Published Nov 26, 2016The inaugural iHeartRadio Canada Jingle Ball wasn't a concert per se, but rather a protracted commercial for the streaming service plotting to make inroads into the Great White North. There was no hiding that on this night (November 25), with celebrity interstitials on the ACC screens touting how cool radio is, and host Kardinal Offishall (along with local media personalities) imploring the all-ages crowd to "download the iHeartRadio app" at every opportunity.
So, if you were there to show the Weeknd some love, you had to sit through both developing and popular acts including Kent Jones, Serena Ryder, Belly, Alessia Cara, Hedley and the Chainsmokers before getting to Abel Tesfaye's 60-minute set at the end.
But if you could get past the corporate hard sell, the Jingle Ball was pleasant and innocuous enough. The aforementioned acts are great at what they do, which is deliver radio-friendly hits that delight the masses. Belly, dropping f-bombs like he was getting paid per expletive, did an admirable job of hyping up his recent Inzombia mixtape release, there was a "special appearance" by One Directioner Niall Horan to deliver his lone hit single "This Town" and Alessia Cara, who's had a big year with "Here" and "Scars to Your Beautiful," was in Juno Award-winning form. Hedley did their admittedly hardy thing, too, with a 30-minute set, and the Chainsmokers got the crowd going with tunes like "Closer."
That fact that the Weeknd was not only on this mainstream bill but headlined it is testimony to his standing in the pop radio landscape. The fact that he hasn't had to tweak his formula or persona too much is notable, as seen by the mostly teen members of the audience decked out in XO gear and gleefully crooning along to the hardly-PG-rated lyrics.
Tesfaye, decked out in all black and a Starboy jacket, has evolved into the absolute performer, a far cry from his more hesitant early onstage appearances. The enigmatic artist currently occupies the proverbial "larger than life" space in a music continuum, preserving underground cred while appealing to the perkier elements of the mainstream.
"I want everyone fucking singing this shit," the 26-year-old barked, weaving his way through his hit list, including "The Hills," "Acquainted," "Can't Feel My Face," "In The Night," "Might Not" and "Earned It."
With his latest album Starboy released on the same day, it was natural that he would weave in the new material with his existing canon. "I've been partying for two days straight," he noted as he rocked through the title track. The new album is a curious fusion that dives headlong into his love of '80s pop and vintage Michael Jackson.
It was a tight set; numbers like the MJ-meets-Stevie B-meets-Daft Punk-styled "I Feel It Coming," the fast-paced, multi-layered dramatics of "False Alarm" demonstrate his growing command of the eclectic elements of popular music.
His unique voice is like no other presently on the charts — "I'm a motherfucking Starboy" — and he knows it. "All these R&B n*ggas be so lame" he states on Starboy track "Reminder." On this night, he made the crowd believe it too.