Lil Nas X, Doja Cat & BTS steal the show at Jingle Ball 2021

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“This song is called ‘Old Town Road’,” Lil Nas X said, as if anyone at Friday Night’s Forum might not have known. “It came out three years ago today.

So much has happened in the public life of this 22-year-old singer, rapper and digital marketing scholar that his country-trap smash out of nowhere may sound like something old now – one of those tunes , like “Dancing Queen” or “Whoomp! (There he is)”, which do not require any introduction.

But as he reminded the Forum crowd at Friday’s Jingle Ball concert, barely 36 months have passed since he posted “Old Town Road” on SoundCloud, then seen that it quickly became viral on TikTok. The rest, you know: the record-breaking 19-week reign atop Billboard’s Hot 100, the subsequent hits that disproved claims he would end up being a fancy one-and-done guy, the Twitter feud with the Governor of South Dakota. Kristi Noem on Lil Nas X’s Supposed Threat to the Eternal Souls of American Children.

Now, just days after receiving five Grammy nominations including album, record and song of the year, it was here playing the penultimate slot at the annual Christmas party presented by LA’s KIIS-FM (and its powerful parent company, iHeartMedia).

To mark the occasion, he wore an alluring metallic skirt and, at least until he got rid of it, a matching silver jacket.

Lil Nas X wasn’t the only pop star of The Jingle Ball, returning in person this year after a virtual pandemic edition in 2020. The four-hour show also featured Doja Cat, Saweetie and Kid Laroi, as well as One blink and you’ll miss the appearance of BTS, the South Korean boy group who just completed a sold-out four-night booth at SoFi Stadium.

Doja Cat performs at the 2021 Jingle Ball.

(Kevin Winter / Getty Images for iHeartRadio)

Beyond their intuitive blend of song and rap – perhaps the defining aesthetic indicator of Spotify-era pop – what unites these acts is their knowledge of the Internet; each used social media and streaming platforms to build an following without having to depend entirely on the traditional gatekeepers who the help of previous artists needed to break through.

Yet for all the self-determination that Instagram allows, the Top 40 terrestrial radio still maintains access to the latest levels of pop ubiquity: although BTS was huge in the United States before the group received a major broadcast. from American radio he became a supernova here only after songs including “Dynamite” and “Butter” began to cover the airwaves.

Hence the group’s desire to come and kiss the ring at the Jingle Ball after an exhausting week of their own concerts. Dressed charmingly in a casual Friday style, the seven members sang – what else? – “Butter” and “Dynamite” (the latter in a tingling holiday remix), accepted a birthday cake intended for the band’s Jin from one of the DJs at KIIS, then politely left the stage for a less compulsory activity.

What was gratifying about Doja Cat and Lil Nas X’s performances – the highlights of the Friday show – was how much they’ve simplified their idiosyncrasies now that they’re inside the big tent. Both brought an abundance of energy to the work at hand; both seemed excited to refresh an average executive with new ideas.

A man dressed in black with an acoustic guitar sings on stage

Ed Sheeran at the 2021 Jingle Ball.

(Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images for iHeartRadio)

For Doja Cat, whose album “Planet Her” and single “Kiss Me More” are part of Lil Nas X’s Grammy competition, that meant a sense of female sexual agency that pop radio doesn’t always celebrate. Whipping her long red hair as her hips tucked under a puffy harem pants, she sang about the pursuit of pleasure in songs that flowed smoothly from glittering disco to lavish R&B. The mode was alluring but barely accommodating: towards the end of her brief set – at the Jingle Ball you have about 20 minutes to do your thing – Doja Cat did fierce renditions of her songs “Tia Tamera” and “Need to Know, ”spitting densely phrased lyrics as his drummer pushed the music into rumbling rap-rock.

Lil Nas X was equally blunt in showcasing gay black desire as he and his troupe of male dancers twisted through songs such as “Industry Baby,” “Scoop,” and the record-breaking “Montero (Call Me By Your Name) “, which he remakes as a breathless mash-up with Beyoncé’s” Baby Boy “.

Like that of Doja Cat, the music of Lil Nas X freely crosses genres; “Lost in the Citadel” was a crisp pop-punk, while “Holiday” sounded like old school ‘N Sync. And as befits someone who has come of age on the internet, he can switch cleanly between emotional registers: before “This is what I want”, a burning issue about needing “a boy who can cuddle me all night, “Lil Nas X asked the crowd,” Who wants love? – then added with perfect timing, “Well, you’ll never have it.”

In addition to these new stars, Jingle Ball made room for old ones: Ed Sheeran was there to sing a few of his sappy acoustic love songs, and the Black Eyed Peas closed the show with a quick run. in a big stupid stadium. -rave jams like “I Gotta Feeling”. (Dua Lipa, the British dance-pop singer who represents something of an intergenerational figure, canceled due to laryngitis.)

There were also a handful of low-powered newcomers, including Tate McRae, Dixie D’Amelio, and Bazzi, who punctuated one of his Post Malone-meets-Jason Mraz tracks with a surprisingly tangy recognition of the transactional nature. by Jingle Ball.

“They gave me quick playing time because I haven’t had a hit in a year and a half,” he said.

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