At the annual Wango Tango concert and corporate marketing event Saturday, an endless stream of Twitter messages from fans scrolled across the video screens throughout the day and night as though reporting breaking news.
“I luv u mom and dad thanks for everything luv Mel,” read one tweet as singer-TV personality Adam Levine and his band Maroon 5 performed a half-hour of catchy hits, mainstays on the playlist of KIIS-FM (102.7), the radio station that produces Wango Tango.
“Lyndon will u go to prom with me?” wondered another, strategically planted while rising R&B singer Miguel was making the ladies, teens and tweens swoon during his sunset half-hour of romancing. “I love u chula, more than you’ll ever know,” read another as the single-day event, which featured some of commercial pop radio’s biggest names, turned to night and thousands of glow sticks illuminated the fans.
Such enthusiasm stands to reason. Few of life’s passages are as ingrained in our hearts as a first concert. Be it the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, the Jacksons at Dodger Stadium or Britney Spears at the Forum, our early live pop music experiences arrive with unequaled intensity; the combination of melody, youth and an impressionable mind sparks a rush of teenage emotion that marks us for life.
Or, as Miguel so succinctly put it Saturday between songs in his incendiary set: “Memories, yo.”
An army of kids and young adults experienced this early crush at Wango Tango, an event run with military-like precision but a dearth of imagination. Along with the above artists, pop stars and ascendant talent included: the skillful but artistically inconsequential singer-guitarist Bruno Mars, former Disney girl Demi Lovato, beefy Autotune anthem king Flo Rida, Black Eyed Peas hitmaker will.i.am, one-dimensional EDM producer Afrojack, soulful British singer Emeli Sandé, punky princess Avril Lavigne and reunited punk-pop band Fall Out Boy.
Combined, the roster offered a variety that reflects the various strands of American mainstream (noncountry) music 2013: rap, rock, electronic dance music, R&B and top 40 pop, mixed and matched with little regard to hipness or “art” and delivered within a bland and creatively starved climate.
Hungry during your day-long sojourn to Carson? Onsite food choices were limited to McDonald’s, Wings & Beer, rubbery pizza, nachos, cotton candy and the like -- even though a vast concrete plot at the Home Depot Center that was perfect for food trucks sat empty. Want to see your favorite singer up close? Not here, where the stage was set at such a far remove from most fans that talent felt tiny regardless of your seat. The best option was to watch the video screens above -- and be distracted by the Twitter roll.
Might you even, God forbid, meet the musicians? Nope. Despite the nearly feral passion for these stars, the notion of face-to-face interaction seemed an impossibility. The closest thing? An “exclusive” VIP platform the size of a boxing ring amid the floor seats, replete with a white couch and a few easy chairs, where between sets, celebrities such as Khloé Kardashian and Tyler Posey from “Teen Wolf” hawked upcoming projects -- then promptly left the area with seeming disregard for the music.
Granted, none of this mattered much to the adoring crowd, whose spirit squished like a bug skeptical critics complaining about cuisine, ambience and “art.” Who needs a Kogi truck, craft beer or pleasant atmosphere when Flo Rida’s driving you crazy with “In the Ayer”? Worries about corn syrup and saturated fat can’t withstand the power of thousands screaming every word during Lovato’s assured performance (with a great live band) of her hit “Skyscraper,” or Fall Out Boy’s opening anthem, “Dance, Dance.” Brit Sandé’s rendition of her simmering “My Kind of Love” was particularly memorable.
Disappointments? Lavigne’s late-afternoon gig felt phoned-in, as though she long ago tired of these ring-kisses to the commercial radio business, often necessary to assure continued airplay. Icona Pop, best known for its song “I Love It,” seemed to already be battling the one-hit-wonder virus. And Krewella, a trio of EDM-light producer-singers recently signed to Columbia, played watered-down, post-Skrillex dubstep.
Combined, Wango Tango felt more like a successful branding opportunity than a well-planned, loving display of popular music. Hopefully, these young minds eventually move beyond this to discover the myriad possibilities of live music presentation. They certainly experienced the connection.
There’s hope: One budding music critic noted in a video-screen tweet during Maroon 5’s “Payphone” something striking about singer Levine as he hit a falsetto: “just omg ughhh my hubby Adam is even hotter live.”
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @lileditCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun