It's so loud.
The annual star-studded Christmas concert, the Z100 iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, wasn't just loud in the way that old people groan about when amongst youths and out past 9 p.m. It was louder than usual. You could feel the loudness. Heck, my beer was vibrating.
It was loud in the way that thousands of shrieking tweens meet the gumption of today's aspiring pop superstars, a conflagration of unbridled enthusiasm that rages with volume when those things collide. It was fun and silly; a little annoying and occasionally deafening. It was very 2015.
I was at the annual concert, which unites New York radio's one-hit wonders with a handful of tested mega-artists, investigating a hypothesis.
I am an unapologetic fan of pop music, specifically the pop music that was around when I was at the age of the Mountain Dew-chugging 13-year-olds that surrounded me at Madison Square Garden, a bevy of 100-pound adolescents with sore texting thumbs and an average two hours each spent with a hair straightener between them.
It's such a familiar observation that I'm embarrassed at the cliche of it: they don't make music like they used to. At the very least, I thought, they don't make pop stars like they used to.
But watching the rise of the likes of Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Nick Jonas, a trio of radio stars who traded in their mouse ears to produce pleasantly appealing pop music, I wondered: Are they this generation's version of now-iconic artists Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake?
The parallels are there: Disney stars who married themselves to smart producers, who in turn helped announce them as all-grown-up purveyors of pop earworms. I like Gomez's "Same Old Love," Lovato's "Confident," and Jonas's "Jealous." Is the future of pop music safe in their hands?
The Jingle Ball, too, gave a wider of sampling of what it means to a pop sensation in 2015, whether it's proven sensations like Gomez, Lovato, or fellow headliners The Weeknd and Calvin Harris, or blips on the pop radar that we won't even miss when they disappear in the next year.
To that regard, Jingle Ball was a Who's Who of today's teen pop music. Sometimes as in, literally, who? Who is 5 Seconds of Summer? Who is Conrad Sewell?
The former, it turns out, is an Australian second coming of Blink-182 who sings lyrics about American Apparel underwear and rips hooks off Duran Duran. The latter is a serviceable singer whose name I certainly would have changed if I was his manager. Both are…fine.
There was Tove Lo, a Swedish artist who was one of the night's early performers, courting the audience as it still trickled in, mothers sweating hurriedly behind their kids, precariously cradling sodas and pretzels in their arms as they chased stressed tweens through the halls of Madison Square Garden.
Tove Lo sang her hit "Talking Body," which was very sexual, I thought, for the young audience around me, one member of which was far too infantile to be sleepily gyrating in her seat in such a manner of bored routine.
Tove Lo, like many of the women who performed, was not wearing pants. But she wore a leather jacket! Maybe her upper body was cold, but her legs run hot. She eventually took off that jacket, revealing an ambitious, though dangerous, amount of side boob.
Hailee Steinfeld, an Oscar nominee for True Grit who now sings songs about masturbation, and Lovato also did not wear pants. Is that what the kids are into these days? Are they all just running around middle school without pants on?
I contemplated this thought from the beer line. The great thing about the target audience of Jingle Ball is that there is a very short beer line.
A hip-hop act named R. City followed Tove Lo. I wasn't familiar with their music until they announced "here are some other songs for other artists that we wrote!" and proceeded to play "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus. That won me over. They also repeatedly told a story about writing their hit, "Would You Still Love Me the Same," after their father went to jail, and I quote, "for weed."
The song was great. Little girls danced to it around me with very large smiles on their faces, which might have been off-tone following that "for weed" story but who am I to judge.
A parade of sexually non-threatening male artists followed, to predictable shrieks from their little fangirls.
Charlie Puth performed "See You Again," the song he sings with Wiz Khalifa about the death of actor Paul Walker. I'm not sure Puth and Walker ever met. Shawn Mendes was like a baby Gavin DeGraw. People started taking selfie video of themselves screaming with excitement while he was performing, which I wasn't aware was a thing but is in fact a very popular thing at Jingle Ball.
Joe Jonas performed with his new act DNCE. You could feel puberty happening all around you.
When the first of two Jonases who would be performing that night took the stage I wondered if they were still virgins. As Joe sang about girls in underwear and his t-shirt from the night before, I no longer wondered. DNCE had a fun Daft Punk meets, well, Jonas Brothers vibe to them. They brought out an army of dancing Santas. They were great!
There was a lot of Snapchatting going on during Zedd and Fetty Wap, and I only partly know what that sentence even means.
Roughly mid-way through the five hour-long concert is when the big guns came out.
There was Selena Gomez, her hair fan, and so much hair. Those extensions! She looked fabulous, like a Bratz doll in couture, and sang her radio hits "Good for You" and "Same Old Love." They are not as fun to watch onstage. Gomez has been grooming herself to be the second coming of Britney Spears, and she needs to learn to put on a better stage show if she ever is going to become that.
She closed her set with her breakout song "Love You Like a Love Song." Gomez performed with what is easily the most self-confidence of any of the acts before her, and had the best music. But there was something that didn't translate between the quality of her hits and her stage persona.
Speaking of, Fifth Harmony, a five-girl girl group that for some reason still has background singers, performed next. That they are popular speaks to the sad reality of a generation that does not have the glory and splendor of the Pussycat Dolls and their spark-plug leader, Nicole Scherzinger, to admire. Fifth Harmony began with an a cappella version of "Silent Night" that transitioned into some ho-ho-ho chair dance.
They finished with their big hit "Worth It." You might say that song is the only part of their set that was "worth it." Hey-O!
Nick Jonas sang his one-two-three punch of hits "Chains," "Levels," and "Jealous," which makes you realize that Nick Jonas produced a roster of very stellar pop songs this past year. Good for Nick Jonas! He was suave and sexy and cool performing them, too, and was in great voice. I'm here for Nick Jonas.
Then came Demi Lovato. Demi Lovato worked it. Demi Lovato slayed. Demi Lovato, holy hell, is so good. I think her team is still on the floor of Madison Square Garden, on their hands and knees, searching for her vocal chords because those things damn near shot out of her throat, Lovato was singing so hard.
She sang "Confident" and "Cool for the Summer" with the conviction of someone who knows they're totally killing it. Her performance of her ballad "Stone Cold" had tweens actually looking up from their iPhones, that's how much vocal fireworks she set off.
Poor Calvin Harris and Weeknd had to follow that show-stopper, and the crowd clearly had less enthusiasm for them. The Weeknd closed the night with "Can't Feel My Face" and, by the late hour he arrived, no one could be bothered to feel their faces anymore. They were tired. Demi Lovato had just dropped the mic and they had shrieked their last shriek.
I, too, had spent five hours with the youths of America, and their patron saints: pantsless pop stars. My ears are still ringing from the loudness. The future of pop music, it seems, is just that: loud. And that's why it's in good hands.
Is Selena Gomez the second coming of Britney Spears? Absolutely not. Just like Spears wasn't the second coming of Madonna. But all three divas boast the same loud, unabashed let-me-entertain-you spirit that inspires loud, unabashed enthusiasm in their young consumers—expressed on this balmy winter night in shrieks and Snapchats.
Are Gomez, Lovato, and Jonas the future of music? It's impossible, truthfully, to acknowledge their rise in 2015 without pointing out that the reigning superstars of the genre—Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyonce, or even Spears—did not release new music this past year. The surge of these former Disney stars is opportunistic as much as it is earned.
And, certainly, the likes of Adele and Taylor Swift were missing from pop music's biggest Christmas concert in New York. If Adele was there, I'd have straightened my hair, too.
But judging the future of music by the performers at Jingle Ball? The kids are…alright.