iHeartRadio and KIIS 102.7 FM kicked off the season’s second Jingle Ball at the Kia Forum on Friday night (following Dallas/Ft. Worth on Tuesday), starring Dua Lipa, Pitbull, Jack Harlow, Khalid, Bebe Rexha, Lewis Capaldi, Ava Max, Dove Cameron, Nicky Youre, Jvke, Jax (with Pre-Show Village performances from Armani White, Huddy, Jax, Jvke). With 10 more dates to follow this month across the country, other Jingle Ball events will include a number of the LA performers as well as Lizzo, Sam Smith, Charlie Puth, Backstreet Boys, Black Eyed Peas, Demi Lovato, The Kid LAROI, Tate McRae, Anitta, Macklemore, Lauv, AJR, Big Time Rush and Lauren Spencer-Smith.
Dua Lipa played the headliner slot, performing in the region for the first time since Elton John’s swan song at Dodger Stadium just prior to Thanksgiving, and she was one of three pop stars of Albanian heritage on the bill, alongside Bebe Rexha and Ava Max. Scottish crooner Lewis Capaldi debuted his powerful new ballad “Pointless” and Pitbull threw down a series of hits to his largest market in the U.S. for the first time since headlining Hollywood Bowl back in September.
Paris Hilton was decked out in a radiating silver number to introduce Dua Lipa, who wasted no time getting to business on “Physical” in a tight red dress with black lace embellishment. Her voice sounded pure, breaking at the right moments with her rock grit as a line formed around her with 10 dancers joining a dance studio ballet bar. The ensemble was grinding together on “New Rules”, and later the dancers strutted fiercely like runway models with iridescent umbrellas and a sliver of Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” had a moment. The stage was a neon green rave for most of “One Kiss” as the dancers completely crushing it and the performers sat on backwards chairs for the seductive “Hallucinate”, with husky vocals, pounding bass and Lipa sounding a bit like Lady Gaga. Lipa’s new mash-up “Cold Heart” which samples a number of Elton John songs, produced by PNAU was next, finding the diva sitting on stage with her posse, rocking side to side while Elton flashed on the screen behind them for his parts. Lipa said, “We’re gonna go to the moon”, teasing the dreamy, space-like synth intro of “Levitating” which had an extra funky, wompy ending with the dancers back in formation in the line. The night cap was none other than “Don’t Start Now”, a truly infectious disco tune with maximum bass, glistening piano and strings. The arena echoed with the lyrics and the dancers punched their hands like they were tapping cowbells. Dua Lipa tangoed a bit with a dancer and confetti exploded into the crowd on the final chorus as the singer grooved in place with her crew. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” fittingly played on the sound speakers following the set, sending fans off in true holiday spirit.
Pitbull played an exhilarating, non-stop set of hits including “Can’t Stop Me Now”, hitting the stage in a black leather jacket, while his dancers were in red. Smoke shot up for the “yeah yeah yeah!” portion of the song and the girls posed behind Mr. 305 as he pounded his fist to his heart at the end. Pit was a jumping bean on the T-Pain-assisted “Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)” and neon hotel signs flashed the screens as fans went crazy for “Hotel Room Service” which the rapper delivered with attitude. Pitbull chanted “the roof is on fire” to the energized crowd, playing the super lively “Fireball” next, with the dancers surrounding the superstar, followed by a conga line of sorts, grabbing one another’s hips. Pitbull lost the jacket and encouraged the fans saying “it’s about to go down”, and they repeated prior to the rapid and impressive phrasing on “Timber”, while the crowd went wild singing along and dancing to Kesha looking cheerful on screen. Two Ne-Yo-featured bangers wrapped up his set, with a moment of Stardust’s “The Music Sounds Better With You” prior to “Time Of Our lives” followed by a touch of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” before “Give Me Everything”. The smoke machines worked overtime and Pitbull and his crew jumped in place.
Smooth R&B singer Khalid was feeling his tune “Young Dumb & Broke”, hopping all over the stage, joined by four female dancers in different baggy 90s sweatshirts. In an oversized red shirt himself, Khalid soared on the feel-good “Talk”, shining on falsetto moments while the b-girls got down. He ran across the stage during “Numb”, flashing his pearly whites as neon colors bounced on the screen and his vocal was soothing on the Billie Eilish duet “lovely”, which had the crowd roaring at the violin instrumental. Khalid brought some island vibes on his debut breakout “Location” and the stage was flush in red for a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits”, with effortless vocals as the dancers bounced on stage.
Rising Louisville rapper Jack Harlow brought the party, sporting a turtleneck and muted brown outfit for “Tyler Herro”. He worked the stage for “I Wanna See Some Ass” and fans were screaming for “Already Best Friends” while blue and green lights flashed the stage. His delivery was a bit Drake meets Macklemore on the hypnotic tune “Dua Lipa” and on his Lil Nas X collab “Industry Baby” the lights strobed throughout the entire arena and got the crowd amped. The piano intro set the groove for “Whats Poppin” and Harlow sounded perfect on his rhymes on “First Class” while the place went crazy.
