KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13

KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

KDWB Jingle Ball
With Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Fall Out Boy, Ariana Grande, Enrique Iglesias, Flo Rida, Fifth Harmony, and Austin Mahone
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul December 10, 2013

Miley Cyrus somehow failed to transform your daughters into MDMA-addled porn stars or hasten the downfall of the Republic at the KDWB Jingle Ball last night. True, she only played six songs, so feel free to nurse your fretful, outraged concern until her full tour comes to town next year.

See Also: Slideshow: KDWB Jingle Ball 2013

And yet, I waited three hours at the Xcel to see Miley, so before you read about her you can wade through a few hundred words about her tour-mates. Yes, even Fifth Harmony, a girl group grown in the X Factor labs from the dead skin and hair cells of forgotten pop stars. It seemed they were there with the express purpose of performing at events like this while the kids are still finding their seats and cautiously practicing their screams. As I-will-survive anthems of girlie pluck go, "Miss Movin' On" was a sporty little coupe darting past the lumbering Hummer of self-regard that is Katy Perry's "Roar."

KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
Photos by Tony Nelson

Robin Thicke wore no foam finger and never shared the stage with Miley, though he did make the evening's first "twerk" joke, just like the dad he is. A year ago, before Thicke crossed over from R&B, where he'd been making hits for a decade, his average fan was maybe close to twice the age of your typical Jingle Ball attendee and more likely to be black. That changed with "Blurred Lines," which some people hate because it's "degrading" and some people hate because it's "douchey" and everyone else likes because it's fun to scream "You the hottest bitch in this place" when the music stops. (Think of it as a "Tin roof! Rusted" for the new millennium.) At 36, Thicke is two years younger than his dad Alan was when Growing Pains went on the air.

Every Jingle Ball trots out a Token Rock Band -- sort of a history lesson, a tribute to old-timey, pre-Britney musical traditions -- but few are met with the enthusiasm Fall Out Boy received. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Some sixteen-year-old girls know all the lyrics to 'Sugar, We're Goin Down,' and all sixteen-year-old girls know some of the lyrics to 'Sugar We're Goin Down,' but not all sixteen-year-old girls know all the lyrics to 'Sugar, We're Goin Down.'" We can only be glad Abe died before he learned just how wrong a president could be about the persistence of wordy emo-pop hits. (Still, where are these kids even hearing this song? Not on KDWB.) Pete Wentz, who has the worn but content look of your first cool friend to have a kid, gave props to Minnesota by reminiscing about childhood summers at Camp Chippewa and making a Purple Rain reference that only the chaperones in the room could have picked up on.

KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
Photos by Tony Nelson

In her crisp, retro party dress and white headband, Ariana Grande is an American Girl doll come to life, and image-wise she's sort of an anti-Miley, though not explicitly or stridently or virginally so. Sometimes it's more fun to hear a singer who wants to grow up to be Mariah Carey than to hear the real thing (a fact that Mariah has often herself demonstrated) and the charm of Grande's oversinging is that she's trying to win us over rather than put us in our place. "Honeymoon Avenue" is as prettily romantic a ballad as 2013 had for us; some of the kids talked over it because this wasn't really a night for prettily romantic ballads. Still, even her cough was adorable.


No man last night aroused so many decibels of desire as Enrique Iglesias. When Falen, a female KDWB DJ, introduced Iglesias and claimed to have kissed him backstage, a girl behind me screamed "Fuck you!" As a safety measure, large, white "EI" balloons were bounced through the crowd to distract the girls, lest the Xcel be consumed in a fireball of hormonal combustion. Enrique's greatest non-genetic gift is an ability to stay out of the way of tracks it would be reductive to call pop-EDM because that shortchanges just how many uncool Eurodance styles of the past three decades they swipe from. At 38, Iglesias is just two years younger than his dad Julio was when "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" became a hit.

KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
Photos by Tony Nelson

Next up was Flo Rida, the night's sole rapper and sort of the thinking man's Pitbull. He's become pop radio's go-to party starter by lifting vocal hooks from unlikely sources -- Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me" for "Good Feeling," Brenda Russell's "Piano in the Dark" for "I Cry." The oral metaphor of "Whistle" still feels inappropriate, though less because it's gross than because it's misleading. (Like Prince's sister used to say, "A blow job doesn't mean blow.") But "Low" is raunchy in all the right ways and good on Flo for stripping off his shirt to bare a healthy man-paunch.

