iHeartRadio 2013: Katy Perry, Elton John roll out the hits


LAS VEGAS -- To get a sense of how much music -- and how much corporate appeasement -- was crammed into the first night of this weekend’s iHeartRadio Music Festival, consider this: Robin Thicke, whose “Blurred Lines” recently topped the Hot 100 for 12 weeks in a row, played one song.

Even Ryan Seacrest, the host of Friday evening’s show, and Diddy, who turned up unannounced to introduce the R&B singer, agreed that Thicke had completely dominated the summer.

Yet after emerging through the audience and delivering an especially jumpy version of “Blurred Lines” -- the sly disco-funk jam that may (or may not) borrow from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” -- Thicke split, disappearing backstage to schmooze, perhaps, with the radio executives who put on iHeartRadio and helped “Blurred Lines” achieve such omnipresence. The show, meanwhile, moved on.


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And it kept moving.

Ten acts crossed the stage of the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday night, and that’s not counting the Summer Set, an unconvincing emo-rock outfit that earned the chance to appear before Thicke as something called the Macy’s iHeartRadio Rising Star. (Oh, add one more to the total: Ylvis, the Norwegian comedy duo who did a surprise performance of their viral-video hit “The Fox.”)

Every other performer or group could headline a festival on their own: Katy Perry, Elton John, Fun., Chris Brown, Queen with Adam Lambert, Keith Urban, J. Cole, Muse and a pair of superstar DJs spinning between sets, Tiësto and Benny Benassi. (The same is true of Saturday’s lineup, which includes Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney and Drake, among others.)

But just because they all could play for hours didn’t mean anyone did.

Named after the Clear Channel Communications app that allows users to listen to the company’s terrestrial radio stations online, iHeartRadio operates at a quick clip, with an emphasis on familiar hits that led Kelly Rowland, in her introduction of Tiësto, to describe the festival as “like the app come to life.”

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Later, Perry told the audience at the MGM Grand, “I have a record coming out in October, but that doesn’t mean I ain’t gonna play the songs you wanna hear right now.” Even people watching or listening to a live stream could pick up the faintest note of resentment -- the artist held captive to her old work.


First world problems? Undoubtedly, which is why Perry didn’t complain outright. And anyway, she managed to play two songs from next month’s “Prism”: “Roar,” of course, the No. 1 single for which she did a pared-down version of the boxing-ring set piece she premiered on last month’s MTV Video Music Awards, and “Dark Horse,” which featured a guest appearance by the Memphis rapper Juicy J.

Her outfit seemingly inspired by ‘90s-era Björk and Shirley Manson, Perry otherwise stuck to hits like “Teenage Dream,” “California Gurls,” “Firework” and “I Kissed a Girl,” remade here as a kind of grungy electro-goth jam complete with solo by a guitarist wearing ripped blue jeans and a red flannel shirt.

John kept his performance even tighter, sneaking only “Home Again” (from an album he’s releasing next week) into a string of his classics, including “Benny and the Jets” and “Tiny Dancer.” It wasn’t anything his fans haven’t seen before -- many times, probably -- but at iHeartRadio that’s a recipe for success, and one the audience happily devoured.

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Though it was the least invested in fresh material, Queen actually showed off new facets of its sound with Lambert, who brought a kind of R&B edge to “We Are the Champions” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” For “Fat Bottomed Girls” the group was joined by Fun.; that band’s Nate Ruess also sang “Somebody to Love,” his eyes sparkling with disbelief.

Still, those novel touches didn’t diminish the nostalgia factor -- the feeling that Queen’s set was simply oldies radio come to life, as Rowland maybe thought if she stuck around to watch it.


Using many of the same tools as Queen -- big melodies, soaring vocals, manicured guitar crunch -- Muse seemed more alive to the world outside the MGM Grand, particularly during “Panic Station,” for which the band was accompanied by animated images of various leaders (including Presidents Obama and Putin) moonwalking and doing the robot.

Brown, too, let some air into a determinedly circumscribed experience, dancing with a lithe sensuality in “Beautiful People” and projecting a villainous energy in “Look at Me Now” that made nice guys like Urban and J. Cole look characterless in comparison. (The latter perked up slightly with the arrival of two guests: Miguel in “Power Trip” and the surviving members of TLC in “Crooked Smile.”)

Equally reviled and adored, Brown needs the kingmakers at Clear Channel just as much as the other acts at iHeartRadio. But Friday he seemed propelled by his own agenda -- a bad boy indebted to no one.


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Twitter: @mikaelwood