The 21-year-old pop sensation closed out the second annual holiday gig, which is hosted by local radio station Hot 99.5 — whose parent company, Clear Channel, transformed this year’s pop revue into a 12-date national tour. It’s a smart format for most of the acts invited. Sing a handful of songs and leave ’em screaming for more (or vanish before they yawn).
As ever, pop music provides children a glimpse into the adulthood they’re barreling toward, and Monday’s lineup offered a few paths to chose from.
Jason Derulo opened the show, pledging everlasting love with his syrupy sorta-hit, “Marry Me.” Fifth Harmony, a girl group formed on the “X-Factor,” was next, arguing for temporary love during a fizzy rendition of “Miss Movin’ On.” Flo Rida and Enrique Iglesias each gave grown-up party lessons over club-friendly beats that were heavy with bass and light on personality.
Fall Out Boy didn’t appear as a beacon of guidance so much as a rock band searching for purpose. Why does it still exist? To introduce these kiddos to punk rock? To score bumper music for NFL telecasts? “Music will never leave you alone,” bassist and mouthpiece Pete Wentz declared cryptically between songs, as if trying to explain his band’s wayward vibe.
Fellow emo survivors Paramore came with much more poise. Frontwoman Haley Williams was easily the most electric and fluid performer of the night, whipping her hair and throttling her lungs with equal abandon.
Soaking up the fawning screams Paramore deserved: Austin Mahone, a 17-year-old Justin Bieber cloning experiment from San Antonio. His mini-set included some popping, some locking, some entry-level acoustic-guitar strumming and some songs that were impossible to remember.
The night’s most recognizable tune came from a man in an ink-black tux and a milk-white smile. Unfortunately, Robin Thicke’s rendition of the chart-topping “Blurred Lines” felt blandly expert and his banter sounded rehearsed. “Wait ’til you see who Miley Cyrus twerks on tonight!” teased Thicke, re-phrasing a zinger he’s been reportedly zinging throughout the tour.
Of course, Thicke was referring to his infamous duet with Cyrus on this year’s MTV Video Music Awards — a quasi-spectacle that Cyrus pretty much re-created Monday night. Thicke was nowhere in sight, but Cyrus’s backup dancers writhed around in cheeky costumes: sexy reindeer, giant Christmas tree, pervy Santa.
Her songs felt garish, too. “Party in the USA” cribbed some guitar crunch from Run-DMC, and Cyrus’s tangy voice warbled during her ubiquitous power ballad, “Wrecking Ball.” She ended this momentous tune with a sincere and profane thank you, and a plug for her upcoming tour.
Obviously, this was the PG-13 version of what Cyrus is expected to deliver when she returns to the Verizon Center for her own full-scale gig April 10. That gives her youngest admirers 113 more days of innocence to hold on to.