Justin Bieber invited girls to join him under the mistletoe, The Wanted’s Jay McGuinness and singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran looked adorable in Santa hats, and Jason Mraz transformed Madison Square Garden into a winter wonderland aided by confetti cannons as Z100 celebrated its 25th annual Jingle Ball in New York City Friday night.
After a rough fall, the East Coast deserved a little holiday cheer, and Z100 Morning Show host Elvis Duran couldn’t have put it any better when he said, “Hurricane Sandy really messed up New York and New Jersey for a lot of and our listeners.”
Friday night’s strong lineup was the musical equivalent of a shiny Christmas morning present for the area, including a strong opening set from X Factor phenoms One Direction and what looked like a special preview of Taylor Swift’s forthcoming “Red” tour.
“Performing at Madison Square Garden is one of the most thrilling experiences you can have in your entire life,” Swift told the crowd.
This rang true for several performers, including One Direction. Although the British boy band had played the arena only four nights before, it is clear that Madison Square Garden is ground zero for their fans. Outside of the Garden, a line wrapped around the building not just for the show, but for the One Direction store, which features plenty of merchandise for the serious fan’s Christmas stocking -- including posters, earbuds, headphones, shirts, hoodies, mugs, and other cool knick knacks just in time for the holidays.
But for all One Direction devotees, the true gift was on the MSG stage -- the five performers in the flesh. “Happy holidays to everyone,” said Harry Styles with a big smile on his face.
Throughout their set, each group member mugged for the cameras and delivered spirited renditions of all their hits -- “Live While We’re Young,” “One Thing,” and “What Makes You Beautiful.” A stripped down version of the gorgeous Sheeran penned confessional ballad, “Little Things,” showcased each member’s vocal attributes, particularly Zayn Malik and Niall Horan.
Interestingly, Sheeran was the Jingle Ball’s MVP of the evening. Prior to the show, the British entertainer performed a lengthy set at the Hammerstein Ballroom’s Coca Cola All Access lounge, where an enthusiastic, screaming crowd had gathered for appearances by X Factor alums and Jingle Ball stars Olly Murs and Cher Lloyd.
Sheeran again brought out his trusty guitar for a set inside the radio station’s first ever Z100 Jingle Ball Viewing party, which streamed the concert live for people unable to score tickets inside the Garden.
Indeed, Sheeran was in-demand as Swift invited the singer onstage for a first time ever duet of their song, “Everything Has Changed.” With all the Sheeran love in the room, his too short acoustic set of two songs, current hit “The A Team” and the destined-for-rom-com-trailer ditty, “Lego House,” just wasn’t enough.
Swift’s mini-concert, however, was a strong indicator of how the “Red” tour with opener Sheeran is going to play out in 2013. With a glitzy set and a big "Red" logo behind her, Swift was a commanding presence, holding the crowd’s attention with nothing more than her hand on her hip and a knowing glance at the cameras. Dressed in a gold top and red shorts, Swift delivered her newer material, “State of Grace” and the arena anthem, “I Knew You Were Trouble” along with older hits, “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” and the kiss-off song of the year, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
"I'm so honored to be here at Madison Square Garden and you are so loud, New York City,” she said.
The shrieks continued, as B.O.B. brought his hip-hop hits, “Magic,” “Airplanes,” and “Nothin’ On You” to the crowd, performing with his guest vocalists, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Paramore's Haley Williams and Bruno Mars, against recorded tracks. However, he had the benefit of Swift in the house, as she was available to sing live on her own hook, “Both of Us,” for a jam that included Swift mouthing the rap parts with precision.
The Jingle Ball had its share of Grammy-nominated artists at the ready, including, fun., celebrating four huge nods with album, record, song of the Year and best new artist. A tight, three-song set of “Some Nights,” “Carry On,” and “We Are Young” represented a victory lap for vocalist Nate Ruess, who at one point lay on the stage just to take in the moment.
“It’s good to be home in New York City,” he said. “This is a dream come true to play at Madison Square Garden.”
The evening also hosted the shortest set ever by Lloyd. After a humorous introduction by Disney star Bridget Mendler -- who coaxed the audience to do their best Lloyd “grunts” as loud as they could -- the X Factor fifth place finisher performed one hit, “Want You Back,” and promptly left the stage.
Lindsay Lohan was in the house as well, cheering on her new favorite band, The Wanted. Although living up to their bad boys reputation off stage, during their set, the guys showed their sweet side. At one point, singers Max George and the ever charismatic McGuiness, who said the group felt right at home since there were so many Brits in the audience, brought a girl who looked no older than 10 on stage to dance with them for their hit, “Glad You Came.” Although serenading a tween with the line, “Hand you another drink,” was a tad awkward, the crowd ate it up, as they did the group's latest offering, “I Found You,” an engaging dance song with Scissor Sisters-like falsetto vocals.
Ne-Yo proved to be a truly complete and engaging entertainer whose dance moves and stage presence seem to under-appreciated. His older material, “So Sick,” still holds up live, but his new single “Let Me Love You” was no doubt the biggest crowd pleaser. Also on the set list: singles with Afrojack and Pitbull, “Give Me Everything,” and the Calvin Harris track, “Let’s Go” (which served as the official Jingle Ball kick off anthem of the evening).
After a short and sweet acoustic set by Mraz from the back of the arena (who sprinkled in a dash of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" during his self-described “hippie” tune, “I’m Yours”), he was the first entertainer to finally acknowledge the holiday with a sweet medley of Christmas songs for the occasion.
Of course, for this audience of pop-obsessed listeners, the biggest gift of all was the show's closer, teen star Bieber, who not only displayed some fine acoustic guitar skills (Bieber’s a lefty, and his sweet rendition of his song, “Fall,” was met with deafening screams), but revealed his fine physique as he ripped off his shirt for the finale of “Baby.”
“Every time I come to New York City, there are so many beautiful girls,” he said, before treating his Beliebers to “Beauty and a Beat.” His set had it all -- dance numbers, hits, and Christmas selections from his 2011 album, Under the Mistletoe -- and a clear view of his tattoo.
Jingle Ball special guests included presenters Peter Facinelli, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kelly Ripa, Christy Turlington Burns, Dancing with the Stars’ brothers Maksim and Val Chmerkovskiy and Peta Murgatroyd, Kelly Bensimon, Olympic gold medalist, Jordyn Wieber, Carson Kressley and Hot Chelle Rae.