Over the past month, Miley Cyrus has found plenty of ways to get people talking besides twerking. Recall her recent memey cat moment at the AMAs and that time she lit a joint on-stage at the EMAs. So when the 21-year-old singer took the stage at the KIIS FM Jingle Ball in a sequined Santa turtleneck bikini, reprising her controversial moves alongside a dancing Christmas tree, a dwarf in a cone-bra silver bodysuit, and backup dancers donning white leotards and reindeer antlers, the spectacle didn’t register that high on the Miley spectrum. It was also short-lived, lasting only through the opener “Party In the USA,” “We Can’t Stop,” and “#GetItRight.”
Overall, Cyrus’ set was more balanced than any of her recent performances and even showed restraint at times. After the third song, Cyrus turned introspective, delivering ballads and letting her raw vocal talent shine. She performed an acoustic cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness,” offered up the debut live performance of her third Bangerz single, “Adore You,” and closed on “Wrecking Ball,” which ended with pyrotechnics and a burst of confetti. In the final moments of her set, Cyrus plugged her upcoming tour and recently-released album with her crew of dancers, who re-emerged wearing balloon suits and holding up balloons spelling out Bangerz.
Cyrus’ former Disney network peer Selena Gomez didn’t fare as well. After struggling through sound problems, and relying on a backing track to get through the first song, “Undercover,” Gomez could be heard saying “What the fuck?” A few moments later, Gomez announced to the crowd that she’d play a couple more songs but only made it through “Come and Get It” before leaving without explanation or another word. Ariana Grande dealt more gracefully with a similar sound issue. The 20-year-old Mariah Carey disciple, festively decked out in a fur-trimmed sparkly white frock, persevered through her opener, “Right There,” without audible vocals. But Grande bounced back from the mishap with humor, joking, “I’m sorry the mix was off the entire time. At least you know I’m not tracked” – a dig at Gomez. On top of that, the budding songstress casually revealed that she’s currently battling bronchitis after an otherwise flawless, melisma-filled set.
Grande oddly got the second-to-last slot of the night, following 17-year-old one-man-boyband Austin Mahone. Both young artists have emerged as likely replacements for Gomez and Cyrus, now that the latter are pushing against their PG-rated formative years, and their odd billing – appearing after bigger artists Robin Thicke, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Enrique Iglesias – was a reminder that the pop world feels the need to regenerate a new crop of adolescent stars every few years.
Even with Grande and Gomez’s face-off and Miley’s memorable performance, the evening still felt partly overshadowed by the Grammy nomination ceremony being held across the street. As soon as that ended, Robin Thicke and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis rushed over from the Nokia Theatre to the Staples Center. Both acts brought out surprise guests – T.I. appeared to deliver his verse in “Blurred Lines” and Macklemore tapped Kendrick Lamar’s labelmate Schoolboy Q for “White Walls” and vocalist Mary Lambert for an emotional rendition of “Same Love.” “We just got nominated for song of the year,” Macklemore told the crowd, “I never thought that I would say that out loud.”