Much about Ibeyi is haunting. The French-Cuban duo--comprised of twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz--combines English lyrics with evocative, religious chants in Yoruba, the language and faith imported to Cuba by West African slaves. In their single, "River," they invoke Oshún, the Yoruba goddess of the river, and plead to cleanse their souls in her waters. "Oshún protects the river," Lisa says. "You go to Oshún to wash your soul." The result is a hypnotic, soulful song with electronic, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban influences.
What at first seems like an unusual mixture of sounds actually makes for a harmonious expression of their identity. And that's exactly what makes Ibeyi, the headliners behind a sold-out show tonight at the U Street Music Hall, so unique.
Born in Paris, the sisters spent their childhood bouncing between Cuba and France. Their father was Miguel "Anga" Diaz, a member of the Buena Vista Social Club who was hailed as a master of Afro-Cuban percussion. After his death at age 45 in 2006, the twins began considering a life in music. Naomi picked up the cajón, a percussive instrument, and Lisa started toying with lyrics. It was an unconscious decision to follow their father's path. "He never told us how to play music," Lisa says. "His legacy is that he wanted to do music that defined him. We did the same thing." Soon enough, Ibeyi, which means "twins" in Yoruba, was born.
Through their music, the 20-year-old sisters express their history and origins. They speak French, Spanish, and English. They don't speak Yoruba; rather, they sing it. The Yoruba faith has always formed a large part of who they are. "We were initiated in our mother's womb," Lisa says. "It's our belief." With their self-titled album, which was released earlier this year, they sought to unite two different worlds: their European and Cuban roots.
In the album, which Lisa began composing at age 14, the twins tell a deeply personal tale, divulging intimate details about family and themselves. "The man is gone / And Mama says there is no life without him," they croon in the wistful song, "Mama Says," about the death of their father.
These powerful emotions come alive in the jarring music video for "River." In the four-minute video, two men submerge the women underwater. They only come up for air to sing. Shot in one continuous take, it took about ten tries before they nailed the timing. "It was really hard to do, but we knew it would be great," Naomi says.
The twins are already hatching plans for a second album. It will be a slight departure from the first, but they promise it will be reminiscent of what they consider their "Ibeyi" sound. "We are composing every week," Lisa says. "We want to go further and further and discover more about ourselves and our music."
Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilycodik.
Norman Scribner would not give up on music. Even at age 79, the famed composer and conductor continued to visit the Choral Arts Society of Washington office in Northwest. He was active, robust, and nearly halfway through composing a new piece based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. But in his version, there was a twist: Scribner created a fresh character--a wife.
"That's the most telling thing about Norman. He so honored the idea of a woman that he took something of great magnitude and decided to give it a little more depth and texture as to his own beliefs," says Debra Kraft, executive director of the Choral Arts Society.
Scribner, who died Sunday at 79, founded the Choral Arts Society of Washington in 1965 and soon earned a reputation for his lively spirit and fervent devotion to music. Along with his wife, Shirley, he transformed the society from a homespun family business into an internationally recognized music source. "He was so clear that his family came first, absolutely came first," Kraft says. "But he was also very clear that music was his mistress."
In 2012, when he retired from his long-held post and was succeeded by artistic director Scott Tucker, Scribner continued to demonstrate great energy and dedication to his life-long passion. Brahms' Requiem was the final piece he conducted, and according to Kraft, the last line was a fitting farewell for the man considered one of the most respected musical figures in Washington: "Saith the spirit, that they rest from their labors, and that their works follow after them."
"Norman felt that music was bigger than he," she says.
I have seen Country Music Jesus, and his name is Jack Gregori. He wears a black hat, perfectly positioned, and can make a grown man cry with his rendition of Neil Young's "Helpless." His whiskey is strong and his beard is sincere, and on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm he appears on a little show called The Voice, doing his country-crooner thing on behalf of something called #TeamAdam.
Gregori is the frontman for Human Country Jukebox, a band named for its ability to perform most any country song requested—more than 200, according to the HCJ website. He's also, as he described himself to NBC, "kind of an adventurer." In practice, this means that he and the Jukebox show up at Madam's Organ every Wednesday at 9:30 and take requests written down on napkins. Because this town has good taste in country, the No. 1 request is, naturally, "Amarillo By Morning."
Gregori, who works as a real-estate attorney by day, told the Washington Post he hopes his appearance on The Voice will push his music career forward. I do not know what Team Adam is, other than musician Adam Levine is involved, and Simon Cowell is not. But 13 million people can't be wrong. Jack "Country Music Jesus" Gregori, native Washingtonian, will do well, will win this thing, will take whatever crown or trophy they give him home to the District (of Country).
