Mingling, jingling at KIIS’ holiday spectacle

Brown is a Times staff writer.

A few minutes after rapper David Banner sauntered onstage at the 102.7 KIIS FM Jingle Ball in Anaheim on Saturday night, he plucked an adorable little girl from the audience, hoisted her onto his shoulders and ran through a cultural and racial roll call of the crowd. “What I love about Jingle Ball is that it brings so many different races together,” Banner said. “Where are my Native American brothers and sisters in the house? Where the black folks at? White people, make some noise!”

Banner’s banter invited everyone into the big tent of pop fandom. Jingle Ball had a similar, if even more sweeping, goal: four hours of rapid-fire blasts to the pleasure cells where teenagers store their favorite hooks from drive-time radio. Who cares about their differences -- in culture, fashion, musical genres -- when it all comes down to a simple test: Does a single sound good while ripping doughnuts in the high-school parking lot? If yes, then Chris Brown’s fleet-footed R&B; dance moves, Tokio Hotel’s Sonic the Emo Hedgehog haircuts and Katy Perry’s bi-curious electro pop are all welcome.

There’s no room for dawdling, however, as Jingle Ball’s format (each artist plays two to five singles, then politely exits) makes a big entrance essential. So it seemed entirely appropriate that Perry emerged onstage from a giant banana in a particularly racy Mrs. Claus outfit, and that Jesse McCartney prefaced his set with a video montage of himself posing in a variety of expensive sunglasses, and that Chris Brown descended headfirst from the rafters, dangling by invisible wires.

In a weird inversion of pop radio’s merits, however, a strong and ubiquitous single wasn’t enough to stand out in the Jingle Ball round table. British singer Estelle can claim two of the most consistently fun pop tunes today -- the Kanye West-assisted “American Boy” and the lovers rock-reggae hit “Come Over,” but an uncertain mix hobbled both. Any live vocal contributions by Akon or the Pussycat Dolls (whose burlesque dances are bested by locals at Jumbo’s Clown Room any given night) were flagrantly outnumbered by backing tracks, though Akon did compensate with an inspired bit of crowd-surfing.


Fortunately, the guard changed so fast there was barely time to stew in opposition. Some artists did even better live than on the radio -- “Get Like Me” misuses Banner’s fierce Southern bark in service of consumption porn, but a bit of thug bravado was most welcome after Tokio Hotel’s glittery presence. McCartney’s “Leavin’ ” is a highly suspect invitation to join the young singer on his hypothetical private jet, but his incandescent grin and unexpected vocal range made a good argument for boy band-era precision onstage.

Any mention of the name “Chris Brown” from the show’s hosts sent the young, female and generally besotted audience into screaming fits. Brown’s headlining set was, in kind, less a performance of music than a celebration of Chris Brown-ness, a flaming nebula of charisma that made whatever snippet of song he tackled largely beside the point. Brown is probably the best dancer in pop music today (a hugely underrated skill), and he turned over a big portion of his set to a gang of nimble kids who joined him in several dance-offs that surely left phantom pains in the joints of all adults in the room.

Hits such as “No Air” and “Kiss Kiss” were perfectly competent windows-down confections, but each was overshadowed by the sheer wattage of Brown’s star power. So goes Jingle Ball as a whole -- a good song will get you on the radio, but you have to rise above the playlist to stay there.