For all its irritating commercialism and snoozy Christmas clichés targeted at the children who've fallen headfirst into puberty, the Jingle Bell Ball is an amazingly good show. Thirteen of this year's biggest pop stars perform for an audience of 17,000 to create the stuff that teenage fantasies are made of, which, when not being filled by picture messaging and glowsticks, is a utopia where all varieties of pop are stupendously fantastic, but don't seem to have anything on the artist that is Tinchy Stryder, tonight's second recipient of the rowdiest reception from boys, girls and parents alike. It doesn't even matter that he seems way too rigid for the accolade. Tinchy, compared to stirring warm-up performances from American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and the Noisettes, is, strangely enough, the man of the night. N-Dubz, Taio Cruz and Chipmunk also enjoy a deafening response to their post-grime/urban sing-alongs, and while you get the feeling that they might have really been honoured for being those controversial cool kids you admired from a distance, they certainly provide the show's livelier moments.
It's no surprise, then, that sticking Westlife after Dappy, Fazer and Tulisa's fist-pumping rendition of "I Need You" wasn't going to work, leading to an lukewarm response to "Flying without Wings". The "New Sugababes" also suffer on account of being given a bigger slot than needed, as their version of "Freak Like Me" lacked the gusto of the original featuring Keisha and Mutya, while newbie Jade Ewen seemed like a bundle of giggly nerves throughout. She should have taken a cue from the delightful Pixie Lott, who effortlessly works the stage on her turn, stomping her way through the invigorating "Boys and Girls". Or perhaps, she could have benefited from the tutalage of Miley Cyrus, the Disney queen whose sex appeal seems to be swelling by the second. She's a fiesty performer, and one who makes the most of her set time with an electric rendition of "Party in the USA".
But stuffing this amount of pop into five hours leads to indigestion. By 8:30pm, the audience is flagging, and no amount of Christmas singalongs, an unnecessary appearance from Jedward nor Johnny Vaughn's jokes ("JLS – you mean, Johnny, Lisa and Santa?") can turn up the energy levels. The Saturdays, who at one moment threatened to appear as nothing more than semi-talented cuteness times five, actually give it their best shot, and while the monstrous roars were reserved for JLS, their performance of "Beat Again" is a touch underwhelming, until Marvin and Aston whip off their shirts, of course.
The show's capped off by Lady Gaga, who's got the magnetism of a car crash, but once you get past the red bikini, knee-high boots, and haute couture headgear, therein lies a genuine talent who offers a beautiful, piano-led version of "Pokerface "and whips up the crowd with "Let's Dance", "Paparazzi" and "Bad Romance". Of all the acts involved, she's the controversy, but indicative of the Jingle Bell Ball's keenness to capture the broad spectrum of pop music, and wrap it up nicely in fireworks and confetti. A lengthier interval at some point might have made it all the more memorable, though.Reuse content