And, till Nashville steals him away, he'll play at Madam's Organ. Amarillo's favorite beer, Shiner Bock, is on tap. Cover is $4. Raise a glass to the man in the black hat. Just don't request "Sweet Home Alabama."
Pop quiz: In 2014, which rookie rapper scored the highest first-week sales for Def Jam, hip-hop’s most hallowed record label?
A) YG, the biggest West Coast gangsta rapper in a decade.
B) Iggy Azalea, the Australian Bratz-doll look-alike whose debut album went on to pick up a Grammy nomination.
C) Logic, a blue-eyed biracial artist who hails from Gaithersburg, a.k.a. the boondocks of hip-hop.
Because you’re reading a profile about him, you inevitably made a wise selection and chose C. The answer wouldn’t be obvious otherwise, because it’s the most improbable of the three.
Logic, a 25-year-old rapper with the boy-next-door looks of his middle-class Washington suburb, gave the industry its biggest surprise last year. He became rap’s breakout star after his first album, Under Pressure, streaked straight to number four on the Billboard charts and sold 73,000 copies in its first week, more than all but one other rookie in 2014.
The numbers wouldn’t be all that spectacular for an established recording artist. But for a relative newcomer, they’re impressive. In the music-on-demand-for-free era of Spotify, iTunes Radio, and Pandora, it’s tough for an unknown to build a following die-hard enough to shell out for the number of albums that’ll cause a splash. Remarkably, Logic did it without much of a gimmick or the kind of exaggerated persona that has become a prerequisite for musical superstardom today. Instead, his motto—and the key to his appeal, it seems—is “real all the time.” And for him, what’s real isn’t so pretty.
Under Pressure is autobiography. It tells the scarring narratives of Logic’s impoverished youth, the kind of life most locals don’t associate with Montgomery County: living on food stamps with absentee parents, watching drug deals go down, the first time he heard gunshots.
But another part of Logic’s heritage is also central to his album—and makes him stand out in hip-hop. Born to a black father and a white mother, he was frequently derided as “white boy” growing up because of his pale skin tone. Now he’s trying to make it in an industry that tends to second-guess white rappers. He’s used his music to grapple with his heritage and his looks. “Papa was a black man, mama was a racist,” he raps in a song called “Mixed Feelings,” about his desire to “break free of this biracial jail cell.”
Growing up she called me nigga, kids called me cracker / While the whites got whiter, and the blacks got blacker / I was hurting, doing everything I can / Perceived as a white boy with the soul of a black man.
The music’s emotional charge and soul-baring vulnerability resonate. “He’s earned the level of respect that comes when we know where you came from and what you love,” No I.D., Kanye West’s mentor, who produced Under Pressure, told me last year.
At the same time, Logic’s tales of woe are interwoven with unexpected verses pulsing with love, positivity, and straight-up striving. “He’s a modern, interesting artist who fits into a new era and style of MCs,” says Peter Rosenberg, the Chevy Chase-raised deejay who has become one of New York’s biggest radio stars on Hot 97 FM. “He totally blurs lines racially, has a very strong voice and very good lyrics. He can rap his ass off, has a really interesting life experience, and proves that you can reach the kids by being a good guy and cool.”
It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Logic is in a studio in Burbank, California, rapping at lightning speed while solving a Rubik’s Cube, his favorite pastime. Tell me how you feel / I feel like the grass is green . . . .
He’s had a couple of momentous months. In November, he made his first national TV appearance, on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Today’s rehearsal is for tomorrow’s performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Two days after that, he’ll turn 25. And on the 26th, he’ll head out on a 50-concert, two-month international tour, hitting most major US cities and college towns, along with London, Paris, and Amsterdam. On March 4 and 5, he plays two hometown shows at the 2,000-seat Fillmore in Silver Spring. Many of the dates are sold out. “It’s crazy as hell, but I want Coldplay stadium status, I want One Direction numbers,” he says.
Having heard himself sound maybe a little too real about his ambition, he backtracks slightly: “But this is all amazing and I don’t take it for granted.”
If you wandered in and were forced to identify the rapper from sight alone, Logic might not be the first one you’d pick in the room packed with musicians. Even though he’s three days shy of finally being able to rent a car, his skinny frame and partly pimpled visage call to mind, well, adolescence.
When he was starting out, one of the first mixtapes he released was dubbed “Young Sinatra.” Since then, he has partly styled himself after the crooner, whom he listened to and watched as a kid. His female fans, like Frank’s, are known as BobbySoxers. There’s the wavy hair and the ol’ blue eyes—Logic’s are a mineraly shade. He calls his entourage of friends and managers his RattPack. (The extra “t” is a nod to the “real all the time” motto.)
