If there was a single message to take home from Saturday’s all-day KIIS-FM concert at the Home Depot Center in Carson, it was: Wango Tango.
The two-word name of the daylong pop music event, now in its 15th year, was repeated so many times during the eight hours of performances, both onstage by artists and during commercial breaks between each 20-minute set, that it felt as if the powerful radio station were still trying to persuade us to attend.
It was as if a roster that included, among others, heavy hitters Pitbull, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, B.o.B. and Maroon 5 teamed with a crop of young risers such as J. Cole, Big Sean, the Wanted, Wallpaper and K’Naan – to say nothing of quickie “guest-host” appearances by Justin Bieber and Ryan Seacrest – weren’t enough. The music certainly was bountiful, even if, as is the case with most radio concerts, the presentation felt like an extended commercial for its own relevance.
Aside from originally being the name of a Ted Nugent song about a sexy dance, Wango Tango is KIIS-FM’s annual fan-day party, and each installment since the first in 1998 has featured dozens of America’s hottest and/or most buzzing pop music artists getting their 15 minutes onstage (in many cases, quite literally) for thousands of screaming teens and their parents, twentysomethings and ageless pop music and pop culture fanatics looking for musical bliss.
In years past, these performers have included acts ranging from Hootie & the Blowfish, Aerosmith and Wayne Newton to Britney Spears, Kanye West, Outkast and Mariah Carey, a virtual who’s who of the Billboard pop, hip-hop, rock and R&B charts. For a lot of Angelenos who grew up in the ’90s and ’00s, the L.A. institution is imprinted as one of their first live music experiences.
And you could tell that at the Home Depot Center on Saturday, where the tween screams were legion and the joy unbridled. After all, few experiences in 2012 are as pregnant with glee as when Bieber enters a stadium filled with excited teenagers, as he did at exactly 5:20 p.m. to introduce his new label mate, Carly Rae Jepsen. The impact when singer-TV personality Adam Levine landed onstage to vocalize his hook during Gym Class Heroes’ “Stereo Heart” was probably recorded at the Earthquake Data Center – as were the rumble of bass during Minaj’s “Superbass” and the insistent foot stomping of Pitbull during “Give Me Everything.”
There was a dark side to all this, though. Witness pop culture’s sad underbelly: the volume of impressionable minds that, upon seeing lunkheaded “Jersey Shore” star Ronnie Ortiz-Magro in the crowd, ran toward him as though he were a steroid prophet. And that his compadre Pauly D warmed up the amphitheater on the turntables should be the subject of a grievance from the union that represents DJs – if there were one.
But this is pop culture, after all, and despite its seemingly disposable nature, at its worst it’s a brand of fame facilitated by expert business professionals who understand how to achieve maximum impact. Which is to say, there were as many fiscal agendas floating around behind the scenes as there were songs flying out of the speakers. The knowledge, for example, that two of the day’s early acts, British boy band the Wanted and young Canadian vocalist Jepsen, whose “Call Me Maybe” is in heavy rotation on KIIS-FM, are both repped by Bieber manager Scooter Braun’s agency, isn’t important to a gaggle of screaming girls singing along, nor is the notion that their presence on the bill might have something to do with Bieber’s brief appearance. (Bieber was apparently on his way to a Lakers game, where he was spotted courtside a few hours later.)
All that’s important is the thrill the fans got when the Wanted broke out its hit, “Glad You Came,” or when the guys in the crowd recited all the words to Big Sean’s “Dance (ASS).” The aspirational rhymes in both the Gym Class Heroes’ “Billionaire” and K’Naan’s massive World Cup smash, “Wavin’ Flag,” were high points of the night, and both prompted sing-along refrains.
When Minaj, whose set was a mini version of the Roman-esque vamp she did at this year’s Grammy Awards, moved to the wickedly infectious “Beez in the Trap,” the crowd rapped along – even while she muffled all the song’s cussing for the family-friendly audience. But her set, though by definition rushed, was uneven and resulted in a high-energy but low-impact show.
Pitbull’s set, though, was as big as the amphitheater. He and his backing band, filled with percussion and bass, didn’t seem to care if this were a radio show, a Miami beach party or a Caribbean yacht. The man was all business: lean, dressed in black and wearing impenetrable dark sunglasses. He filled his half-hour with a focused energy that proved a simple truth: Money, fame and success may be involved, but ultimately, the only business that matters is what takes place onstage and how it affects the screaming below.
– Randall Roberts
Top photo: Nicki Minaj and her dancers perform at KIIS radio's 2012 Wango Tango at the Home Depot Center in Carson on Saturday, May 12, 2012. Bottom photo: Adam Levine performs with Wiiz Khalifa at Wango Tango on Saturday. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times