Squeezing eight pop acts into just over three hours requires some tough choices. Even with quick changeovers of five minutes or so, none of the performers at KISS 108’s iHeartRadio Jingle Ball at the TD Garden on Thursday had even a half hour to make their cases. But instead of giving anyone (or everyone) short shrift, the brief sets actually managed to prove the artists’ mettle in a way that longer ones might not have done. It helped separate the real deals from the shiny objects du jour.
The bratty, shallow, and blaring guitar pop of 5 Seconds of Summer represented the latter category right out of the gate. Plundering from pump-the-fist-in-the-air football chorus (and in the case of “Hey Everybody!” seemingly the entirety of 999’s “Homicide”), the band rocked with trudgingly dutiful abandon. It was in exactly its element: arena-huge, low-billed, and out of ideas in six songs.
The Weeknd wiped that opening performance clean. The bouncing Michael Jackson strut and futuristic sheen of “In the Night” and ebullient “Can’t Feel My Face” were effortless, as were the push-and-pull drama of “Earned It” and the self-loathing “The Hills.” Nick Jonas followed suit with the similarly dark and woozy “Chains” and the smooth, flat bump of “Levels,” his pleasantly self-assured cockiness showing the former Jonas Brother adapting nicely to the role of solo star.
Flanked by personality-free turns by dance-poppers Natalie La Rose and Hailee Steinfeld, each exhausting her arsenal in under 10 minutes, Demi Lovato’s set was full and varied, while showing that she had more than 25 minutes in her. She occasionally oversang to the point of shrillness, but Lovato was galvanized by self-assurance, whether on the strut of “Mr. Hughes” and generous warmth of “Yes” or the empowerment of “Confident.”
Ellie Goulding/Lorde amalgam Tove Lo was also well-served by a short, satisfying set that nonetheless whetted the appetite for more. Backed by two drums and a keyboard, she brought some moodiness back, turning the catharsis-in-self-immolation chorus of “Habits (Stay High)” into a singalong and somehow deepening it in the process.
Calvin Harris, a singer-songwriter and record producer, passed on live performance, instead closing the night with a DJ set meant to turn the Garden into a dance party. It worked on occasion, though plenty seemed content to stand and watch. Mostly, it was hard not to notice and smile at the fact that a radio-branded concert ended, fittingly enough, with a guy simply playing records.
KISS 108’s iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2015
At TD Garden, ThursdayMarc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.