NEW YORK — As the lights went down at Z100′s Jingle Ball on Friday night, giant screens played a countdown video instructing the nearly sold-out crowd to scream. These teens and tweens needed no encouragement. They screamed for each new act, for [artist id="2389485"]Taylor Swift[/artist] and [artist id="1220799"]John Mayer[/artist], for [artist id="1941279"]Kris Allen[/artist] and [artist id="1678002"]Pitbull[/artist], for [artist id="2421107"]Boys Like Girls[/artist] and [artist id="2807016"]Jordin Sparks[/artist] and [artist id="1946832"]the Fray[/artist].
But at Madison Square Garden, the evening indisputably belonged to pint-size pop-throb [artist id="3187077"]Justin Bieber[/artist]. When the 15-year-old limped onstage in a walking cast to join Sparks for “No Air,” the crowd disgorged a collective shriek so deafening it needs to be harnessed by peacekeeping agencies to be used for crowd-control purposes.
If Bieber was the King of the Ball, Swift was its regal Queen. Though she was slated to close out the show with a 15-minute set, the country superstar showed up earlier in the night. As Boys Like Girls hit the midway point of their opening mini-set, Swift arrived for a joint performance of their single, “Two Is Better Than One.”
As was the case for the entire night, even if the audience didn’t know the words to every song, they sure knew nearly every chorus and went wild at each one’s arrival. Yet the problem with these types of shows is the frequent, energy-sucking breaks that occur every third or fourth song as the stage is reset for the next act. Commercials for shampoo, candy bars and text-messaging services played overhead, as the tweens got restless and took to sending in texts (pearls of wisdom like, “Justin ur soooo cute!!!”) that flashed on the screen.
Swift reappeared later in the evening alongside John Mayer for their collaboration, “Half of My Heart,” off his new Battle Studies album. Left alone onstage, Mayer then busted into a cover of Cream’s blues-rock classic, “Crossroads,” which seemed to confound the audience, who headed en masse for a strategically timed bathroom break.
“I’m John Mayer, I’m 52 years old,” he laughed afterwards. “Get the old dude off the stage and get Justin Bieber on here!”
Mayer stayed for one more tune — “Say” — before heading away. A few more false Bieber alarms later, the teen singer arrived for his set around 10:20 p.m. From the floor seats to the nosebleeds, tweens shook, jumped, grabbed one another’s hands. As white flames shot up around him, Bieber opened with “Love Me,” followed by “One Less Lonely Girl,” during which he serenaded a rather stunned girl onstage clutching a bouquet of red roses. He then brought out the acoustic guitar for “Favorite Girl” and welcomed Usher out for the elder singer’s “U Got It Bad.” Bieber finished up with “One Time.”
“American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert appeared next, accompanied by both cheers and catcalls, to introduce Swift for her set. Wearing a silvery dress and thrashing her blond locks from side to side, the singer moved from the piano to the guitar to a lone mic as she closed out the show with tunes like “You Belong With Me,” “Teardrops on My Guitar,” “Fifteen” and “Love Story.”
“It is an honor and a privilege to stand onstage at Madison Square Garden,” she said.
But by the final numbers, as the clock pushed past 11 p.m., people were already streaming toward the exits, and those still in their seats had long since given up shouting and jumping in favor of sitting and politely clapping.
The show had been on for three and a half hours. Ke$ha kicked things off with her hit single “Tik Tok.” Boys Like Girls announced that even if the audience hated them, everyone should hug one another as they began “The Great Escape.” The ever well-dressed Pitbull came on for a rousing set including “Move Shake Drop” and “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho).”
After an intro by fellow “Idol”-er Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen appeared for his set: “Can’t Stay Away,” Kanye West’s “Heartless” (including a quick segue into “Gangsta’s Paradise”) and “Live Like We’re Dying.”
Allen was followed by Owl City and his classical quartet-assisted “Fireflies” and then Jay Sean’s set, including “Down” and a sort of live, beat-box-driven remix of songs from other artists like Swift and Sparks. The Fray’s set went heavy on the fog machines for songs like “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and “How to Save a Life.” Before she was joined by Bieber, Sparks sang “One Step at a Time,” “S.O.S. (Let the Music Play)” and an a cappella Christmas song (first night of Hanukkah notwithstanding).
It wasn’t just musicians who received serious love from the MSG crowd. “Twilight” star Peter Facinelli came out to greet the concertgoers and requested they quiet their screams so he could make his artist introduction in character as vampire Carlisle Cullen. “This is the most incredible night — my very first Jingle Ball,” he said. “Let’s hear some noise for John Mayer!”