Sorry, Kanye, you’re not the artist of the year. Critics may think you are. But MTV has declared Miley Cyrus the artist of the year, and Time magazine named her one of 10 finalists for its person of the year.
In 2013, Miley showed she knows how to seize the moment — whether it was twerking on MTV’s “Video Music Awards,” duetting with a memey cat on the “American Music Awards” or taking over KDWB’s annual Jingle Ball Tuesday at sold-out Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Never before in the more than a decade’s worth of Jingle Balls has one artist usurped the multi-act festivities like Miley did. White-hot Justin Bieber came close in 2009, hopping around in a walking cast, and last year PSY created a YouTube moment by playing “Gangnam Style” twice, but that’s a distant memory.
On Tuesday, Miley, the 21-year-old former Disney Channel darling, put both the jingle and the ball into this year’s 3½-hour, eight-act Jingle Ball. She’s the only act in the history of the event to take the holiday theme seriously. And we’re not just talking about her red leotard with white fur cuffs. No, most of her musicians wore Christmas sweaters, her three dancers sported reindeer antlers and, for good cheer, Miley added a drag queen dressed as a dancing Christmas tree and a dwarf in a silver jumpsuit whose face suggested Katy Perry’s.
That would all seem like contrived and calculated fun — like Miley’s moves on the VMAs that have kept people talking for months. But what made Miley own the Jingle Ball was her vocalizing. Her interpretive skills were evident on her cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summer time Sadness,” which Miley filled with twangy Tennessee nuance. No one would have ever guessed that the former Hannah Montana could wail like Miley did on her own recent hits — the booming power ballad “Wrecking Ball” and the killer ballad “Adore You,” in which she invested the kind of deep feelings you expect from one of the greats of country music. But she also added just that little Miley special touch, when standing at the side of the stage and looking into the crowd, in mid-lyric, she implored: “Kiss your girlfriend.”
That’s how you seize the night — even if you’re onstage for only 22 minutes.
This was the first time that Jingle Ball was an actual tour, visiting 12 cities that have Clear Channel Media top-40 radio stations. That meant a major upgrade in the production quality and efficiency, but it didn’t guarantee a talent uptick, especially among the baby acts. Fifth Harmony, the female vocal quintet from TV’s “X Factor,” Justin Bieber wannabe Austin Mahone and big-voiced Ariana Grande, only seven months younger than Miley, are too inexperienced.
The veterans, including Latin-pop heartthrob Enrique Iglesias, party-pushing rapper Flo Rida and emo rockers Fall Out Boy, clearly commanded the stage. They were more impressive than the night’s other big star, Robin Thicke. His fast 15 minutes left the slightly paunchy 36-year-old soul man out of breath. Of course, his “Blurred Lines,” one of 2013’s biggest hits, left the 14,000 fans breathless. But Thicke left no doubt who’s the boss. “You know I love me some Miley Cyrus,” he said between songs. “I wonder who she gonna twerk on tonight.”
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719