“Jingle Ball 2023” Brings Together the Best of the Best

Martha Stewart and Elvis Duran on stage talking
Martha Stewart and Elvis Duran Presenting. Credit Katherine Tyler for iHeartRadio
Jared Leto Presenting is singing into a microphone that has the iHeartRadio logo on it
Jared Leto Presenting. Credit Katherine Tyler for iHeartRadio

iHeartRadio has been hosting its annual Jingle Ball tour throughout the month, with the main event and hometown show taking place at Madison Square Garden. The lineup this year surpassed last year, which was quite impressive in and of itself. The show kicked off at 7pm sharp and ran until almost midnight, a solid five hours. The entire concert was filmed and will air on ABC this Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023, at 8pm to 10pm (Winter Solstice) and will be able to be streamed on Hulu by the next day, Dec. 22, 2023. The press was seated in an area which allowed us to watch artists on stage as well as backstage. It was interesting to see a peek of them prepping as well as all that goes into producing such a large scale concert.

One thing that always puzzles me with this annual event is the order of the lineup. One would assume artists would go on from least mainstream to most mainstream. However, that is not necessarily the case and always puzzles the general public. In hindsight, I believe this is done deliberately: first, to get everyone seated early on since this is filmed; and second, to get fans of more well-known artists to take a liking to lesser-known acts who are on the come up. Because, at the end of the day, everyone is very talented regardless of notoriety and fame status.

Doechii kicked off the show with a high energy set, closing out with her viral anthem, “What Is It.” Melanie Martinez was next, which much like Ava Max last year was shocking. Melanie’s set was by far one of the best of the night, especially given the production value it took to execute such an intricate segment. It really did not make sense to have Melanie perform so early on, considering David Kushner and Pentatonix were acts who performed thereafter. Melanie’s set encompassed the ambience of her Portals Tour with stunning visuals, mushrooms sprouted throughout, a full band, background dancers, and Melanie in her reincarnated Cry Baby character. Needless to say, she set the bar high.

David Kushner performed a brief albeit impressive set. Pentatonix brought the Christmas spirit, and the entire arena’s phones lit up during their heartwarming rendition of “Hallelujah.” Paul Russell came out for a surprise performance of his viral hit, “Lil Boo Thang,” which seems to be featured in nearly every commercial and TikTok alike this holiday season.

Big Time Rush brought the heat with hits from three of their studio albums coupled with their performance of “Beautiful Christmas,” which up until now had not been performed since 2011. These guys never fail to get the party started and their vocals (and looks) are flawless. Their tours the past two years (2022’s Forever Tour and 2023’s Can’t Get Enough Tour) have been impeccable.

As a big Sabrina Carpenter fan, I was slightly disappointed in her set. The setlist could have been better and she performed a bit lazily. Many complained of it being difficult to understand her and she sounded muffled most of the time she was on stage. Nevertheless, she looked breathtaking, and “Nonsense” along with its Christmas rendition were her saving grace.

When it came time for Jelly Roll, I initially wanted to get another white chocolate peppermint cocktail, but held off because my guest was a big fan. I am glad I waited, because Jelly Roll was very much an unexpected treat. Jelly Roll’s voice is stellar and beautifully conveys the emotions behind his lyrics. Similarly, Jelly Roll is very likable and engages well with the audience, which makes him come across endearing. Jessie Murph joined him on stage for “Wild Ones.”

Cher was added to the lineup during the week leading up to the big show, which apparently is thanks to Elvis Duran. Andy Cohen introduced the icon who did not disappoint. Cher performed “DJ Play a Christmas Song,” which had everyone from kids to their parents dancing. I mean, it is CHER, and when everyone purchased their tickets she was not part of the lineup. No one expected such a huge name to be a part of the show, so this was a special moment for everyone. Cher then performed her mega hit “Believe” before exiting the stage. In October, Cher released her twenty-seventh studio album, appropriately titled “Christmas,” which also marks her first Christmas album and first album with original material in ten years.

One Republic performed a hit-filled setlist, opening up with “Secrets” and closing out with “Counting Stars.” Highlights included “Apologize” and Beyonce’s “Halo.” Ryan Tedder was everything in the moment and his passion made him come across sexier than he naturally does.

SZA was second to last and it is safe to say she was the main attraction for half of the arena. She performed a long nine-track setlist, a bit longer than Olivia Rodrigo’s eight-track setlist. SZA kicked off with “Love Galore” and closed out with “Good Days.” I was looking forward to seeing SZA perform and she did not disappoint. She included artist songs she is featured on including “Kiss Me More” (Doja Cat) and “Rich Baby Daddy” (Drake). The highlight was “I Hate U,” which seemed to be a cathartic experience for SZA and the entire arena alike. This song is the perfect breakup song, and helped me get over my last situationship quite well. Let’s just say I rocked this throughout 2022 and 2023. This was followed by “Kill Bill,” where SZA also slayed. SZA embodied her Scorpio essence perfectly during her performance.

The main attraction this year was Olivia Rodrigo, who was the encore and in turn had the longest set at approximately a half hour. Olivia kicked off the show with her latest hit, “All American Bitch,” and closed out with the single which made her be dubbed the next Taylor Swift, “Good 4 U.” Olivia is an amazing performer, and given she is a songwriter first, she is able to accentuate the emotions of her songs clearly and effortlessly on stage. Going into Jingle Ball 2023 and having been blown away by Dua Lipa and Lizzo last year, I was not as excited initially. However, by the end of the night this all changed. I am officially an Olivia Rodrigo stan and hope to cover her Guts Tour in April. Moreover, artists who I was previously uninterested in have won me over, ala Jelly Roll.

Listen to my podcast, Will Love Listen, available on iHeartRadio here. Season 3 premieres January 2024.