Madison Square Garden
Friday, December 12
photos by David Atlas
“All the fellas in the house make some noise!” commanded Chris Brown near the end of Z100’s almost-all-killer celebration of things that went pop in 2008. The response was tepid, scattered, hesitant. “Sounds like there’s three guys!” said Brown. It might’ve been an overestimation. On Friday night, teenage girls looking like Long Island cougars and Long Island cougars looking like teenage girls stuffed Madison Square Garden in anticipation of a live reprise of the year’s most ubiquitous background noise. These are the same no-look texters who squealed over Robert Pattinson’s translucent eunuch of a vampire in Twilight at midnight screenings last month, the same demographic that–in these hard times– single-handedly continues to keep our economy afloat.
First rule of Jingle Ball: There is a difference between a squeal and a cheer. Squeals are high-pitched sounds of simple recognition; applause-based cheers are earned. Stubble-less pipsqueak Jesse McCartney drew many squeals, but few cheers. Suit-and-tied funk showman Ne-Yo is more of a cheers man. One time R&B ingenue Brandy didn’t receive much of either. The key is to find the right mix somewhere in between.
Squealing or cheering?
Paramore led by example early on, with cherry-topped singer Hayley Williams (sporting a Morrissey t-shirt, no less) laying waste to Hills-ian vapidity. (Meanwhile, actual Hills star Brody Jenner was squealed into embarrassment during a between-set appearance.) And though Katy Perry–with her sexy elf outfit and girl-on-girl opportunism–could seemingly be an object of Williams’ wrath, she somehow bypassed Paris-dom: High-stepping into the Garden with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Perry turned wild nights in Vegas and same-sex experimentation into cartoon larks that would charm even the most villainous Prop 8 supporter.
“Why does she be so mad at me for?/ Homey, I don’t know, she’s hot and cold,” countered Kanye West on “Heartless,” the new single from his weary breakup lament, 808’s and Heartbreak. The track was met with squeals, and then nothing. Wisely, the insular idol mostly veered away from his sneering new album, instead relying on an impressive stream of cheer-worthy hip-hop that tried to eclipse classic arena rock in size and scope. From “Stronger” to “Touch the Sky” to “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” to “Gold Digger” to “Good Life,” West clobbered the crowd. American Idol runner-up David Archuleta was put in the unfortunate position of following West–his squeals were short-lived.
Clobbering the crowd
De facto headliner Chris Brown’s set was haphazard–girlfriend Rihanna (looking like Audrey Hepburn in a runway-ready body bag) easily outshone him in a brief guest spot–but it did provide the evening’s sing-along pinnacle. As he launched into the year’s finest pop ballad, “No Air,” his DJ urged the crowd to fill in for his absent duet partner, Jordin Sparks. And they did. Loudly. “Losing you is living in a world with no air,” chirped thousands of voices in unison. Technically, the song is about being alone. This time, it wasn’t.–Ryan Dombal
Chris Brown, Rihanna