Ryan Seacrest and Clear Channel Communications have some impressively deep Rolodexes: Over a star-studded five hours Saturday evening at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the hosts of Night 2 of the I Heart Radio music festival delivered a bill that included, in order of appearance (roughly): Steven Tyler, Jeff Beck, Sting, Randy Jackson, a few members of Sly Stone's Family Stone, Nicki Minaj, Karmin, Rascal Flatts, Jennifer Lopez, David Guetta, Usher, Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga and Sting (again).
That's a lot of records sold, and dozens of massive radio hits and platinum discs. This creative musical energy was harnessed in Vegas for a specific purpose: to market I Heart Radio, the new mobile phone app launched by Clear Channel and Seacrest that promises listeners the freedom to choose the music they consume and to access Clear Channel's vast network of terrestrial stations via the Internet.
Like Friday's show, Saturday's sold-out performance at the 17,000-capacity Garden Arena was broadcast via the Web and to Clear Channel radio stations across the country, no doubt one selling point that drew such a massive lineup to Vegas. As a result, the event moved like clockwork: Each musician came out, played his or her hits, shilled for I Heart Radio, sweated, danced, sang, thanked his or her fans, and then left. Between quick set changes, videos on the massive screen showed clips of the performers talking about music, and creativity, radio and I Heart Radio. The display also showed commercials.
If you sense a certain cynicism, it was negated on a few memorable musical occasions. Tyler's opening salvo was "Sweet Emotion," which he sang with Beck on guitar and Sting on bass, a brain-teaser of a combination that, though rock solid, hopefully won't result in supergroup somewhere down the line.
Minaj, as always, was a joy to watch, a pitch-perfect, wildly charismatic rapper-singer-dancer-actor-marionette who tore through a handful of her best verses and tracks and said as much with her plasticized facial expressions and darting eyes as she did with her rhymes. "Super Bass," especially, was thrilling, a bounce-heavy banger that she and her rubbery backup dancers offered with joyful abandon.
Throughout the night, performers exclaimed how excited they were to be among such a varied lineup, and on the surface it was true: Minaj doesn't share much with Aerosmith, nor does she have much common ground with the middling, cookie-cutter country act Rascal Flatts or twangin' party boy Chesney. The latter superstar, who tossed out solid but harmless nuggets of country rock, certainly doesn't share too much common artistic ground with Lady Gaga, let alone a Frenchman like Guetta, who debuted a new song with R&B singer Usher.
What they do share are major label contracts, the power to deliver huge messages to big fanbases, access to the largest and most well-financed communication conduits available, and a willingness to explain on camera and onstage how awesome the I Heart Radio app and music festival will be.