It’s an interesting stylistic choice, considering his conflicted feelings about his race. And one of the many things that make Logic a little different from a lot of the hip-hop stars in LA. He isn’t flashy. He is super-serious, and focused, almost exclusively interested in making music (and solving Rubik’s Cubes)—even something of a hermit who likes to stay home and work.
Today Logic is modestly dressed in his de facto uniform: baseball cap, black jacket and jeans, red retro Air Jordans. No jewelry. No visible tattoos. Throughout the day, he lavishes compliments on his band. When he notices someone else’s litter on the studio ground, he silently picks it up. For Hollywood, he’s so nice in person that it’s almost weird.
The song for Kimmel is “Buried Alive,” a big single from Under Pressure.
Battle the image inside of my mind / I know Imma keep going / Tell me I can’t but I’m already knowing / I know I’m gonna rise / Even though I’ve been buried alive / Buried alive, will I survive?
It’s what almost happened, back home in Gaithersburg, before he was Logic and everybody just knew him as Bobby.
That’s short for Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, born January 22, 1990, to two parents who barely knew each other. A musician who sang and played conga with DC go-go bands, the elder Hall and Logic’s mother each had children by other partners. They never married and for most of Logic’s early years, he says, his father wasn’t around much.
The rapper’s preadolescent memories—multiple incidents in which he says he was accidentally abandoned in public places, all the drugs he says he saw relatives getting high on, birthdays and Christmases without gifts, refrigerators filled with only stale rice cakes and powdered milk—are almost uniformly traumatic yet recounted without the least bit of drama.
From fifth through eighth grade, Logic says, he wasn’t in school much. Instead, he passed the time skateboarding, watching anime, and writing and drawing his own stories. He eventually attended Gaithersburg and Seneca Valley high schools but never graduated from either.
“I used to dream about going to sleep and never waking up,” he says. “And in some way, I still always fear that I’m asleep and will wake up as a four-year-old again. And all this was bullshit.”
Though Logic says he hasn’t spoken to his mother in years, she’s the one he has to thank for his interest in music: “She taught me about Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, and early hip-hop. Even though the bad far outweighs the good, I do want it to be known that there were many sweet moments in my life.”
His relationship with his father is more complex. They speak occasionally, but Logic says the conversation is often strained. On the title track of Under Pressure, he raps in character as the elder Hall, saying he’s two years sober and politely asking his son to stop rapping about his past drug abuse, then asking for money in the next breath. It concludes with an actual voicemail from Dad telling his son how much he loves him. (In interviews with MTV and Hard Knock TV, Hall has talked candidly about his drug use and his family’s history of addiction, saying that his son “saw a lot of things that he shouldn’t have.” In Hall’s words, “Shit does happen in Gaithersburg.”)
How is it that Logic wasn’t buried alive? Credit a trio of mentors who watched over him in his teens.
The first was former Gaithersburg resident Solomon Taylor, who met Logic while videotaping games for the Rockville youth football league. When Logic told Taylor he wanted to rap, Taylor bought the boy a computer, a mike, and programs to make beats, and gave him hundreds of instrumental recordings to rap to. He fed him, pushed him, and tried to keep him out of trouble. Logic “wasn’t a knucklehead—he was unpolished but an obvious star even then,” says Taylor, who lives in Chevy Chase now and runs a nonprofit called Save Youth Football that helps fund sports programs throughout Washington.
Mary Jo LaFrance and her husband, Bernie, the parents of one of Logic’s close friends, let him move in. “We took him on vacation with us, discussed his future, and most importantly taught him how to set goals,” says Mary Jo, who works part-time at the Gaithersburg Historic District Commission. “Sometimes he had felt like his own safety was in question, and that’s a terrible place to be in. He was always incredibly funny, intelligent, and a natural storyteller.”
Eventually, Taylor lined up Logic’s first show: opening for the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah at the former End Zone bar in Gaithersburg. Taylor still remembers how police initially balked at letting the then 19-year-old rapper perform. (They came around.) And how, when Logic came out onstage, it felt like watching 8 Mile, the thinly veiled biopic starring Eminem. “It was the same exact scenario. A white kid in a baseball cap and hoodie murdering it, and everyone was shocked,” Taylor recalls. “There was one guy heckling him that night, but Logic never wavered.”
