Perhaps the fact that a highly compromised version of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ already plodding and self-righteous “Wings” was being used as the official promotional song of All-Star Weekend should have been taken as a bad omen. And once the marquee acts of the weekend were announced, it wasn’t exactly the most exciting of lineups, so I don’t think any pop-leaning NBA fans were going into this weekend expecting three nights at Coachella. Still, I don’t think any of us could have expected a weekend quite this miserable in terms of pop music, a lifeless, uninspiring and occasionally downright unprofessional mess that dragged down the weekend on the whole.
To be fair, Saturday wasn’t quite that bad. Phillip Phillips was eminently respectable performing his one song, Ellie Goulding was striking as always performing hers, and though Fall Out Boy had some sound issues (and did they really all have to be wearing MJ jerseys? Yeah, yeah, 50th birthday and all, but c’mon, someone rep for Joakim) the surprise 2 Chainz appearance certainly went a long way to making up for any technical difficulties. Nothing iconic or unforgettable, but nothing all that embarrassing either. Hard to get mad at the NBA for too much of that.
Sunday got off on a bum note, though, with the NBA All-Star Pre-Game Concert on NBA TV — a pretty big misnomer, considering the hour-long special contained maybe 10-15 minutes of actual music, and far more of host Terrence J calling up famous annoying people onstage to banter awkwardly for a couple minutes. But when the music kicked off, it was expired rapper B.o.B playing most of his hits from three years ago, with his unmemorable verses overshadowed by the disembodied voices of Rivers Cuomo and Bruno Mars (neither present, unsurprisingly) singing the song’s far-more-memorable hooks, as he pranced about on stage waiting for his turn. He eventually got to his more recent and feature-free (though much less popular) “So Good,” but not before he half-heartedly rapped along to the hook to A$AP Rocky’s “F—in’ Problems” — the sparse, curse-free parts that he could get away with on live TV, anyway — for no discernible reason.
Ludacris, up next, was a little bit better — he also mostly played old hits, but they were better old hits, and they were all his — though the geographical implications of having two Atlanta rappers at a Houston All-Star Game remain somewhat confusing. At least the music and vibe felt appropriate, which could certainly not be said for the final pre-game performer: Ke$ha, whose brand of high-energy, higher-sleaze dance-pop could arguably be construed as Jock Jam-ish in the right context (Russell Westbrook would probably say so, anyway), but whose goth-y, campy, possibly surrealist performance felt super out of place as pump-up music. It wasn’t memorable enough to be a catastrophe — the most striking things about K-Money’s performance were her backup dancers, one of whom looked like Cher from the “If I Could Turn Back Time” video and one of whom looked like Anthony Kiedis auditioning for the Black Eyed Peas — but suffice to say, it did not get the party started.
Ne-Yo, charged with providing the intro music to the game proper, was perhaps the most-maligned performer of the night, and not unjustly so. The EDM-influenced pop hits he performed, “Let’s Go” and “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself),” weren’t bad choices to get the night started, but the singer sounded off throughout both songs, possibly plagued by monitor issues (read Questlove’s timeline for a practical breakdown of the part the mix and the stadium played in the performance’s troubles) but also just struggling to hit a bunch of the songs’ more challenging high notes. The fact that the performance lasted for a full two-and-a-half songs, plus player intros, in an “Entertainment Series” that was already pushing the game’s tip-off to about an hour after the game was scheduled to start (if you believe TV listings, anyway), wasn’t buying Ne-Yo much good will from increasingly impatient NBA fans, either.
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