Now all that stood between us and Miley was a cute buzzkill in a ski hat named Austin Mahone. Bieber comparisons are unfair -- unfair to Justin, that is, who's a superstar no matter what you think of him, while Mahone is more like ... uh, not sure. Were there boys on iCarly? Did they sing? The older teen girls behind me, who'd already dismissed Austin as "for middle-schoolers," entertained themselves by mock-screaming for him until he played the Jesse McCartney hit "Beautiful Soul" on acoustic guitar, at which point the nostalgic appeal of that "oldie" overwhelmed their sarcasm. Maybe Mahone is the new Jesse McCartney? Good luck with that, kid.

KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13

Oh, and Miley Cyrus also performed.

Miley's intro was a clip from A Charlie Brown Christmas of Linus pontificating about the holidays. Then the screen fizzled into snow and out Cyrus strutted, swaddled in an oversized white fur coat over a red pubis-framing leotard: Kid Rock and Pam Anderson all in one DTF package. Sexy dancers with antlers, a hoop-skirted tree, a wino Santa, even a sexily silver-jumpsuited dwarf--stuff it, Linus. This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

And yet, for all the outrageous human props, this was not a tongues 'n' twerks kind of night. Cyrus delivered like the showbiz veteran she already is, her set noticeably light on bangerz, offering a spectacle-with-chops that was as much Vegas as VMAs, if that's even still a meaningful distinction. She covered (appropriated?) Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness," mooned credibly through "Adore You," and brought both lungs directly to bear upon "Wrecking Ball," a song that did indeed call for the firing of confetti cannons even as it rendered them redundant.


KDWB Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center, 12/10/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

If "Party in the U.S.A." sounds a little less PG these days, "We Can't Stop" has a different vibe in concert too. With its woozy Mike WILL Made It production, the recording of suggests that pre-dawn moment when everyone who's still awake wearily celebrates that triumph while waxing nostalgic for the night's earlier antics. Live, it was the boast of straight-up adolescent defiance that teen girls love Miley for.

And damn, do they love her. With all the adult sneering about Cyrus's admittedly cynical attention-grabbing stunts, you can forget that sometimes. The little girl who acted out their bratty teen fantasies probably now looks like a superhero to them (all she needs is an emblazoned "M" and maybe some tights), but she's still playing dress-up and sassing grownups and, you know, "just being Miley."

And yet, Cyrus's hits work great in the arena, on the radio, as karaoke, because the scale of their emotions outstrips their depth. They're sponges that absorb the shared associations a fan and her friends bring to them, but pop songs can be more than that. In fact, Miley's pre-makeover hits were more than that. "See You Again" said more about infatuation and "Fly on the Wall" more about fame than anything on Bangerz, and that sort of craft is missed. Bloghacks like to say shit like "love her or hate her, you can't ignore her," but really, those aren't our only three options. And they're almost certainly not the right ones.

Personal bias: This isn't gonna make me any friends, but I can't stand Patrick Stump's voice. Never could, never will. Like a screwdriver in my lower spinal column. I welcome your hatred.

The crowd: Maybe you harbor a stereotypical image of the average KDWB listener. Maybe some stereotypes exist for a reason. Tween girls, teen girls, some young adult women, some less young adult women, some moms, some teen boys with the right idea.

Overheard in the crowd: As the video for Lorde's "Royals" played: "I don't really like her as a person." "She looks like a lizard." "Yeah, she's like the prettiest lizard."

Random Notebook Dump: Though the Jingle Ball moves along at the brisk, professional pace required to get eight acts on and off stage in a three-and-a-half hours, there was some down time. There had to be, because when else would we get to watch the commercials? Evenings most unlikely ad: A promo for the new Arsenio Hall show.

Set List:

Fifth Harmony

"Miss Movin' On"
"Don't Want to Dance Alone"
"Red" (Taylor Swift cover)
"Me & My Girls"

Robin Thicke
"Give It 2 U"
"Feel Good"
"Blurred Lines"

Fall Out Boy
"The Phoenix"
"Sugar, We're Goin Down"
"Thnks fr th Mmrs"
"Alone Together"
"Dance Dance"
"My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)"

Ariana Grande
"Right There"
"Last Christmas" (Wham! cover)
"Honeymoon Avenue"
"The Way"

Enrique Iglesias
"I'm Lovin' You"
"I Like How It Feels"
"Heart Attack"
"Baby I Like It"

Flo Rida
"Good Feeling"
"I Cry"
"Wild One"

Austin Mahone
"Say You're Just a Friend"
"Banga! Banga!"
"Beautiful Soul" (Jesse McCartney cover)
"What About Love"

Miley Cyrus
"Party in the U.S.A."
"We Can't Stop"
"Summertime Sadness" (Lana Del Rey cover)
"Adore You"
"Wrecking Ball"

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