More shows followed, and Logic built a small buzz in DC’s hip-hop scene. To pay the bills, he worked at the Gaithersburg Safeway and Jiffy Lube and as a florist. He later bussed tables at Joe’s Crab Shack. Tumult, meanwhile, continued to reverberate through his personal life. In 2010, his close friend Josh LaFrance, the son of his surrogate parents, was sentenced to ten years in a state prison for stabbing a man in the stomach. “It’s bizarre to think that any of this happened,” Logic says. “He was raised in the nice part of town by two wonderful parents who loved him. In many ways, his fate should’ve been mine.” Instead, when he performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show in November, he says LaFrance watched from prison.
Bobby became Logic with the help of another hungry twentysomething. While surfing YouTube late one night in early 2011, Chris Zarou, a Long Island native, stumbled across a video of Logic freestyle-rapping a cappella. He’d been filming low-budget clips and posting them online with hopes of being discovered, but most were stalling out at a few thousand views. Only 21, Zarou was an aspiring music manager and decided he wanted Logic to be the flagship artist of his newly formed Visionary Music Group.
At the time, Logic was thinking only about how he could become the biggest rapper in Washington. There was heavy competition, including from Fat Trel and Shy Glizzy—two street rappers with strong followings. Washington was considered notoriously difficult for hip-hop artists to break out of. Its only major mainstream rapper was Wale.
But with Zarou’s marketing help, Logic’s music soon caught fire on music blogs with college-age readerships. Between 2011 and 2013, the pair released numerous songs and YouTube videos, then three mixtapes. There wasn’t a lot of science to it—just grassroots internet love from fans who spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Logic started playing clubs across the country, booking larger venues each time.
Eventually, hip-hop’s most venerable label—Def Jam—wanted him, and Logic signed (for an undisclosed amount) with the record company. No I.D., the label’s executive vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire), agreed to executive-produce Under Pressure.
Logic moved to LA and started hibernating in his studio. The result was an album that pays tribute to his own favorite hip-hop acts. He pinches the alien voices of Outkast, the computerized narration of A Tribe Called Quest, the grandiose neon ambition of Kanye West, the intricate good-kid-in-a-mad-city narratives of Kendrick Lamar. (In “Gang Related,” a simulated news broadcast announcing “a massive manhunt” after a deadly shooting near the 400 block of West Deer Park in Gaithersburg is spliced in between a tale told through the eyes of Logic and one of his brothers.)
When Under Pressure debuted last October, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. The Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco hailed Logic as a better lyricist than Lamar, the Grammy-winning gangsta-rap deconstructionist. When the legendary New York rapper Nas met Logic, he quoted the Gaithersburg native’s own lyrics back to him. The hip-hop magazine XXL compared him to Kanye West and pronounced that Logic was here to stay. One of the few dissenting voices was Rolling Stone, which hailed his “technically excellent style” but said he lacked “emotional depth.”
In the five months since the album came out, Logic has mostly been gearing up for the biggest tour of his career. He says he’s uninterested in Hollywood clichés or temptations, and he lives pretty low-key. He rents a house in LA’s Tarzana neighborhood, which is mostly home to lawyers and professionals, not garish entertainers. By rap-star standards, his living situation is actually modest. He shares the three-bedroom house with his fiancée, Jessica Andrea, who sings backup for him; his day-to-day manager, Leon Ressalam, from Adelphi; and his longtime producer, 6ix (né Arjun Ivatury), a native of Bowie.
Rather than rent a tricked-out LA recording studio, Logic likes to stay home and work in a spare bedroom. By all accounts, parties and clubs don’t tempt him. His childhood vice—cigarettes—has been tamed, thanks to e-cigs. Logic’s only material indulgences seem to be a video projector, a vintage Akai MPC sampler, and dozens of Rubik’s Cubes. There’s no car (or even a driver’s license). Eventually, he’ll buy a BMW, he says. But not until he gets off tour.
Hours before the Jimmy Kimmel taping, the line of Logic super-fans extends for blocks on Hollywood Boulevard. Mostly under 25, the RattPackers are a diverse crowd. There’s Tyler Caldwell, an 18-year-old who drove five-plus hours from San Jose. “I don’t necessarily identify with his past, but it’s inspiring to hear how he overcame it,” says the high-school senior wearing a Logic T-shirt.
There’s Jennifer and Francisco Valle, 22 and 24—a Latino brother and sister who drove in from their home in South LA. Francisco is wearing an autographed Logic basketball jersey. “You can bob your head to it, but it’s more about the message that he sends out,” Jennifer says, explaining why she likes the rapper. “He’s not afraid to tell people to stay in school or be positive. I watch a lot of his interviews on YouTube, and you can see that he’s real.”
