Nobody got political. Nobody reminded us of who’s all died. Nobody pulled a Kanye.
For once, the breezy tone of the briskly paced, well-produced KDWB Jingle Ball 2016 concert at Xcel Energy Center on Monday felt like a welcome respite from... well, from 2016.
After landing some of the hottest names in Top 40 pop music in recent years — including Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea, Meghan Trainor, Calvin Harris and Shawn Mendes — this year’s lineup was conspicuously less star-studded and stud-studded. But it still packed the arena with 15,000 mostly high-school-aged fans.
In keeping with the lighthearted, “High School Musical” feel of the concert, here’s a yearbook-like recap of how the Jingle Ball Class of 2016 fared.
Most Likely to Succeed: A holdover from last year’s Ball, Swedish singer Tove Lo — writer of Elle Goulding’s hit “Love Me Like You Do” — turned in this year’s most promising, forward-leaning set. The songs from her new album, “Lady Wood” (ahem), including “Cool Girl” and “Keep It Simple,” balanced cool electronic grooves with sharp hooks and a sly but sophisticated edge. Think: Taylor Swift with Daft Punk in hot pink rocker pants.
Class Presidents: After prior Jingle Ball appearances, the women of Fifth Harmony proved deserving of the headlining slot Monday. The “X Factor”-reared vocal quintet harked back to the Spice Girls’ and Destiny’s Child’s playful dance routines and girl-power attitude, but with modernized grooves. When they piped in Fetty Wap’s recorded vocals “All in My Head (Flex),” it was doubtful the colorful rapper would’ve even been noticed.
Class Clowns: Danish piano-pop band Lukas Graham toed an uneasy line between the serious power-balladeers of their hit “7 Years” and the goofy, guffawing young men of the striptease lament “Strip No More” and “Drunk in the Morning.” The crowd, however, ate up their lively blend of Maroon 5-meets-Jamiroquai light-funk grooves, so get ready to be sick of them.
Should’ve Stayed in Chess Club: Los Angeles singer/“rapper” Gnash, 25, came off hopelessly awkward and pipsqueaky early in the set. It was rather telling his best song, “I Hate You, I Love You,” featured guest singer Olivia Browne more than it did him.
Best Drama Class Crossover: Child actress Hailee Steinfeld, who earned an Oscar nomination at age 12 from the Coen brothers’ “True Grit,” went from a wannabe at last year’s Jingle Ball to a full-blown pop-star Monday. She had her dance moves and cool style down pat, and she showed off a meaningful, upbeat anthem with “Love Myself.”
Do-Gooder of the Year: Fresh off tour dates with Coldplay, the R&B-tinged Canadian singer Alessia Cara — part Andra Day and Rihanna — came off as the most gifted natural singer of the group, especially during her hypnotic hit “Here.” She also carried the night’s strongest message, urging girls to “stop believing you don’t have the right to love yourself” before her potent song “Scars to Your Beautiful.”
Sickest Rapper: Backstreet Boys’ A.J. McLean peeled off a surprisingly OK verse in “We’ve Got It Going On.” Which is really a way of saying G-Eazy — the actual rap star on the lineup — was pathetic. California’s atonal, formulaic “Me, Myself & I” hitmaker phoned in a weirdly short set despite going on third-to-last. The good news: He only had time to drop in one song about sleeping with his friend’s girlfriend.
Wooderson Fellowship Award: Akin to Matthew McConaughey’s jailbaiting character in “Dazed and Confused” (“I get older, they stay the same age”), the Backstreet Boys came off more charming than they did creepy as they had girls born in the ’00s singing along to their serenading ’90s hits “I Want It That Way” and “As Long As You Love Me.” They made an even stronger appeal to the moms in the crowd, though, by repeatedly promoting their upcoming Las Vegas residency. Sounds like the best Jingle Ball after-party ever.