The holiday season is upon us, and in the live music industry, that means there’s at least one that’s sure to dominate the month of December in America. iHeartRadio’s Jingle Ball is an annual nationwide tour that sees tens of thousands–if not hundreds of thousands–of music lovers of all ages heading to massive venues to see a line-up that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
One of the most recent shows, at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden, was a packed party filled with superstars, up-and-comers, and a screaming crowd for each and every talent that walked on stage. In some circles (mostly in the business and with those who identify as “too cool”), Jingle Ball elicits a bit of a laugh…but in this music journalist’s opinion, it’s actually one of the best shows of the year for the money.
Jingle Ball as a brand hops from city to city in the U.S., using each locale’s top 40 station and its well-known DJs to anchor the program. The idea behind the show is incredibly simple, yet underrated in 2022. A dozen different musical acts take to the stage, each bringing their own signature style of radio-ready pop to the crowd. Some are brand new, while others are among the bestselling and most popular artists on the planet. Jingle Ball acts a bit like a music festival of sorts, only without the hot sun and the need to run from stage to stage. It’s a rare opportunity to see many different singers and bands in one night, and especially to catch a set from artists that attendees might otherwise never get to see. It’s a musical sampler that includes everyone from the biggest hitmakers of the day, who have no issue selling out arenas, to musicians that few have heard of who are just getting their start.
This year’s openers–Jax and JVKE–were each allotted a song or two apiece, but to be honest, that’s likely enough for most in the crowd. These are artists who have come out of seemingly nowhere recently and scored a hit, thanks in large part to virality on TikTok. One song might seem a bit harsh, but at this moment, they may not have much else in their repertoire. These rising talents benefit immensely by playing to large crowds that they absolutely could not summon themselves, and many of those who buy a ticket will walk away with a new favorite they’ve discovered.
A second tier of artists get to perform a handful more of their songs, though not a full set. This year, names like Dove Cameron, Ava Max, Lauv, AJR, and Demi Lovato all performed their hits as well as a new track or two that they are trying to promote. Again, Jingle Ball is a great chance to see a popular (or semi-popular) singer without having to spend the money to purchase a ticket to their own individual show.
Then there are the headliners, and these are the people who will play between five and eight songs. The tour this time around was headlined by pop superstar Dua Lipa, and those who performed just before her included Lizzo, Charlie Puth, and the Backstreet Boys. Jingle Ball usually mixes things up when it comes to the lineup, including those who are still in the midst of going viral with artists who have been working hard for years, or perhaps even decades. At the New York City show, teenage attendees were thrilled with Jax and her song “Victoria’s Secret”, while their parents rocked out to Backstreet Boys singles from the ‘90s. It sounds like this blend wouldn’t work with all of those different artists playing in one room to the same crowd, but there’s a light-heartedness to everything and it’s easy to have fun, especially knowing that even if that particular performance isn’t for everyone, it will be on to the next before too long.
And it turns out that long is the key word. New York City’s Jingle Ball concert began promptly at 7:00 PM and ended just before midnight–making it nearly a five-hour experience. This might be a bit too long for some younger audience members, but considering there are a dozen names on the bill, that’s actually a pretty healthy run time.
Most concerts and festivals are specifically set up for either superfans of one artist or for those who identify as being very aware of what’s going on in music. Jingle Ball caters to everyone else, which is actually a majority of Americans. iHeartRadio’s holiday tour is perfect for anyone who enjoys the experience of going to a concert, but who might not know where to begin to look for tickets or who aren’t invested enough in one name to spend the money and the time to go to a show. The vast majority of Americans are still turning on their local radio station in their car and simply letting it play, without any real thought as to who’s song is blasting through their speakers or what it’s called. Jingle Ball is there opportunity to get to know the artist behind some of these radio smashes, which they otherwise wouldn’t bother to do.
This annual trek is a way to reach those that the concert business might otherwise not pay any attention to. Jingle Ball is family friendly, as artists were asked to change lyrics in their songs to make them appropriate for younger listeners–instead of rapping “I just took a DNA test, turns out, I’m 100% that bitch” in “Truth Hurts”, Lizzo, who was wearing a Santa jacket and was otherwise covered in bright green, swapped “bitch” for “Grinch”–which makes it even more fitting for the time of year.
Simply put, Jingle Ball is an easy way to see a lot of different artists at once for one low price… and you can do it all again next year with an entirely different lineup. Personally, I’ve been to hundreds of concerts, and I unapologetically love Jingle Ball, and have been singing its praises (without any cuss words) for a long time.