Lizzo rocked Z100’s annual 2022 iHeartRadio Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden on Friday (Dec. 9) dressed like the Grinch; Dua Lipa wowed with the penultimate set of her “Future Nostalgia” album cycle; Charlie Puth played to an adoring hometown crowd; and Demi Lovato knocked it out of the park. It was a fully stacked bill of stars for New York’s biggest pop radio station and also included the Backstreet Boys, the Kid Laroi, Ava Max, Lauv, AJR, Dove Cameron, JVKE and Jax.
Amond the standout moments: Lovato donning a leather spiked outfit and rocking with a band that includes shredder Nita Strauss on guitar; a stripped down acoustic set by the Kid Laroi that had the entire venue singing along to “Without You”; Lizzo busting out her flute for a Grinch mix of “Truth Hurts”; Dua Lipa and her dancers decked in white bringing hits “New Rules” and her collaboration with Elton John “Cold Heart” to life on stage; Puth instructing the crowd to hit a “D Natural” note and giving love to his “hometown radio station”; and a surprise appearance by Wheatus member Brendan B. Brown with Jax for the ’90s hit, “Teenage Dirtbag.”
And while all experienced the warmth in the room, one act — the Backstreet Boys — got left out in the cold when it came to the station’s social media. On Twitter, where @Z100NewYork boasts 370,000 followers, many acts’ performances were posted in small snippets, but none of the Backstreet Boys on stage could be found. The only clip the station seemingly did share was of the band being interviewed by morning host Elvis Duran. It also appears that the Backstreet Boys set was not livestreamed.
The group did not walk the red carpet backstage before taking the stage for a rousing set that included perennial megahits “Everybody,” “I Want it That Way” and “Larger Than Life.” Will the performance air on the CW Network broadcast of the show scheduled for Dec. 17? It’s a fair question, as the group’s ABC special, “A Very Backstreet Holiday,” was pulled after sexual assault allegations against Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter were made last week. (Reached by Variety, CW had no comment.)
Carter denied the claims made by accuser Shannon Ruth, who says, while on tour with the band in 2001, she was assaulted. Carter was 21 at the time; she was 17. “This claim about an incident that supposedly took place more than 20 years ago is not only legally meritless but also entirely untrue,” said a representative for Carter in a statement issued on Dec. 8. “Unfortunately, for several years now, Ms. Ruth has been manipulated into making false allegations about Nick – and those allegations have changed repeatedly and materially over time.”
Despite it all, the group’s show was enthusiastically received by the crowd at MSG.
Puth — a Jingle Ball veteran who first played Madison Square Garden at the iHeartRadio event — was still in awe of that stage, telling the audience that while uploading music on TikTok was fun, nothing compares to the live experience of 17,000 fans singing along.
The career-defining venue was also on the mind of Dove Cameron. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be performing at Madison Square Garden,” she told Variety after a set that included “Boyfriend” and the Edwyn Collins-inspired “Girl Like You.” “What do you say about moments that are so much larger than life and something that is just so emotional? It’s romantic, it’s wild, it’s otherworldly?”
As for 2023? “First and foremost, I’ve got to write this f–ing album,” she laughed.
“Sunroof” singer Nicki Youre, who performed at Z100’s All Access Lounge at the Hammerstein Ballroom before the show, marveled at his 2022 journey, thinking back to his very first show in front of 300 people in March.
“A lot of these Jingle Balls are in front of 10,000-15,000- people,” said Youre, who said his plan is to release an EP in 2023. “It’s pretty crazy when you think back to eight months ago to now. It’s been a crazy year. The thing I’m most excited about this year is finding myself as an artist, because this year’s been so fast for me. Now, my feet are wet.”
“It felt absolutely incredible,” said Jax, who performed her hit song, “Victoria’s Secret” at the Hammerstein Ballroom earlier that day before taking the stage first at The Garden. “Two shows in one day, and I will say that this is the best night of my entire life.”
