KDWB’s Jingle Ball can be viewed as an annual December parade of pop stars in one long teen-thrilling concert on a school night. Or the radio world’s quid pro quo — you play our concerts and we’ll play your music. Maybe. No guarantees.
The tour is coordinated by the influential iHeartRadio chain, presenting Jingle Balls in 12 cities. Los Angeles, New York and Chicago get the year’s most coveted acts — including Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Taylor Swift — and other markets get a mix and match of big names and wannabes.
Monday’s Jingle Ball at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul landed one of pop’s hottest hitmakers, Camila Cabello, who just released her second album on Friday after starring on the recent American Music Awards with her steamy, chart-topping “Señorita” duet with Shawn Mendes. She will be back at Xcel on Sept. 8 to headline her own show.
That will be a must-see concert, judging by her star turn mid-show on Monday. Dressed in a short red dress and over-the-knee red boots, Cabello, 22, was well suited for a holiday show and her new album, “Romance.”
Accompanied by eight red-clad dancers, four musicians and two backup singers as well as stage fog, flame throwers, fireworks and confetti, Cabello romped with panache.
In her fourth appearance at KDWB’s Jingle Ball (twice with her old group Fifth Harmony), the Cuban-born star offered a few selections from “Romance,” notably “Liar” with its insistent Latin groove and “Señorita,” during which a video of Mendes flashed ever so briefly on a screen but long enough to tease the hearts of the nearly 12,000 fans, most of whom were female. Cabello closed her too-brief 25-minute set with the 2017 smash “Havana,” conquering Jingle Ball like a fresh-faced old pro.
Even though Cabello was the hot attraction, old pro Katy Perry was the headliner. A big star in this century, she seemed to have disappeared into the witness protection program with her obscure 2017 album “Witness.” Has anyone heard her new post-“Witness” singles “Harleys in Hawaii” and “Small Talk”?
It didn’t matter on Monday because Perry, 35, knows how to rise to the occasion, as she did in April at the Minneapolis Armory during a concert tied to the men’s college basketball Final Four. She arrived on the Xcel stage in the middle of a giant Christmas ornament and delivered “Cozy Little Christmas,” a forgettable 2018 tune that held the audience’s attention because Perry knows how to orchestrate colorful fun.
With her musicians dressed like nutcrackers and her backup singers decorated like holiday presents, Perry stuck to her hits, including “Teenage Dream,” “Roar” and “Chained to the Rhythm.”
Although she seemed neither rote nor choreographed, Perry did seem a little bit too much like Christmas past, especially after the gift that was Cabello’s Christmas present.
As for the rest of the show, let’s be thankful that this year’s Jingle Ball was shorter than usual, clocking in at 2¾ hours with only six acts; Some years it’s featured 12 performers stretched over four hours. The brevity was probably prudent because the crowd included more kids under the age of 10 than ever before.
The rest of the lineup was a cavalcade of cute guys:
South Korea’s K-pop stars Monsta X, who are terrifically flashy dancers in the spirit of Michael Jackson but offer little musical substance.
Australia’s 5 Seconds of Summer, who can’t decide if they want to be the new Fall Out Boy or Imagine Dragons-lite but can’t be favorably compared to either hit band.
Why Don’t We, a bland boy band that headlined at the Minnesota State Fair this year, had some local cred because Jonah Marais, the oldest member at 21, is from Stillwater.