Everyone was there for Miley, from the pre-tweens who screamed every time an image of her was teased on the Verizon Center’s colossal screens, to the adults, who wanted to see which symbol of Christmas she’d be degrading this time. “Who is Miley going to twerk on tonight?” asked Robin Thicke, shortly into his brief Jingle Ball set of three interchangeable R&B songs plus the summer mega-hit “Blurred Lines.” “Not me.” He sounded faintly relieved.
But until Miley Cyrus’s closing set, the audience had to get through the long lineup of Top 40 mainstays billed below her, from the family-friendly Jason Derulo (whose one nod at controversy was pulling up his shirt to give the screaming audience a glimpse of his abs) to the distinctly more adult Flo Rida, who pulled a sweet-looking and palpably nervous teenager wearing a long-sleeved blouse onstage during his performance of “Whistle,” whereupon a backup performer dressed as Santa handed her an enormous, well, whistle. “You just put your lips together and you come real close,” crooned Flo, while the audience of several thousand teenagers screamed along.
Flo Rida’s performance was otherwise underwhelming, relying mostly on the vocal talents of a charismatic female singer with purple hair. His songs were all recognizable chart hits, from the breakout ode to casual club wear, “Low,” to the recent collaboration with Sia, “Wild Ones.” The same couldn’t be said for girl band Fifth Harmony, whose voices were impressive but whose X Factor-spawned songs were largely unfamiliar.
The artists were introduced throughout the show by radio personalities from Hot 99.5’s The Kane Show, who sported Christmas sweaters and Santa hats to amp up the crowd for the newly reformed Fall Out Boy (FWIW, the New York Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden December 14 featured guest presenters Lindsay Lohan and Katie Holmes). Patrick Stump, Pete Wentz, Joe Trohman, and Andy Hurley arrived after a curious holiday medley of instrumentals such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” launching into 2013’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.” Even the youngest audience members knew all the words to the infectious “Sugar, We’re Goin Down,” a song that was older than some 20 percent of the people present. Meanwhile, the camera tracked Wentz non-stop as he careened furiously around the stage, a photo montage showed pictures of vintage punks circa 1980, the band entreated everyone present to rejoice in their weirdness, and jets of fire shot out of the front of the platform.
Fall Out Boy were followed by Enrique Iglesias, who sported a military cap and a wallet chain, and who delivered spirited if predictable renditions of “I Like It” and “Heart Attack”—and a profanity-free “Tonight (I’m Loving You).” Then emo-pop band Paramore came out, with magenta-haired front woman Hayley Williams appearing to be genuinely excited about performing “Still Into You.” During the ballad “The Only Exception” the crowd all launched the Torch apps on their iPhones, and a thousand little white stars glittered in the Verizon Center.
If not quite reaching critical mass, the screams definitely crescendoed upon the arrival of Austin Mahone, a sweet-looking singer who’s the caffeine-free Diet Coke to Justin Bieber’s Red Bull. The 17-year-old, who had perhaps the most meager discography of anyone present, made up for it by playing guitar through a cover version of Mario’s “Let Me Love You,” a song that came out when Mahone was nine. But with his floppy hair, his earnest smile, and his melodic pop songs, Mahone was the panacea for the rest of the Jingle Ball’s barely veiled sexual energy.
Not so Miley Cyrus, who descended upon the audience wearing a fur coat, a pair of high-cut white panties, a Chanel fanny pack, and a white turtle neck (the fur coat didn’t make it through the first song, Cyrus’ irrepressibly catchy anthem, “Party in the USA”). She twerked against a little person wearing a shiny silver catsuit and a Madonna-esque conical bra. She twerked against a performer dressed as a Christmas tree, but by this point in the year the twerking was so predictable that it almost felt mechanical. Still, Cyrus’s voice was strong and gutsy through “We Can’t Stop,” and through a cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.” Cyrus closed with “Wrecking Ball,” the power ballad from her most recent album, Bangerz, and toward the end of the number confetti shot out into the arena and helium balloons spelled out the title of the record (and its upcoming stadium tour, naturally).