Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Kesha, and more stars aligned Friday night at The Forum in Inglewood for 102.7 KIIS FM’s Jingle Ball 2017. The iHeartRadio event, whose lineup also included Niall Horan, The Chainsmokers, Halsey, Charlie Puth, Logic, Sam Smith, Liam Payne and Demi Lovato with special guest Cheat Codes, was the third stop along a national tour presented by Capital One and, being the Los Angeles date, drew a slew of celebrities and music executives.
The backstage scene was especially lively as it offered the rare opportunity for local notables to bring along their kids and celebrate the holidays early. Indeed, areas of the Forum were transformed into winter wonderlands where the only sparkles brighter than the glittered tops of Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift were the Christmas trees paving a path to the dressing rooms. Variety spent its Friday roaming the arena. Read on for highlights.
• Despite being surprisingly shut out of the recently announced Grammy nominations, Halsey delivered one of the fiercest performances of the evening. Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony brightened the show when she joined Halsey onstage for “Stangers,” their collaboration off of “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom,” Halsey’s latest album. “I’m exhilarated right now. I love every time that I get to be on a stage with Halsey. She’s so incredible,” Jauregui told Variety after her performance. Halsey was later seen dancing to The Chainsmokers’ set backstage before joining the duo to perform “Closer.”
Jauregui noted that, while the Jingle Ball lineup is “pretty solid” this year, “It’s maybe missing some R&B artists like Khalid or SZA.” She went on to praise a couple of Grammy nominees whose success she sees as well deserved. “I’m so proud of my girl Kehlani, she said. “She and SZA are killing it.”
• Singer Bebe Rexha also gushed about SZA. “I’m really proud of her,” Rexha said, referring to SZA’s status as the most nominated female artist for the upcoming Grammy Awards, with five noms. “I love her album. I’m very happy about the Best New Artist nominations — SZA as well as my friend Khalid and Alessia Cara, who absolutely deserves that. I’m really excited.” Rexha went on to declare her love of Kesha, who was joined onstage by Macklemore during her performance for “Good Old Days.” “I just saw her and told her that she slayed her performance. I’m so proud of her,” she added.
• “Kesha just walked by me and was like, ‘What’s up? We’ve got friends in common. I wanted to say hello.’ And I was like, ‘This is awesome. You’re Kesha,'” said Bella Thorne, who had introduced Charlie Puth’s performance earlier in the night. “Charlie’s performance was also amazing,” she continued. “Liam Payne is performing tonight. F— yeah! I saw him walking in and was like, ‘What’s up dawg?’ I can’t wait for Taylor Swift, too. I really like her new album.” Throughout the night, Thorne was spotted backstage cozying up to her “Midnight Sun” co-star Patrick Schwarzenegger.
• “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz revealed her current favorite: “I am obsessed with Sam Smith,” she professed. “These people are incredible performers who give their heart and soul to their work. I’m enjoying everyone. I think they did a great job with the lineup.”
• Sarah Hyland wished that Dua Lipa was included on the lineup, but the “Modern Family” star was stoked for Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift. “I think Taylor Swift’s new album is great. ‘Delicate,’ ‘Dress,’ ‘Call It What You Want,’ ‘King of My Heart’ — those less popular songs that aren’t on the radio are my favorite songs,” she said. Hyland added that she thought Ed Sheeran got shafted by the Grammys. “I saw him on his tour. It was amazing. ‘Division’ was such a great album,” she said. Earlier in the day, Sheeran had appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and took the snub in stride. “I’d rather have a lifetime of people coming up to me and saying, ‘This song is my wedding song,’ or ‘this song was my first kiss,’” Sheeran told DeGeneres.
• Another big fan of Ed Sheeran’s is Lance Bass, who told Variety, “I’m so excited. This is my first time seeing him live.” The “Perfect” singer opened the show, but later returned to join Taylor Swift for their collaboration “End Game” off of her new album “Reputation.” Sheeran’s surprise appearance was a major highlight of the night.
• Elsewhere at the Forum: Talk show host James Corden was seen checking his Twitter mention while riding in the elevator; Taylor Swift enthusiastically greeted her dressing room neighbors and snapped selfies with Republic Records’ Charlie Walk and Gary Spangler and Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta, who attended with wife Sandi; Niall Horan stopped to pose for a photo with Santa Claus; and Halsey marveled upon seeing Blue Ivy Carter’s contribution to a painted canvas, one of many signed by visiting artists that adorn the dressing room hallway (an initiative launched by Shelli Azoff).
• Spotted backstage throughout the night were iHeartRadio syndicated personalities Ryan Seacrest and Elvis Duran, both working overtime interviewing artists for live segments. Among the execs to make the scene were Apple’s Eddy Cue, Forum owner Irving Azoff and general manager Shelli Azoff, Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, Dick Clark Productions’ Mark Bracco and Mark Shimmel, CAA’s Ali McGregor, and Chainsmokers manager and Disruptor Records chief Adam Alpert.