Bebe Rexha had perhaps the most varied set list, kicking off with new David Guetta dance smash (remake of Eiffel 65’s “Blue”), “I’m Good (Blue)”, wearing a white cape that looked like a wrapped up gift. Rexha killed her vocal on the rock/pop hybrid “Me, Myself & I” with so much swagger, holding out a big note and whipped off the cape to reveal white leather pants and corsetted top. She stood at the mic for the rockin’, mid-tempo “I’m A Mess”, whipping her hair and getting to her knees for extra impact. The dance-pop “In The Name Of Love” was stunning with its ballad-like beginnings and she turned up once its dance-rock elements took hold, as the crowd bobbed and recited the chorus along with their star. For her massive country-pop smash “Meant To Be”, Bebe handled the Florida Georgia Line-assisted song with power, sitting on the stage for the second verse, as the crowd joined in for the inspiring tune.
Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi hit the stage in a beige jacket with a pair of new songs including one released just that day. Known primarily for his heartfelt ballads, first up was one of the most welcome additions to his songbook, the much-needed uptempo track “Forget Me” with incredible vocal power followed by a confetti shot sent out to the floor seats at the top of the final chorus. Capaldi debuted an outstanding new ballad “Pointless”, standing in place while his voice wavered between angelic and rocker. Fans swayed with their glowing lights, creating a total moment for the evening, making people feel something. “It’s great to be back in America, great to be back in LA. The fast cars, beautiful people, the movies”, said Capaldi. The singer grabbed his guitar for the warm strums of “Before You Go”, ocean waves crashed on the screen behind him and the crowd beautifully echoed the memorable chorus. Capaldi mentioned coming back to tour in LA next year and left everyone with the heartbreaking ballad “Someone You Loved”, giving the fans an entire chorus to sing.
AMA New Artist of the Year Dove Cameron hit the stage after the curtain lifted with the mysterious instrumental of “Bad Idea”. Four dancers in suits backed the singer, giving a sort of old Hollywood glamour look while Cameron was in a long black jacket like an updated Morticia Addams. (Wednesday would approve!) Cameron served up a powerful vocal like she was Lana Del Ray or Lorde’s sinister sister on “Breakfast” with her commanding presence. She covered Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” with the dancers slithering around her and on “Girl Like Me” (which features an interpolation of Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You”) the dancers jumped while she sang beautifully. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people in person, period”, said Cameron observing the crowd. She continued the drama with her tune “Boyfriend” while her dancers paired up for a stellar interpretation of the song.
Ava Max glowed in a sparkly blue outfit for “Kings & Queens”, joined by her six dancers storming the stage. She smashed her big notes while whisking her blonde locks. New 2022 track “Maybe You’re The Problem” was a driving new wave dance smash and the dancers went hard again while Ava belted hard. Another new song “Weapons” was a total earworm with lasers and on “Million Dollar Baby”, Max proved she is quite the performer, bringing spectacle back to live music for the danceable 80s-flavored bop. The crowd was loving “Sweet But Psycho” which transitioned into the Tiesto track “The Motto” (which features Max). She cooked up maximum swagger and along with the dancers showcased some killer moves; it’s clear she’s another artist inspired by Lady Gaga.
23-year-old pop breakout Nicky Youre impressed in a black jacket with his cool vocal tone on “Eyes On You” followed by a fun cover of Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks”, with his voice really in line with the topline range. The feel-good “Weatherman” lifted off with a trumpet player joining Youre and his showstopping “Sunroof” was all smiles from the crowd, following Youre saying that the tune changed his life. Jvke commanded the stage, with one part spoken word and the other passionate vocal on “golden hour”. Pop/rock singer Jax covered alternative rock song “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus in a sparkly suit. Her presence was infectious and she mentioned, “My mom and dad are here watching me and it’s my first time playing in an arena”. Keep in mind, Jax was the first performer of the night and she told a story about when she was younger how she would compare her body to magazines and billboards, and then later she was consumed her feed. She talked about her body image song “Victoria’s Secret” and how she wrote it for the 13-year-old she babysat for. That girl Chelsea was brought up on stage and the two belted out the tune about the disgraced former Ohio CEO and once-iconic fashion brand. The angry, empowering song featured images of the Mona Lisa and other famous paintings as well as photoshopped photos. The whole moment was amplified by Jax being presented with a plaque by “JoJo On The Radio” for the song’s RIAA Gold status and having reached 1B views on TikTok. “Thank you everyone because my therapist wasn’t able to accomplish what all of you did”, said Jax.
Words by Michael Menachem.
Cover photo of Ava Max by Ashley Osborn. Additional images by Michael Kovac, Rich Polk, Anna Lee, Matt Winkelmeyer.