” “Nothin’ On You” and “Airplanes” as well as this year’s top 20 charting “Both Of Us,” for which he was joined by Swift on the hook. Ne-Yo scored the night’s penultimate slot and used the opportunity to rev up the crowd with summer anthem “Let’s Go,” preview new singles “Don’t Make ‘Em Like You” and “Forever Now” and revisit his breakthrough hit “So Sick” before closing with a rousing rendition of current top 10 “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself.)”
Right around 10:45, the time had arrived for the man of the hour. Dressed in sunglasses, pants that looked like a backward pair of basketball shorts and a tight white tank top that showed off his newly toned arms, Justin Bieber looked as if he’d time-traveled from a racquetball match in 2052. The look suited the sound of his hits from current album “Believe,” a thoroughly modern collection that fuses elements of EDM and futuristic pop into his tween-friendly sound. Top 10 hit “As Long As You Love Me,” for example, has a dubstep chorus that soars on the back of Bieber’s hypnotic, “la la la” vocal, while “All Around The World” pulsates on top of a “whoa oh oh” vocal loop that nails the party-starting, Latin-pop sound of Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias even more than recent efforts of his boy-band peers like The Wanted.
Bieber also slowed things down for an acoustic portion in which he played fan favorites like “Be Alright, “Fall” and “Christmas Eve,” the latter from last year’s “Under The Mistletoe.” After much chanting from fans, Bieber eventually obliged to also play holiday hit “Mistletoe,” on the condition that the crowd sing along to every word since he hadn’t sung the song since last year and might forget a line or two (he didn’t, for the record.)
Bieber looked ready to go just as the clock crept toward the 11:30 curfew, but just as he turned to leave the stage the often-deafening crowd screamed for him to stick around. After all, he still had to play “Boyfriend” – his biggest hit to date and also the name of a new fragrance that served as one of the night’s many sponsors (Aeropostale, Kellogg, Coca-Cola and State Farm were just a few of the blue-chip brands who took the opportunity to market to the captive, sold-out crowd via 30-second commercials that aired in between sets.) Eliciting a thunderous sing-along from a patient crowd, “Boyfriend” was a fitting coda to the end of a night – and a year, frankly – full of stadium-sized, teen pop not seen in such high volume since the Britney Spears/Backstreet Boys/N Sync-led movement of the late 90s.
Best of all, Bieber didn’t vomit.