NF was in a cage. Bebe Rexha’s top fell off. Calvin Harris was nowhere to be seen.
This was Tuesday night’s iHeart Radio Jingle Ball 2018 in a nutshell as the nationwide star-studded tour kicked off with a bang in Dallas at the American Airlines Center.
Some of the best from today's pop radio came out to perform. And then some others. And some people you probably have never heard of. Yet.
After a single song by Caroline Kraddick, a DFW native whose father was radio god Kidd Kraddick, Alessia Cara came out in a baggy suit. The “Scars to Your Beautiful” singer brought an effortless vibe and good energy, even though the crowd hadn’t quite settled in yet.
Then came Sabrina Carpenter, sexy dancing her way out of her Disney Channel persona clad in black lace. Along with her backup dancers, Carpenter put on the charm as she performed some songs off her new album that debuted this month, Singular Act 1.
Why Don’t We, a boy band that had the girls going nuts, performed songs like “Talk” and “Trust Fund Baby.” Their style was a lot more casual than a BTS performance but a lot more choreographed than One Direction. If One Direction had an American bad boy, skater dude cousin, that would be Why Don’t We. Perhaps with better songwriting, they can be every teenage girl’s next obsession.
When Bebe Rexha hit the stage, she was dressed in all red. She layered a shiny jacket over a sparkly halter top. After busting out a couple songs, she was seen fiddling with her jacket. Mid-set, she had to button her jacket up all the way because her top was falling off.
“I’m so sorry, Dallas!” she said, playing it off. “My top almost came off.”
Luckily she had buttoned up her jacket in time, because soon all of AAC could see her top hanging out. The professional still whipped her hair around and twerked completely unfazed.
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Shawn Mendes was next. One smile from this charming pop idol has the tendency to remove any doubts of his talent. He ran out wearing a wine-colored silky shirt and carrying a guitar, and his abnormally flawless hair sent every girl screaming. Mendes busted out hits like “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” “Stitches,” “In My Blood” and even a newer hit, “Lost in Japan.” The picture-perfect singer delivered the cute-boy-with-the-guitar thing well, cranking out his hits as if you were listening to your little sister blasting her Spotify playlist.
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Perhaps the more jarring transition was the shift from Shawn Mendes to NF. The rapper began his set in a cage. Maybe a prison? NF provided a lot more visually, playing with spotlights and shadows so we could mostly just see the outline of his hoodie and barely make out the black Joker-like marking on his mouth. NF began spitting bars behind bars, then breaking free to wheel around a rickety grocery shopping cart with black balloons. We're sure it was supposed to be some sort of symbolism. At one point he also climbed on top of the cage. It was easy to pick out his fans in the crowd. They weren’t here for the teeny-bopper bubbly pop tunes; they were here to recite every thousand-mile-an-hour line that came out of NF’s mouth. The rapper transformed into his music while he was performing in a way no other artist did last night. His meaningful songs like “Let You Down” brought an emotional weight that you could almost feel permeating the crowd.
Then came Bazzi, whom you might have heard of because of his recent collaboration with Camilla Cabello, “Beautiful.” His performance wasn’t the most memorable to some who might not have known him, but you could tell he had excited fans.
Some could argue that Mendes is the biggest name of the night, having more than triple the number of Instagram followers as headliner Calvin Harris. But as much as Mendes is pop radio’s darling at the moment, Harris has the hits that have been on radio stations around the world for years. Because he’s more of a DJ than a singer, people sometimes forget how many songs of his are super recognizable party anthems, but Tuesday night he was memorable.
Harris had it all — an epic light show, smoke, pryo. The whole center was lit up, every square inch of the place got to be a part of the party. You could feel the floor shake from the crowd bouncing to hits like “Summer,” “We Found Love” and more. But Harris was nowhere to be seen. The people toward the back of the arena were left wondering if Harris was ever going to come out on stage, but as it turns out, he was there the whole time. The DJ was up in a booth, but with all the lights, he might as well have been invisible. The Scottish artist’s voice could be heard, but he wasn't seen. Either way, he put on an epic dance party.