It’s friggin freezin out here Mr. Milionis.
There was definitely an urgency to get into the Allstate Arena on Wednesday, December 14th for 103.5 KISS FM’s Jingle Ball 2016 presented by Capital One as the wind blew minus Fahrenheit gusts.

The sold-out crowd was inundated with non-stop entertainment.  There was zero need to socialize and barely time to update social media status. Music videos were on the two side big screens, with a scroll bar of tweets from fans running beneath, and updated Instagram photos plastered on the main middle screen.  Turns out the video space is crazy creative!  The tweet consensus proved ultimate excitement for Niall, Backstreet Boys, and Ariana Grande.

There were two solid rows of 9 to 12 year olds behind me who could hardly contain their excitement.  Pretty sure the mom chaperones were pretty damn excited themselves.

Close to the 7:30pm start time, a countdown from sixty seconds begins.  The crowd goes crazy at the ten count.  The first artist, Hailee Steinfeld took the stage in totally timely fashion.  There were four dudes dancing in Army print around her.  She wore tall leather boots, a green zipped parachute skirt and tight denim vest.  She sings to a track; her voice strong above this but not always coordinated to the track tone.  She’s cute, appears genuine, and turns out CRAZY talented!  She has a strong acting career, having an Academy Award nod, and appearances in popular music videos.  Oh yeah, and she’s gorgeous.  She seems still in shock her fans love her and thanks us for her best year ever, mentioning her new movie, Edge of Seventeen.  A movie she is very proud of and goes onto explain its “universal theme of self-acceptance and self-love”.  With that goes into her next song “Love Myself” asking “Chicago do you love yourself?”  Hailee light-heartedly addresses classic young adult issues in her songs and movies.  Her message is real, exposing humility, and spinning adverse situations into positives for the generation who think their life will end from one stupid social media blurp.  She finished with “Starving”, which she found out went platinum just this week.  I wanted to hear her sing it, but she was trying to get the crowd to sing it, therefore the track was the performance with her singing only a small part.

The stage setup was extremely efficient, established on a rotating circular floor.  I had a unique angle to see the crew configuring sets during the live performance and could sneak peeks of performers before they came center stage.  The intermission between artists was super short and not without movie trailers, funny commercials, and hosts of 103.5 KISS FM.

Daya came on stage in season with a sparkly turtle neck and leather skirt.  Refreshingly, she was singing all her own; love this vulnerability.  No track for this GRAMMY Award-nominated up-and-comer.  She happens to be the youngest singer nominated for 2016.  She showed her endurance with her first song “Sit Still, Look Pretty”.  This girl has some lungs and her songs aren’t easy, yet without breath she goes from song directly into a huge shout-out to Chicago.  B.R.A.V.O.  Her own drummer and keyboard…together making music on stage.  This is what a live performance is all about.  She asks the crowd to sing with her, as she SINGS with them.  She showcases her talent and is more than proving her worth, her own guitar driving her.  I’m impressed.  She brings the crowd in with “Don’t Let Me Down”, The Chainsmokers song she is featured on.  The crowd sings with her; by far loudest of the night for this song!  There is a lot of energy here.  The lights on the crowd makes the arena feel smaller, united in wondering ‘where all the good boys go to hide away.’

The theme thus far is all about relying on your one and only SELF.  The choices one makes influences life outcomes.  The new message is accountability: strong, influential, and necessary.

A quick stage turn around for Lukas Graham. Trombone.  Trumpet.  Sax.  A solid horn base.  Lukas donned a black stocking cap, his longer locks fringing out back.  A baggy grey sweatshirt and black pants…you get the picture.  He sings a written song, his life story, and has fun doing it.  His crew are characters, which I can always appreciate.  They drink from red Solo cups, cheers-ing the over twenty-one crowd.  Lukas has a super strong voice and sings effortlessly and without stopping he goes from his first song right into the next.  “Destiny how come you don’t strip no more” – do I take it literal or figuratively…I do both.   This guy gets serious too, again without taking a break, he moves directly into “You’re Not There” written in commemoration of his father, respectfully removing his cap.  The crowd establish mood with slow moving phone flashlight.  The pretty quality in his voice helped earn three GRAMMY Award-nominations, well deserved for the man from Copenhagen.  After hearing it live, and getting to know Lukas, turns out I really like “7 Years”.  It was the first time it actually ‘got me’…..it’s a getchya song.  Call me late to the game; at least I showed up!