Inside the Kimmel dressing rooms, Logic seems more stressed about solving a Rubik’s Cube in less than a minute than in putting on a show for 2.3 million viewers. “This is the only thing I’ve ever done that taps into the same memorization part of my brain as rapping,” he says to one of the observers.
The crowd is already roaring when Kimmel’s hype man finally announces him and Logic cruises onto the stage, all adrenaline and quick-twitch muscles as his backup singers, violinists, cellist, and deejay fire up “Buried Alive.” He stares, slightly dazzled at the size of the crowd. “This is crazy,” he says, beaming and flashing the peace sign to them. “It’s about to be my birthday. This is crazy.”
The show is all exuberance, Logic bounding across the stage, teenagers waving posters of his face, and RATT PACK POR VIDA! signs. When the song ends, Logic announces he’s going to give a four-song mini-concert in the Kimmel lot, and the applause spills out onto Hollywood Boulevard.
As tour kickoffs go, it’d be hard to top the excitement of the week Logic has just had. Two nights before the Kimmel show, his fiancée threw him a surprise party at home for his 25th birthday.
“Seeing all the people who care about me was wonderful, but scary, too,” he says. “It lets me know, not necessarily how much I have to lose, but that I’m creating a family. For the first time in my life, I know how important that is to me.”
This article appears in our March 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Even casual listeners enjoy complaining that today’s pop is repetitive. Turn on the radio and it can be easy to confuse one artist for another, this week’s hit for one from two months ago. Helping combat that aural fatigue is Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox, a rotating cast of musicians led by New York performer Bradlee who are reinventing the pop wheel one song at a time.
The band, which plays the Birchmere January 19, has become famous for its YouTube channel featuring Top 40 songs recast in various historical styles—a ragtime “Call Me Maybe,” “No Diggity” as sultry jazz. (A doo-wop cover of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” has garnered more than 11 million page views.) “It’s about finding contrasts,” Bradlee says of deciding which tune to take on and what the sound will be. “By changing the genre, we change the meaning or the context of the song.”
The concept brings to mind “Weird Al” Yankovic, though Postmodern Jukebox’s songs aren’t parodies but playful homages. Bradlee filmed many of the videos, which feature performers dressed to match the era and musical style they emulate, in his Queens apartment using a fixed camera on a tripod—until noise complaints got him kicked out, inspiring him to name the band’s current gigs the Eviction Tour.
The relatively low-cost setup allows for a quick turnaround so the group can stay current with what’s on the radio. Bradlee cites another benefit: “The honesty of such a method draws people in—we’re doing everything live, not dubbed videos.” So far, they’ve turned their songs into four albums, including the aptly named Historical Misappropriation, released in September.
As for the critique that all modern music sounds alike, Bradlee says it’s not new: “You can recognize a ’50s song or a ’40s song because there are elements evocative of the specific era. In a sense, you can look at any musical period and see how it reflects the culture.” That’s certainly true of Postmodern Jukebox’s live act, which incorporates dancers and a theatrical element—or as Bradlee puts it, “The Lawrence Welk Show with more twerking.”
Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox play the Birchmere's Flex Stage January 19. Tickets ($25) are available online.
This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
When Kali Uchis tells her new music industry friends that she grew up in Northern Virginia, they tend to respond with sympathy.
“They are like, ‘Oh man, it’s probably like really racist there and there are cows everywhere,’” the 21-year-old singer says. “A lot of people don’t give Virginia credit. Pharrell, Missy Elliott—a lot of people come from here.”
Uchis, who was born in Colombia and moved to NoVa when she was about seven, would very much like to join those musicians in the pop-culture pantheon. Her career started in 2013 with “Drunken Babble,” a mixtape she recorded in a small, shared apartment near Old Town.
Her sleepy, cabaret-style vocals and vintage California vibe won her an online following and caught the attention of Odd Future rapper and producer Tyler the Creator, who offered to work with her on her debut album, Por Vida, which drops January 27.
Dusty deserts and vintage cars often feature in Uchis’s music videos, but she says Northern Virginia was important to her development as an artist. The area’s cultural diversity inspired her eclectic aesthetic, which she further developed at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School.
“I was really grateful for the photography classes, the art classes, and the video classes,” she says. “They would let me skip all my other classes and stay and work on my projects.”
Before Uchis moved to Los Angeles this past weekend, we took a peek inside her suitcase to see what else she brought with her from NoVa:
- A black wig. It was originally part of a Halloween costume, but Uchis is taking it so she can go incognito. “You know how my fans are,” she explains. “They’re crazy.”
- A white shag carpet and a useless rotary telephone. “I take those two things everywhere I go. They just make me feel comfy in my room.”
