Radio shows make the world go round during the month of December. Headliners fill bills where their sets are sliced and diced for maximum impact delivering hits and nothing but the hits. It's easy to scoff at these shows where there is no true headliner, but there over the course of three-hours a dozen pop acts swayed me to think otherwise. I'm someone who wants to drown in an artists' catalog. I want to be overwhelmed by it and discover every corner of their discography. This multi-hour show with some of the biggest hit makers in music today serves as a taste of what each are capable of and reveals the talents of many of these stars, who are often overlooked at times for their continual exposure. Looking over the list of stars and radio-ready acts including The Chainsmokers, Demi Lovato with Special Guest Cheat Codes, Halsey, Charlie Puth, Kesha, Camila Cabello, Liam Payne, Julia Michaels and Why Don't We, one thing was evident, the cold Chicago evening belonged to the women.
The Chicago iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour 2017 (presented by Capital One) was the ninth stop on the nationwide tour and was done in support of Chicago's 103.5 KISS FM. Setting up shop at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, the performance stretched more than three-hours with more than thirty different songs. Why Don't We, Liam Payne and Charlie Puth performed well-received sets with the younger fans particularly supportive and vocal. Each act only had 12-15 minutes to make an impression and yet with a pocket full of hits, they did just that hitting and leaving the stage with hits. The women who took to the stage at the Allstate walked out with something to prove. In a day and age of women taking the word by the jugular, each of the women performers rose to the occasion performing as if their careers depended upon it. Layers of complexities, emotions and bold proclamations had the 12,000-strong audience on their feet screaming, their hearts pumping and their eyes ducts watering.
Julia Michaels was the first act of the evening to have a band with her and she made the most of it. Hailing from Davenport, Iowa, Michael has made a career of writing songs for others including Justin Bieber's "Sorry", many of the songs on the most recent Britney Spears album, Glory, and "Used To Love You" by Gwen Stefani. Michaels came to the stage with cool and collected confidence. The years behind the scenes served her well and she's taken her songwriting talent to the stage where she belted out an acoustic medley of songs she's written for others (including "Sorry") and her hit single "Issues" which left the audience wanting more. Despite not having a full length album released to date, Michaels elicited enthusiastic reactions from the audience. She may continue her hot streak of songwriting, but it's the performer who wants to share something with the larger world we need to keep an eye on.
These radio shows sometimes don't receive the credit they deserve. Watching more than a dozen artists deliver hit-after-hit is something to see. These acts have a short time on stage to make an impression and they have to give it their all from the moment the whistle is blown and Kesha did just that. Kesha Rose Sebert is known to the music world for her upbeat and spunky songs. She's been sidelined for the last few years but 2017 found her making a mouth gaping comeback. Opening her set with "Take It Off" she shimmered and shook across the stage where she played, teased, laughed and engaged the audience like no other performer at the Jingle Ball. With a winking eye and a shortened set, she took to making up for lost time. When she performed "Praying" from her recently released Rainbow album, the crowd stood there, sung along and lifted Kesha and the song to heights no one else could touch for the rest of the evening. There's a difference between a professional performance and one that reaches into the depth of your soul that is expunged because you have no other choice. Kesha wrangled with the wrongs sent her way and revealed a vulnerable and beautiful woman making her way in the world. I've seen a thousand shows in my lifetime and this performance of "Praying" will never leave me. Whatever Kesha has been through in recent years, she came through the other side and her goose bump inducing vocal for "Praying" left the crowd rapturous. Closing with "Tik Tok" she gave a hint of what is to come in 2018 when she tours with Macklemore shifting between the spiritual, the spunky and the sensual.
Halsey wasted no time delivering a torrential downpour of emotions. She headlined the Allstate Arena a few weeks earlier and conducted her Jingle Ball performance with the same concentration. Halsey has an ability to make an imprint on her fans. To some it's pop music but to others it's life changing. Her most recent studio collection, Badlands spins pop music on its head. "Now or Never", "Bad At Love" and "Closer" are entrancing with sylphlike pop grooves that weave themselves around the arena in a truly transcendent manner. What's most impressive about Halsey is the way she carries herself. She's in her early twenties, but sings, shares and performs like someone with decades of experience to share.
Hitting the stage in black see-through pants, Demi Lovato gripped the audience with "Confident" and "Cool For the Summer" kicking off her short set. She has spent the better part of the last decade as a radio staple and with each album her confidence and poise as an artist grows. By the time she reached "Sorry Not Sorry", she had the crowd in the palm of her hand traversing the stage as a woman on a mission. The most startling aspect of Lovato is not her beauty, her collection of indelible hits or her striking fashion sense but her voice. Often lost amidst the layers of production that defines pop music is a woman with a voice that will bring you to your knees. There is soul yearning to be heard and in concert, you can see the effort, strength and desire to share something with the audience. This isn't about stardom or success, but a deeper desire to express. Lovato is a top tier pop star, but when the day comes where the hits may not make it to radio, be ready and prepared for a woman to knock you off kilter with a voice that will speak to your past, your present and reveal your future. Demi Lovato returns to Chicago on March 9th to the Allstate Arena.
Jingle Ball 2017 was closed out by the Chainsmokers, the EDM duo consisting of Alex Pall and Andrew Taggar. The hooks were plentiful during their set, but it was the surprise appearance of Halsey on their number-one song "Closer" that was the highlight. Her presence elevated their set and the show. Despite performing the song at Coachella and the American Music Awards in 2016, their Jingle Ball performances are special occasions and their duet is something we're unlikely to see again. As the Chainsmokers closed the show with "Something Just Like This" and "Don't Let Me Down", fires blazed, confetti ascended and a sold-out crowd screamed their hearts out for the songs they love, they adore and that defined their 2017.
Jingle Ball is about the radio, specifically hits. These are earworms you hear on your commute in the morning and can't shake. Radio is often aligned for its lack of variety but its impact is still undeniable. A young girl behind me, no more than ten years old, sang, danced and let go of every emotion in her small frame to each and every hit. Whether or not she still listens to these acts or songs years from now is not known, but the memory of this night, the feeling the music gave her and how it made her feel will stay with her forever, and when it comes to music, can we ask for anything else?
About the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball
The iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2017 Tour is presented by Capital One. Additional proud partners of this year's national iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour events include: Absolutฎ Vodka, Capital Oneฎ, Columbia Pictures' Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, in theaters December 20th, Cuties, The CW Network, Macy's, Ulta Beauty, and Verizon. Multimarket partners include: Coca-Cola, Fujifilm Instax, John Frieda Hair Care, Luden'sฎ, new Tic Tac GUM, and Power Crunch Protein Bars.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Photo Credits by Getty Images for iHeartMedia
iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour 2017