The crowd absolutely loses their shit when they announce the next singer.  Niall Horan.  He came out with his own guitar and sang one song, his single “This Town”.  It’s a super solid vocal performance, the crowd at times sings louder than he, dreaming they are the only ones in the room who he sings the words to.  They scream at musical breaks and go back to singing with him.  The crowd sounds beautiful!  I gotta give it to the tweens, he is a good looking guy – I hear moms behind me voicing inner thoughts that maybe shouldn’t have been voiced above the screams.  This guy is single handedly bringing back the BANG wave.  It’s not just any wave, it’s a CAT. 7.  Dangerous, yet sure to be trending as soon as men grow their fronts long enough to blow-dry it back with a curved brush.  He mentions how much he loves Chicago.  Hot man with guitar, incredible voice singing songs endearing to the woman, and mean bang wave.  This guy is sure to sell out stadiums and lots of albums.  I think he made the right decision to venture on his own.  We are all anticipating that 2017 album.

Tove Lo.  Yaaasss!  She’s one to see, playing songs from her “Lady Wood” album released end of October.  She utilizes the main middle screen to full potential; great supporting visuals.  She comes out to a car crash scene.  Awesome.  I’m so excited to see a wreck…she teeters on that edge of barely holding it together.  I’m not totally sure what to expect but know I will NOT be disappointed.  She wears athletic looking black jeans with double white side-stripes, fishnets pulled to her navel, and a super short silver metallic crop-top sans bra.   She claims she’s ‘in to’ the cold because she’s Swedish, and goes into “Cool Girl”.  She controls her own vocal-enhancements from foot pedals.  She is fully entertaining and I’m waiting for her to do something crazy-she’s good for it.  She rolls her body like she knows herself all too well.  Simulated cowbell for “Talking Body” – the crowd is singing loud, matching Daya’s “Don’t Let me Down”.  Keeping it clean she swaps out ‘Lock’ for ‘f**k’.  She’s doin’ it on stage.  She has an emo Betty Boop tat on her right upper bicep and a bull nose-ring.  This girl.  The band focuses for the “Keep it Simple” jam from the new album, we all chuckle with her after she says Lady Wood.  Thank ya Tove.   A fan shouts out “I love you” from behind me – I love her too.  She is sounding so good for “Habits” – great to see this live.  Feelin’ her.  Frustrations played out on stage.  And she totally just did it on stage while holding it all together.

Next up…Backstreet Boys (not gonna make crack at their name).  The iHeartRadio Host asks for a shout-out from ‘all the mommas in the house.’  It’s a loud response.  This is going to be good. I cannot wait to see what unfolds in this next twenty-five minutes.  My side stage peers spy out the crew and scream.  I watch as Kevin Richardson does a quick sign of the cross, points and looks above before running to the top riser-center stage – as  “Everybody” starts.  Energy in the house feels like Chip N Dale ladies night.  Everybody was on their feet, rocking their bodies, while capturing the performance on their phones – It’s all bragging rights from this moment on.  I was instantly transported to my elementary friend’s bedroom who had a Backstreet Boys poster above her bed and matching backpack/lunchbox/sweatshirt set.

Yep…they’re back with something.  Plenty of mistakes we know this by the documentaries, but with tons of success as well.  These guys were huge.  I can’t help but get a kick out of it all. They bust out their same signature moves and the ‘mommas in the crowd’ pull out theirz…those moves locked away in Pandora’s Box, until now.  They may have thought this part of their life had died, but now they dance as their teen watches in sorta embarrassed astonishment, but deep-down PROUD.

And then its “Incomplete”.  Is the crowd giddily laughing or crying,  I almost can’t tell, but their cheering is unmistakable.  Two couples from my generation embrace each other and lock lips.  I vomit in my mouth a bit.