- White, over-the-knee boots. Uchis bought them via eBay for $60, to replace a pair of white boots that got stained by pink smoke during the shooting of the “Know What I Want” music video.
- An alien incense holder. “Aliens are definitely real,” Uchis says.
Here's "Lottery," a song from Por Vida:
One Direction wasn’t even there, yet they still managed to steal the show at Hot 99.5’s annual Jingle Ball Monday night. When the crowd, made up of primarily pubescent girls, spotted the boy band amid other music videos and teaser images flashing across the jumbo screens of the Verizon Center, they let out an earth-shattering roar. But when lights went out and the concert started, it was not 1D who took the stage but rather fellow Brit Charli XCX, who bounced onstage in a punkified cheerleader outfit for a rendition of her blockbuster summer single “Boom Clap.”
Things only got louder from there, as the concert launched into its usual lineup of tween-friendly Top 40 artists, with the ugly-Christmas-sweater-clad crew from Hot 99.5’s Kane Show providing banter and promoting contests between performances. (Headline “host” Nick Jonas, however, took the stage a mere three times to introduce a few acts and sample a bit of his new single “Jealous.”)
OneRepublic’s set served as a welcome break from all the hot pink and bubble letters flashing on the screen with their foot-stomping, hand-clapping tunes like “Counting Stars,” and took the crowd back to a kinder, gentler time called 2007 with “Apologize.” Rixton, a British cover band, promoted the forthcoming release of their debut album and opened strong with a cover of R. Kelly’s “Ignition.” Shawn Mendes, likely unknown to anyone above the age of 16, dazzled his target audience as he asked for their energy in a nervous, cracking voice while performing his single “Life of the Party.”
Kiesza, clad in loudly printed leggings, led a spontaneous aerobics class as the crowd went crazy to “Hideaway.” After the cardio session, Grammy-nominated Meghan Trainor reminded us why she’s been dominating the airwaves the past few months by performing her inescapably catchy hits “All About That Bass” and “Lips Are Movin.” Then it was time for Lil Jon to whip the crowd into a frenzy by helpfully reminding everyone where to find the window and the walls. Jingle Ball veteran Jason Derulo, who last year gave the crowd a mere peek at his infamous abs, said “Merry Christmas,” and stripped off his shirt for his final song, “Trumpets.”
“Lovatics,” in their old Demi tour shirts, squealed as their idol took the stage to belt out “Give Your Heart a Break” and “Really Don’t Care,” and threw in Frozen’s “Let It Go” for good measure. Next came another dance break courtesy of Calvin Harris on the turntables, complete with a seizure-inducing light show. Jessie J, who initially thought she was in New York rather than DC (perhaps a reasonable mistake since she just did that Jingle Ball four days ago), recovered from her blunder with an energetic performance of “Burning Up,” and later returned with the princess of the night, Ariana Grande for their earwormy collaboration “Bang Bang.” Grande, in winter white—yes, with the ponytail—provided the most Christmasy material of the night with her new single “Santa Tell Me” before launching into non-yuletide-oriented songs like “Break Free” and “Problem.” Those who were still thirsty for Charli got another taste as she took the stage once more with Rita Ora and Iggy Azalea for a group performance.
Somehow, despite screaming for three consecutive hours, the audience reached new levels when it was finally time for 5 Seconds of Summer to perform. The boys, in skinny black jeans, marched out onstage with guitars in hand and hair slicked up in crazy styles and offered hits like “Amnesia” and “She Looks Perfect” to a nonstop chorus of shrieks.
Judging from the tweets that scrolled along the bottom of the jumbo screens flanking the stage, the night was a roaring success. As one particular fan tweeted, “I am breathing the same air as 5SOS. #blessed.” Happy holidays indeed.
Jingle Ball is crazy!! Every single artist has been on point best show evaaaa #HOT995JingleBall— Alyssa Shouse (@ItsAlyssaShouse) December 16, 2014
hearing Ariana's vocals live is blessing omg #HOT955JingleBall— yaya ✿ (@yayabalbed) December 16, 2014
jingle ball is so freaking amazing im peeing myself #HOT955JingleBall— Grace (@gracieee7321) December 16, 2014
Legit just started twerking when Iggy came out no lie #HOT995JingleBall— Elizabeth Kemp (@ElizzyKemp) December 16, 2014
The Head and the Heart
DAR Constitution Hall
The Seattle folk-rockers released their second album in October 2013, featuring songs inspired by travels they embarked on after their self-titled 2011 debut. $34.
The singer/songwriter’s 2014 self-titled album is her first collection of entirely original tunes in 13 years. Never one to shy away from exploring the boundaries of her sound over her long career, she’s nailed what might be her most fully realized work. $55.
