LL Cool J usually spends his New Year’s Eve watching the ball drop at home, but for 2020 he decided to go big and ring in the new decade performing live with DJ Z-Trip in Times Square as part of “Fox’s New Year’s Eve with Steve Harvey.” The show broadcast from New York City Tuesday night with a lineup that included the Village People (going for the world record of the most people doing the “YMCA” dance), the Chainsmokers, the Lumineers, Florida Georgia Line, the Backstreet Boys, Tyga, the Killers, Lauren Alaina and more.
Co-hosted by Emmy Award-winning journalist Maria Menounos and Fox Sports analyst Rob Gronkowski, the special also boasted appearances by Gordon Ramsay, Will Arnett, Jenna Dewan and WWE Superstars, including Roman Reigns, participating in an exclusive WWE match.
“For many years, people would ask me to do it, and I decided it would be fun to just do it here in New York,” LL told Variety. “It’s home, excitement, the bright lights, the energy, the vibe, the enthusiasm and just that crazy euphoria in the air. I just decided to embrace it, do some hip hop and have some fun.”
For the Queens native (born James Todd Smith) — who performed a medley of hits that included “Mama Said Knock You Out” — the timing couldn’t be better, as he recently signed on as a cultural ambassador in support of New York’s forthcoming Universal Hip Hop Museum, set to open in 2023 in the birthplace of the genre, the Bronx borough of New York City, in what is currently an empty parking lot off of the Major Deegan Expressway. Construction will begin in 2020.
“[Executive Director] Rocky Bucano and those guys are working really hard to bring that to life,” he said. “Between that and the things I am doing on [Sirius XM’s] Rock the Bells on being a platform for classic and timeless hip-hop, hip-hop is experiencing a renaissance, and people have just started to realize that it’s not about being trendy. It’s also about just doing what you love and what you’re passionate about, and I’m happy to be part of this renaissance.”
Speaking of which, LL confirmed that he’s back in the studio, working with Q-Tip on a 2020 release for his original label home, Def Jam Records — he signed a new deal with the company in the fall.
As for resolutions: he doesn’t do that.
“I live my life every day as a resolution,” he laughed. “I don’t wait until December 31st and decide what I’m going to do right. I just try to do my thing.”
The New Year’s Eve broadcast-which once again faced rain, set a new Guinness World record, as The Village people — original leader Victor Willis, Angelo Morales (Native American) James Lee (GI), J.J. Lippold (Leather Man), Mitch Skop (bellhop), James Kwong (construction worker) and Chad Freeman (cowboy) — set out to best the 2009 watermark of 44,000 people performing the song at the Sun Bowl Game in El Paso, Texas.
“It’s only four letters,” said host Steve Harvey, as he revved up the crowd to join in. “Don’t mess it up.”
(Photo: Michele Amabile Angermiller)
Harvey and Menounous—he decked in green and her in a silver sequined coat—did their part to fire up the troops—with successful results.
“It was over a million people, so we squashed it,” said Willis. “It was a cakewalk.”
Looking back on the decade, Willis says the biggest milestone for the group was reforming and performing with the current lineup, and is looking forward to the next decade, which includes production on a yet-untitled biopic about the band.
“We have a lot of plans in 2020, and we plan to do as much as we can. We are going to break all kinds of new records,” he said.
For country star Lauren Alaina, her time performing in Times Square comes two weeks before her very first headlining tour. After that, she heads out on the road with Blake Shelton. Alaina revealed to Variety that she was still in pain after breaking four ribs during her time on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” but she was feeling good about her performance of her new single, “Getting Good,” on the Fox program.
“My left side is healed up,” she said. “I got through it with adrenaline, I guess.””
Looking back on the past decade, Alaina said she can’t believe how far she has come since beginning it at age 15 competing on ‘American Idol” and finishing in second place.
“I auditioned in 2010, isn’t that crazy?” she said. “I learned so much in the last ten years.”
Her future plans include touring, possibly acting, and making music that is “all about positivity, learning to love yourself and being kind to other people.”
Elsewhere in Times Square, X-Ambassadors —Sam Nelson Harris, Casey Harris and Adam Levin-capped off a year that included the release of their sophomore album, “Orion,” a tour, and cowriting three songs on Lizzo’s Grammy nominated album, “Cuz I Love You,” including the title cut and “Jerome.”
“We were there — it was so amazing,” said singer Harris. “We first met her in 2017, and we were just so in love with her music, and that was it. We never doubted for a minute that she was a superstar. We’re so lucky to be a part of her career.”
2020 is looking good for the group, with a tour that includes Australia and Japan, a first for the trio. Kickstarting it with a set that included “Unsteady,” “Renegades,” and “Boom” in Times Square, the band also had a pinch-me moment being given this year’s honor of performing “Imagine” before the ball drop.
“It felt crazy,” said Harris. “I had a couple of moments looking up and seeing everything and realizing I was in the middle of it all. We grew up watching the ball drop every year.”
As for the new decade, brother Casey has one wish.
“This decade has been turbulent, but despite how dark things seem, i think the trends are heading back in the right direction, and hopefully we can learn to love each other a little bit and be more compassionate,” he said.