Backstage, comedian Amber Ruffin, actresses Christine Taylor and Zoey Deutch took in the holiday spirit as performers posed on the red carpet. Some highlights below:
Instagram Pooches Steal Hearts
The belles of the ball, hands down, were adorable pooches Tinkerbelle the Dog and Belle, who happily posed on the carpet and officially greeted celebrities with holiday cheer and smooches. Among their fans: Lovato, who didn’t crack a smile posing for photos but happily paid homage to the Instagram stars. Other artists embracing the dog models included Nicki Youre, AJR, Ava Max, Lauren Spencer Smith, The Kid Laroi, Backstreet Boys and Jax.
Brooke Shields Embraces Podcasting
Currently hosting the iHeartRadio podcast, “Now What? With Brooke Shields, the iconic actress has found the medium rewarding. “I didn’t anticipate enjoying it this much, but people are really willing to open up and it becomes a very nice conversation,” she told Variety. The one thing she doesn’t enjoy is holiday cooking. “I can set a really good table, and I can eat like a truck driver,” she said.
Charlie Puth Fights Exhaustion
Puth posed for photographers on the red carpet, but was clearly exhausted after just landing shortly before his performance at the Garden. “I’m so jet lagged,” he apologetically told Shields, who had her daughters with her on the carpet. Once he hit the stage, Puth’s fatigue vanished as the crowd seemed to energize the “Left and Right” singer, who chatted between songs and added Christmas cheer with a gorgeous cover of Donny Hathoway’s “This Christmas.”
AJR Teases ‘More Theatrical’ New Music
AJR returned to the Jingle Ball stage performing hits, “Bang” “Burn the Whole House Down” and “World’s Smallest Violin,” but Ryan Met revealed the band’s next album is inspired by the nearby theater district. “We’re definitely going more theatrical, more Broadway,” he said, citing iconic shows “Les Miserables” and “Wicked” as examples. The band is working quickly, as the group is planning on a 2023 release, added Jack Met.
Charlieonafriday Talks Macklemore Tour
The Seattle native walked the carpet after his show at the Hammerstein Ballroom, which included the bubbling hit, “Enough.” Looking ahead to 2023, the singer talked about his tour with fellow Seattle musician, Macklemore. “He’s always a person I really looked up to, and he’s been a huge role model for me throughout my life,” he said. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to go to Europe with him.”
Ava Max Delivers Dancefloor Diamonds
“Kings and Queens” “Sweet But Psycho” and a quick tease of “Weapons” made up the bulk of Ava Max’s set. While the singer delivered those hits with her trademark sass, she couldn’t contain her excitement being one month out from the January release of her album, “Diamonds and Dancefloors.” “Heartbreak on the dance floor is what I call it,” she said. “It’s definitely about a lot of heartbreak and I turned them into dance songs.”
Lauren Spencer Smith Talks Holiday Blues
In addition to her cover of Wham’s “Last Christmas” and the melancholy “Single on the 25th,” the “American Idol” season 18 alum revealed even more holiday “cheer” is on the way with two new albums, including a Christmas-themed release, in 2023. “A lot of my Christmas music is sad,” she said. “I love to capture the people who don’t feel like Christmas is the happiest season, because sometimes I feel that way, so I think it’s important to write about that, too.” With that in mind, Spencer’s favorite Christmas song? “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” she said.
JVKE and Jax Toast Dolly Parton Joining TikTok
The news of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dolly Parton joining TikTok was celebrated by newcomer JVKE, who credited the platform for the success of his hit, “Golden Hour” and a successful 2022 that ended with the star as American Airlines featured artist of the month. “My lawyer was on the plane and he was like, ‘I didn’t know JVKE was on here.’ That was super sick,” he said. His TikTok advice for Dolly? “Be yourself, try silly things, and don’t try to be too precious. Like a lot of people try to glam it up for all their social media, [but] people want authenticity.” As for Jax, she already has a plan for a collaboration with Parton: “I would beg her relentlessly to do a cover from Jolene’s perspective,” said the singer and songwriter, who counts tapping into the zeitgeist among her many talents.
Z100’s Jingle Ball 2022 in New York City will air as a television special on The CW Network on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. EST/PST.