Some of the TV projects she’s been involved in have been panned (Smash; Sean Saves the World), but her musical talent (Broadway’s 9 to 5) has never been in doubt. Hilty applies the latter to Christmas music from the Great American Songbook. $65.
Zion’s Muse: Three Generations of Israeli Composers
The Ariel Quartet explores Israel’s relatively young but rich musical legacy, stretching from the 1930s work of composer Paul Ben-Haim to contemporary pieces by Menachem Wiesenberg. $44.
Guaranteed you’ve heard at least one of their electric-guitar-driven holiday tunes—now watch them perform their “rock opera” The Christmas Attic live for the first time. $42 to $73.
He’s shed the impressive beard but not the eclectic reggae sound that earned him a Grammy nomination. Hear tracks off Akeda, Matisyahu’s fifth album, which came out in June. $35.
Chuck Brown Band
Bethesda Blues and Jazz
The backing band of the late Godfather of Go-Go performs some of Brown’s greatest hits. Frank “Scooby” Sirius, formerly of the local band Lissen, joins the lineup. $25.
December 28 (December 27 sold out)
After six studio albums, the gypsy-punk band sounds more raucous than ever. Same goes for its frenetic live show, which has been known to involve crowd-surfing. $35.
The Brooklyn duo of Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser gained a following for their synth-soaked remixes of tracks by Cut Copy, Moby, and LCD Soundsystem, among others. Holy Ghost’s original tracks are equally worth a listen, as their sophomore effort, September’s Dynamics, proved. $20.
The Rhett Miller-fronted Dallas band celebrated its 20th anniversary this year by releasing its 16th album, Most Messed Up. The new tunes reflect on two decades in the music biz. $35 to $85.
Ballet West’s The Nutcracker
This version of the holiday classic—created by the Salt Lake City company’s founder, William Christensen—is a Washington favorite. $56 to $165.
Cirque de la Symphonie
A kind of Cirque du Soleil designed specifically for concert halls—with acrobats, jugglers, and cortortionists performing feats choreographed to the music of the NSO Pops. $20 to $98.
Observe the weeklong holiday with this event featuring dancers from the contemporary West African company Coyaba and its related academy, along with other special guests. $25 to $30.
The Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker
Hailing from the same country as The Nutcracker’s composer, this company has brought the production to Washington regularly since 1993. $28 to $88.
If you’re a fan of The Daily Show’s early years, there’s a good chance this Georgetown Law grad wrote some of your favorite lines: He won an Emmy for his work with the show’s original writing team. Hear him deliver his jokes his own way. $17.
A John Waters Christmas
Not to be confused with the 2004 album compiled by Waters, this show gives the kooky director a platform to poke fun at holiday memories and traditions. $49.50.
Good for the Jews
Writer Rob Tannenbaum (I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution) and David Fagin of the indie band the Rosenbergs team up for this tongue-in-cheek show of musical comedy. $20.
Pizza Underground—a.k.a. the pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band fronted by former child star/Mila Kunis’s ex-boyfriend Macaulay Culkin—plays the Black Cat Friday night. This is not the first time the group has played in Washington, but where previous shows sold out faster than you could explain the concept of the band to a friend, it appears tickets are still available for tonight’s show, for $15 apiece.
We thought about trying to interview the band, but they apparently only answer pizza-related questions. We also considered shelling out for the show—until we learned it comes with the risk of being brained by a beer bottle.
So in case you want a taste of the deep-dish fun without the threat of bodily harm (aural or otherwise), we rounded up a few more things you can get for around the same price as a Pizza Underground ticket.
3 copies of Mystic Pizza on VHS ($5.40 each)
Relive the magic of a time before Julia Roberts was a massive star and before the real-life Mystic Pizza owner owed its employees six figures in back pay.
A used copy of Kitchen Workshop—Pizza by Ruth Gresser ($13.78 and up)
Any of these locally available, Anna Spiegel-recommended pies (prices vary)
- Charcuterie pizza at Vin 909—“in Annapolis, but well worth traveling for”
- Margherita with buffalo mozzarella at 2 Amys
- Pizza with chorizo and red peppers at Pupatella
- Fennel-and-salami pizza at Ghibellina
- Clam pie (or the Staven for garlic-lovers) at Pete’s Apizza
- Anything from Vace
- Anything from Meat in a Box, Plus Did Someone Say Pizza?—“not gourmet, but pretty tasty, even sober”
- Unlimited pizza brunch at Piola
A pizza-themed shirt from Etsy ($16.98)
Whimsical and customizable!
