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That was one of many comical (and sexually confusing) moments from this past weekend's Y-100 Jingle Ball, an annual radio show meant to feature the year's best Top 40 performers. For Perry, who seems genuinely appreciative of all of the attention she's gotten since releasing that song earlier in 2008, this is a coming-out performance, and she continually thanks the audience for having her. "This is the biggest audience I've ever played in front of," she says, each syllable pronounced with a certain Betty Boop-esque charm. As appreciative as she is, the fact that she's got an audience of young girls belting out the words to a pseudo-bisexual love song is, frankly, just weird. A half hour after her set, I notice three girls, who don't look a day over 12, walking around the BankAtlantic Center and wearing black T-shirts that read, "I Kissed a Girl," in bold white letters on the front. Tonight, the over-sexing of America is on full display — and this isn't even the worst example.
To be fair, it's not Perry's fault that the Y-100 Jingle Ball tends to attract middle-school-aged kids, and their unlucky adult chaperones, as its main demographic. For her, she later says, "Tonight's performance is literally a dream come true." Just a year ago, Perry barely had a national following, and now an arena of fans sing the lyrics to her songs more enthusiastically than she is. She's prancing around the stage wearing an alluring sleeveless red Mrs. Clause outfit, and she has a certain 1950s pin-up girl quality to her. It's a unique look for a pop singer of today, but the contradictions are obvious — especially since Perry is the daughter of two pastors and was a gospel singer before revamping her career based around sexual ambiguity. That aside, the real question is: Should she actually have to tone down the act that has made her famous for a holiday show just because there are kids in the audience? Without the act, she's not nearly as entertaining, so obviously the answer is no.
After her set, Fall Out Boy takes the stage and delivers an underwhelming performance that is highlighted mainly by the cute and couture looks of the group's bassist, Pete Wentz. He repeatedly says "fuck," which I don't mind. But he also wears his usual eye liner and make up, which probably cues up a similar speech from the dads in the audience: "He's just an entertainer, son, so please don't try that at home."
From a musical standpoint, Fall Out Boy is boring. It's the same four chords repeated over and over that nearly put me to sleep as they perform. Maybe there wasn't enough sexual energy involved in their set to hold my attention.
Next up is the main event — the duo everyone is waiting to see — Chris Brown and Rihanna. It's well documented that these two are a couple, sort of like a younger version of Jay-Z and Beyonce. And I'm excited to see them perform. My initial guess is that Brown, whose celebrity status is slightly dwarfed by his girlfriend's stunning looks, should go on first. But it is Rihanna who came out ahead of him and delighted fans with the litany of hits that have made her famous since she first dropped "Pon de Replay" in 2005. Songs like "S.O.S." and "Don't Stop the Music" go over well as the Barbados-bred diva and her band mash-up pop, soca, and R&B in captivating style.
For a woman who's yet to turn 21, she's got all the makings of an unstoppable performer. What's equally obvious about her tonight is the way she oozes adult sexuality, rather inappropriately, throughout her 11-song set. You begin to wonder what was supposed to be the focal point of Rihanna's performance: her singing or her breasts. Propped up in a green bustier, her obviously surgically enhanced fun bags spill out over her top for most of the show and manage to steal the spotlight away from her singing — which isn't easy. Of course Rihanna is young and stacked and has every right to flaunt her body. But how many young girls and boys walked away from the Jingle Ball with a slightly warped sense of what's attractive based on Rihanna's outfit?
Aside from the lingerie-style bustier, the 20-year-old sports a short skirt that stops above her mid thighs and black boots. In the row in front of me, a teenaged girl turns to her mom and says, "Oh my God, I love Rihanna. I want to be just like her." What all that entails is yet to be determined, but as Rihanna keeps windin' up her waist, I keep wishing she would cover up a bit. So many little girls in the audience look up to her, and what they got was an over-sexed recipe for disaster: bulging fake breasts and near-nudity for 30 minutes straight. Brown is much more conservative in his hip-hop attire and comes out to perform two songs with Rihanna instead of doing a full set. By the time the duo jump in to her smash hit, "Umbrella," which in my estimation, is one of the best pop songs of the 21st century, the entire arena is singing along in unison.
Y-100 did a good job at putting together an impressive concert. Nobody would argue that. But for the price of admission, kids got to see live music and a bit of soft porn. That's probably more than most parents expected.