— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) December 13, 2014
NEW YORK—If you wanted to make a time capsule of what happened in pop music this year, Friday night’s Jingle Ball—the annual extravaganza held in Madison Square Garden put on by pop station Z100—would most likely provide the most accurate account.
There was Pharrell—with the hat—crooning his hit “Happy”; Iggy Azalea rapping and posturing as she breezed through “Fancy”; Jessie J and Ariana Grande playfully one-upping each other in the power-vocal showcase smash “Bang Bang”; and Meghan Trainor serving sass on what was arguably the song of the year, “All About That Bass.”
But the king and queen of the night (and perhaps the year) were Sam Smith and Taylor Swift. Their separate performances couldn’t have been less alike: Smith was all about stately R&B while Swift brought her perky pop. But they were the emotional highlights, capturing the hearts of fans who expressed their approval with ear-piercing shrieks and screams.
“I am the only person who asks you to scream loudly tonight who is about to turn 25 in 10 minutes,” Swift told the crowd shortly before she celebrated her birthday after the stroke of midnight.
Smith, the newcomer who last week was nominated for six Grammys including record, song and album of the year, was the most unlikely pop star of the bunch; he sings traditional, downtempo soul songs and doesn’t dance; his signature look is a drab suit and his wide, doleful eyes.
But his searing, soulful voice has made him among the most acclaimed artists of the year, and fans at Jingle Ball, who range all ages but skew heavily toward the tween and teen set, were captivated by it as he powered through songs like “I’m Not the Only One,” “Latch” and his signature hit, the Grammy-nominated “Stay With Me.”
Swift—the evening’s final performer—was the clear fan favourite. The former country princess opened her newly exclusive pop set with her love letter to her new hometown, “Welcome to New York,” then segued to her self-mocking “Blank Space.” She shined, engaging the audience with an energetic set that showed her charm as a performer—dancing and grooving with her band through songs like “Shake it Off” as she playfully yet forcefully warbled the grooves.
Other acts got love too. Grande—wearing a saucy white outfit that looked like a leftover from her recent Victoria’s Secret gig—was reminiscent of a young Christina Aguilera as she ran through the hits that made her one of the year’s top acts, including “Problem;” while that song features Iggy Izalea, the Australian rapper didn’t join in for that one, preferring to stick to her own set, which featured collaborations with Charli XCX and Rita Ora.
One Republic won the crowd early with songs like “Apologize.” Dreamy teen boy acts like 5 Seconds of Summer and newcomers Shawn Mendes and Rixton whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and even Nick Jonas—whom with his brothers nearly ruptured eardrums just a few years ago—had the crowd on its feet as he performed his comeback single “Jealous.”
Other performers included Gwen Stefani (who performed with Pharrell), Maroon 5 and Calvin Harris.