Or two pairs of pizza socks from Beloved Shirts ($6.95 each)
Not bold enough to go Full Pizza à la Katy Perry? These make a more subtly cheesy statement.
1/100th of a free tattoo, courtesy of &pizza
The local chainlet is offering gratis ink for any customer who spends $1,500 on its food. Worth it?
Vijay Iyer: Music of Transformation
The pianist/composer—awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” last year—presents for the first time in Washington his work “Mutations I-X” as well as a multimedia piece inspired by the Hindu spring festival Holi. $20 to $55.
At this show, the 64-year-old R&B legend will play the entirety of Songs in the Key of Life, his hit 1976 double album. $49.50 to $149.50.
The R&B superstar postponed the release of his eighth album, originally expected by the end of the year, so braving the arena crowds might be the only chance to hear his new material for a while. $42.50 to $178.
Rural Alberta Advantage
Rock & Roll Hotel
The name might bring to mind delicate folk music, but this Toronto act puts out robust indie rock that’s at once wistful and upbeat. $14.
Orion Weiss With the Salzburg Marionettes
The American pianist pairs with the Austrian marionette theater, in existence since 1913, to offer adults and children a new way to experience classical favorites. $45.
Fans of the TV series Friday Night Lights know Lucca for his poignant cover of “Devil Town.” The former Mickey Mouse Club member was also a finalist on the reality show The Voice in 2012 and released a new EP in March. $17 to $25.
After performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, the Israeli troupe brings its vocal theatrics to Washington, reproducing the effects of a full orchestra through beatboxing and other sounds. $28 to $72.
Washington Chorus: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis
One of the greatest choral works comes to life with help from conductor Julian Wachner, soprano Julia Sophie Wagner, and tenor Vale Rideout. $15 to $70.
Sixth & I
The two Barr siblings started out in jazz and indie rock before settling into their current woodsy Americana style, accompanied by classically trained harpist Sarah Pagé and bassist Andrès Vial. The group’s second album, Sleeping Operator, came out this fall. $13 to $15.
We Were Promised Jetpacks
Rolling Stone named this Scottish punk outfit’s In the Pit of the Stomach one of the best under-the-radar albums of 2011. With nearly 40 stops on their current tour, on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s unlikely their new album, Unravelling, will need such a distinction. $20.
National Symphony Orchestra: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite
Bulgarian conductor Rossen Milanov leads a performance of Stravinsky’s breakout work along with Busoni’s Piano Concerto, Opus 39, with pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the Washington Men’s Camerata. $10 to $85.
Fillmore Silver Spring
The rapper—who has collaborated with artists as diverse as 2 Chainz, Taylor Swift, and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo—performs songs from Underground Luxury, released in December. $30.
The Dismemberment Plan
After breaking up for nearly a decade, the DC indie rockers got back together in 2011. Watch them perform their latest, Uncanney Valley, while their reunited front holds. $25.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
With a name as quirky as its sound, this Baltimore four-piece offers psychedelic funk rock tailor-made for dancing. The band released its first full-length album in July. $15.
Sutton Foster With the NSO Pops
The actress (from the erstwhile ABC Family show Bunheads) and Tony winner sings Broadway hits from shows including Anything Goes and Shrek the Musical, in which she originated the role of Princess Fiona. $20 to $88.
Kalanidhi Dance: Krishna, Love Re-Invented
This work by Malaysia’s Sutra Dance Theatre tells the legend of the Hindu embodiment of love through Odissi, one of India’s classical dance forms. $40.
Neil Greenberg: This
American Dance Institute
Choreographer Greenberg partners with sound designer Steve Roden and lighting designer Joe Levasseur for this new piece, which examines the collaborative process and the human desire to make meaning. $31.25.
Ballet ADI Evening With Loni Landon
American Dance Institute
The house company, Ballet ADI, performs a commissioned work by New York artist Loni Landon exploring gender and how people occupy various spaces in their lives. Also on the bill: a new piece by Washington Ballet alum Runqiao Du. $31.25.
The DC native, one of In Living Color’s original cast members, has appeared in Strictly Business, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, and other movies. $20.
One of the first openly gay female comics to appear on network TV, Westenhoefer has earned fans for her brash, up-front style. $45.
The deadpan comedian has branched out from standup to books, movies, and radio—he became a panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! this year. See his new show to find out how humor has landed him in hot water. $27.50 to $37.50.
Marley—no relation to the reggae musician—became a Guinness World Record holder in 2010 for longest standup performance. He managed to go 18 hours without repeating jokes, so you’ll almost certainly hear something new this time around. $17 to $20.