The boys thank us for our support and do jumping high kicks while announcing their Vegas residency.  They’re replacing the other Vegas train wreck comeback that is Britney Spears.  I’ve a feeling Vegas will have a new sort of crowd this next year, going specifically to make new memories never to be talked about ever again…that is until the Backstreet Boys 50th reunion ;)

Clearly Backstreet’s synced dance moves and ‘individualness’ have not fallen from grace; each of them still got it goin’ on.  The crowd is so into it.  It’s their individualness that keep them the Backstreet Boys, because their voice isn’t the qualifier anymore – sorry guys, but pretty sure they’re aware.  At this point it really does NOT matter, we’re cheering so loud we can’t hear them anyhow.  They sweet talk us and we melt.  A.J. sounds like shit, but looks the part sporting red high tops, a matching red ball cap with the word “FAME”.  He drops his shoulder from his black sparkle jacket to reveal his white t underneath as he sings about his sex appeal.  Kevin sounds good and on occasion Brian pulls it together.  The crowd doesn’t sound any better as they shout-scream “I Want It That Way”.  So much excitement.  We go absolutely insane when all five do perfectly in-sync pelvic thrusts, literally pumping energy through the arena.  They each sing it out, off key and all.  Didn’t matter, they were the best performance of the night.  Bringing it back.  I thoroughly enjoyed the show.  They’re worth seeing in Vegas.

Ellie Goulding comes out to a haunting tone segue to “On My Mind”.  She has three back-up singers, two electric guitars, keyboard, and synth drums.  She wears military boots, a see through black military patterned lace over black leather shorts and a black bra – I totally dig her style.  I can’t tell if she’s on track or it’s her back up vocalists.  Her voice is unique but I always thought it lacked strength – she sounded true to form.  She’s fun and free on stage twirling, jumping, even pulling out the reverse stand-still running man.  She has a shrill in her voice when she takes it there.  I liked Ellie Goulding when I first heard her “Lights” song on SNL way back when.  It may have been her cute stand-still dance leg move she had with that song.  She has safe sexy moves, nothing rated like Tove.  She grabs a guitar for “Burn” and has her own rock out session; she seemed to enjoy herself but didn’t draw in the crowd.  She ends with “Love Me Like You Do” by slowing to the end of the song, earnestly looks to the crowd, and sing-asks “what are you waiting for?” -pause- and blows pink confetti into the crowd.

The last performance of the night was one of the shortest.  I watched like a horror flick with eyes covered yet peaking through a finger slit to actually see it to believe it.  It’s one I’ve been dreading but secretly excited to see.  My expectations were exceeded.  It was a total shitshow.  The speakers were turned on turbo.  I couldn’t decide to cover my ears or eyes.  Ariana Grande is wearing a white ball cap with a cut-out through the top for her signature super long palm-tree pony-tail.  She’s constantly adjusting her white fluff jacket and can barely walk in her super high-heeled leather boots.  I can barely pick out her voice from the overly loud track, which she doesn’t follow anyhow and hardly sings to.  When she does belt out I cannot differentiate the words.  Lots of men all dressed in black dance around her on a super dark stage – so dark the large side screens show the filmed darkness.  Her Chicago shout-out sounds like a chipmunk. Her ‘Holiday’ performance, consisted of sitting on one of the dancer’s lap to sing “Christmas and Chill” in complete darkness – super awkward.  I can’t understand a single word she sings.  Weird stuff is happening.  She goes into the medley and says “Thank you Santa” to one of the dancers who hands her a giant candy cane. She swings the cane while singing a song about milk and cookies. I think the crowd is in as much shock as I am.  I see one person dancing in the crowd – ironically dressed like a cow, clearly thankful for the advertising plug.  Eventually she takes off the jacket and says “Let’s do this Chicago” and plays two more.  At this point, people are making their way back to the tundra temperatures, quickly.

Setlist:
Hailee Steinfeld:
You’re Such A
Rock Bottom
Love Myself
Starving

Daya
Sit Still, Look Pretty
Words
Don’t Let Me Down
Hide Away

Lukas Graham
Mama Said
Strip No More
You’re Not There
Drunk In The Morning
7 Years

Niall Horan
This Town

Tove Lo
True Disaster
Cool Girl
Talking Body
Keep it Simple
Habits (Stay High)

Backstreet Boys
Everybody
Incomplete
As Long As You Love Me
We’ve Got It Goin’ On
I Want It That Way
Larger Than Life

Ellie Goulding
On My Mind
Anything Could Happen
Burn
Love Me Like You Do

Ariana Grande
Side to Side
Into You
Christmas and Chill Medley
Be Alright”
Dangerous Woman

ALL PHOTOS:  103.5 KISS FM’s Jingle Ball 2016 at Allstate Arena in Chicago (Photo by Getty Images for iHeartMedia)