Live: Justin Bieber Provokes Squeals, Enrique Iglesias Asks a 16-Year-Old On A Date, And Katy Perry Rules All at Z100’s Jingle Ball


Z100’s Jingle Ball, featuring Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Paramore, Kim Kardashian, and More
Madison Square Garden
Friday, December 10

Better than: That GIF of sparks coming out of Katy Perry’s chest from the “Firework” video.

Yes, Katy Perry looked like a human nutcracker at this year’s Z100 Jingle Ball. But let the record also show that she did not take the opportunity to make a single “nutcracker” or “jingle ball” joke during her performance. Perhaps this uncharacteristic display of restraint had something to do with the audience. This is the show where MSG replaces the price-gouging Budweiser booths with price-gouging Sugar Daddies stands. It was probably the first-ever concert for many of the pre-teen girls in attendance. And Perry is well aware of this–you don’t become the by-the-book pop star of the year and see all three of your singles hit number one without some idea of demographics. She tailored her location-based shout outs accordingly: “What’s up Connecticut?! Jersey?! Can’t forget good old Long Island!” (Full disclosure: I grew up on Long Island.)

Perry did everything right in 2010, from the “California Gurls” video to the amusingly oddball celebrity husband to the infinite stream of silly-not-weird outfits. She also added a trio of arena sing-alongs to her arsenal, including her most recent Billboard buster, “Firework.” The new single is especially important for Perry because it finds her a little out of her cartoon comfort zone. Instead of (brilliantly) going on about skin-tight jeans and last Friday night’s exploits, she’s gunning for genuine inspiration with “Firework”–it’s the first Perry hit that could ostensibly be played underneath a triumphant Olympics montage (or every Independence Day spectacular from here to eternity). As a rule, this pop star’s allure unravels when it approaches anything straight-faced, but the song’s simplistic words take on a whole new meaning when they’re being sung by thousands of girls who are young enough to thoroughly believe in them. Live, Perry’s voice is strong, her dance moves amateur but dedicated, her banter increasingly filled with Russell Brand-ian inflections. She belongs onstage at Madison Square Garden as often as possible and, considering she’s got at least two more smashes from her latest album in the wings, waiting for 2011, she may be back there soon.

But, alas, she didn’t have the squeal factor of MSG vet Justin Bieber. The mere mention of the evening’s headliner had grown men covering their ears multiple times over the course of the night. He’s the boy right now. But other than nimble opener “Somebody to Love,” his set didn’t offer much hope for his man-dom. Bieber’s appeal to pre-teens (tiny, high-voiced, swooped) is obvious and seemingly as old as time. Meanwhile, at 35, Enrique Iglesias practically is old as time in the pop world. And creepy. Taking his fame for granted in a t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, the master of stubble peaked during his set by bringing a melting 16-year-old girl named Rachel onstage to serenade during “Hero.” But before he could uncomfortably caress her cheek and kiss her forehead, there was a queasy exchange:

Enrique Iglesias: Are you going to prom?
Rachel: What?
Enrique Iglesias: Are you going to go to prom this year?
Rachel: [makes “I still can’t understand you” face]
Enrique Iglesias: Are you going to go to prom this year?
Rachel: [shakes her head no]
Enrique Iglesias: No? You don’t have a prom date? I’ll be your prom date.

Just gross.

Less nauseating but equally corny was Michael Buble, the Rat Pack caricature seemingly added to the bill to appease parents who paid $30 to park. Meanwhile, one-time mixtape hopeful B.O.B. showed that you actually can still sell out in 2010, Disney Channel star Selena Gomez made it clear that the edgeless, picture-perfect Mouseketeer pop model is in serious jeopardy, and Bruno Mars proved that he can sing, play guitar, hit drums, and wear that hat with smiling ease, though his “real musician” shtick is currently in limbo between Mraz and Timberlake. Taio Cruz’s Terminator sunglasses upstaged the rest of him. Kim Kardashian introduced Justin Bieber with, “I think I’m catching a fever– Bieber fever!” Of the less-famous acts, Paramore and their ballad “The Only Exception” reigned, though lead singer Hayley Williams seems poised for a solo move now more than ever. (Hopefully she’ll ditch the plaid pants/Xmas vest combo first.)

Jingle Ball is an award show without the pesky awards. It’s where gum-chewing Jersey Shore star Pauly D gets a near-Bieber reaction when he comes out to give a one-sentence intro. It’s monoculture at its most primal and–considering the lung-clearing screams and constant sense of hysteria–it can be a little scary. Harnessing that panic is important. There’s a strange power in watching a 26-year-old woman singing about teenage dreams to scores of 10-year-old girls with dreams of their own.

Critical Bias: The lyric sheet in the double-vinyl edition of Teenage Dream does indeed smell like cotton candy.

Overheard: Five-year-old girl sobbing when her dad made her miss the last two minutes of Justin Bieber in order to beat traffic.

Random Notebook Dump: I wonder if there’s a way to hold Enrique to that prom date thing…