In case more evidence was needed that we live in disconcerting times, Z100’s Jingle Ball, which usually serves as the summary of the year in pop music, was extraordinarily dark Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Weeknd ended the five-hour extravaganza with “The Hills,” his icy, chart-topping R&B dirge about hiding his true personality through excessive drug use. Um, happy holidays?
Of course, some of that is to be expected with The Weeknd as the headliner, whose set was a stunner. After all, as chipper as his Michael Jackson-esque hit “Can’t Feel My Face” sounds, the lyrics betray a dangerous mismatched relationship built on numbness and the admission of “I know she’ll be the death of me.”
However, the dark side of pop appeared so often throughout the show, which will air in edited form nationally on The CW Network at 8 p.m. Thursday, it may as well have been the night’s theme.
The buoyant Aussie rockers 5 Seconds of Summer took a break from their punk-flavored pop to deliver a snarling “Jet Black Heart.” Caribbean hitmakers R. City explained how the catchy smash “Locked Away” was about their father’s time in jail. Fetty Wap delivered his summer hit “Trap Queen,” about a couple teaming up to sell drugs, from a gold throne after he broke his leg in a motorcycle accident.
Luckily, there were thunderous DJ sets from Zedd — who opened with “Beautiful Now,” his collaboration with Lake Grove native Jon Bellion — and Calvin Harris to lighten the mood, as well as nicely choreographed sets from Fifth Harmony and Selena Gomez.
However, Joe Jonas and his new band DNCE offered the night’s biggest surprise with fun, escapist dance pop like “Cake by the Ocean” and “Toothbrush.”
And leave it to Demi Lovato to capture this moment of collective uncertainty with her set that moved from esteem-building to pain — with the showstopping “Stone Cold” that she belted out powerfully and emotionally — and back again.
Lovato confessed that when she writes songs, “I want it to help somebody get through a rough time.” Her set certainly accomplished that.