London is showcasing the best of pop music, with the stars of the Capital FM Summer Time Ball debuting what may well be tomorrow’s hits.
The annual Wembley Stadium show always gathers the good, the bad and the promising from the world of commercial pop.
Youngsters Disclosure and Aluna George are revving up to release some sunny singles. They’re joined by many better-known stars: Taylor Swift oozes Nashville glamor, Justin Timberlake covers Elvis Presley, will.i.am and Psy get unhinged, and Robbie Williams is still crazy after all these years.
Disclosure -- despite its members’ youth (the youngest is only just 19) -- make savvy dance tunes. Vocalists Eliza Doolittle, Sam Smith and Aluna Francis add classy soul.
Francis’s own band, AlunaGeorge, loves slick electro music. “Attracting Flies” is as sexy as the clutch of gold necklaces cascading over Francis’s elaborate black bra. She could eat the rest of them alive.
Swift’s brilliant “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is a highlight. She jives around, all blond hair and long legs in black hot pants and a silver-collared blouse.
Timberlake is like an effete Robert Palmer. His sweetly restrained acoustic set includes “Cry Me a River” and a languorous “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Psy may be a one-trick pony, but what a pony. The “Gangnam Style” singer states that he was inspired to make music by seeing a video of Queen at Wembley. Then he sings that song. The sight of 80,000 people doing that strange dance is by turns inspiring and deeply disturbing.
Will.i.am is accompanied by two giant skeletal robots that gyrate to electronic music sampling both Dirty Dancing’s “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” and Nirvana.
Boy-band escapee Williams, meanwhile, looks increasingly like Morrissey in the middle of a Kool-Aid test.
There are new boy bands littering the 21-act lineup -- including Lawson and The Wanted -- proof that cynical exploitation of teenage hormones never goes out of style.
Girl group the Saturdays do pouting pop as sterile as a surgeon’s glove. Ollie Murs’s ska-pop displays talent in homeopathic quantities.
Jessie J makes music with the ruthlessness of a Terminator robot. Ellie Goulding gallops sportingly across the stage in tennis club whites. Once a great hope of electronic pop, her middling songs demonstrate why she lingers somewhere between superstardom and obscurity.
Ratings: Swift, will.i.am, Disclosure, Aluna George, Timberlake ****. Williams ***. Jessie J, Murs *. The rest **. Or *** for the show as a whole.
(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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