iHeartRadio’s annual Jingle Ball (or 106.1 KISS FM’s Jingle Ball, as far as DFW is concerned) made its way through Fort Worth’s Dickies Arena on Tuesday night, and as tradition has it, half a dozen of the hottest names in pop music played 20-30 minute sets with five-minute intermissions between.
The quasi-touring festival stoked anticipation earlier this year when it left American Airlines Center and decided to go for the hot, new arena. AAC has always been a good host for the affair, but Dickies Arena let Jingle Ball throw a killer party.
The party started when Lauv took the stage at around 7:40 p.m. Pretty early for a party, but Dickies Arena’s had plenty to drink, so we were able to pass the time as the singer-songwriter kicked things off with a short set that all the fashionably late people missed.
Fortunately, most of those people made it to the party just as things started to get lit. Pop extraordinaire and former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello took the stage 20 minutes later. It was an odd move to start things off on such a high note by having a Jumbotron name play so early, but it was easily one of the strongest highlights.
Cabello had eight backup dancers and stage left were two singers who took on a Supremes-esque demeanor. Each of these people played an integral role in giving Cabello’s performance a sense of panache, as did the pyrotechnics and confetti cannons used over the course of her 25-minute set.
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Cabello has an impressively commanding voice that defaults to mezzo-soprano but can nonchalantly reach Mariah Carey levels when needed. Despite our previous critiques of her longtime associate and “Señorita” collaborator Shawn Mendes, Cabello pulls off an interesting style that combines your run-of-the-mill commercial pop with genres such as dance hall and Latin pop. It would maybe be a stretch to say she’s a pioneer, but she puts her own spin on contemporary pop and owns it.
When Charlie Puth took the stage, it seemed as if Cabello took some of the wind out of the remainder of the night. While Puth's set did pale in comparison to Cabello's, it wasn’t for complete lack of merit. At first, Puth came across like any other pop artist who tries to mimic Justin Timberlake, but in mere minutes, we saw a multidimensional side to his artistry as he shredded on a keytar and serenaded the crowd with piano ballad “One Call Away.”
Puth put on a respectable performance, but he had the misfortune of being sandwiched between two of Jingle Ball’s best performers. After Puth ended his set with the Wiz Khalifa-featured “See You Again,” the immensely more talented Lizzo took the stage with four backup dancers in performing “Good As Hell.”
Lizzo should have closed out the entire show. She brought the party vibe to its culmination as she and her fellow dancers twerked and instructed the crowd to chant, “Teach me how to twerk, Lizzo.” She was also easily the most talented vocalist to take the stage (apologies to the other five artists), and it added to the effectiveness of her bad bitch anthems.
She was especially a better vocalist than her successor, Sam Smith (who goes by “they/them” pronouns). People sing high praises for Smith, but even that metaphorical singing sounds more pleasant to the ear than Smith's voice low notes. Overall, Smith is a great singer, but as they sing in a lower pitch, they sound like Morrissey getting a wisdom tooth pulled. It put a damper on the otherwise favorable qualities of their performance, whether it was the compelling falsetto vocals or Disclosure’s production on the song “Latch.”
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As Smith exited the stage, one-third of the crowd left before Why Don’t We’s closing performance, and the boy band did an admirably good job at pretending they didn’t notice. The quintet closed their set, and by extension the entire show, with an “unplugged” version of “What Am I.” Digital percussion backing tracks kicked in during the chorus, but that didn’t take away from how well the acoustic guitar and cello meshed with their vocal harmonies.
Jingle Ball could have made better arrangements that would have ended things on a high note, but we’re letting it slide since it was a Tuesday night. Dickies Arena proved how capable it was of hosting this type of party.
Sorry, AAC. It’s nothing personal.