Remember the late '00s when Nick Cannon was the ultimate MTV spring break host? You may have watched from your sunken position on the couch as beautiful people congregated in bikinis in some exotic locale, like Cancun, to play goofy games with water balloons and listen to that summer's hottest acts in pop music.
That mythical land of sun and fun was exactly the vibe the third annual iHeartRadio #Ultimate Miami Pool Party was going for at Fontainebleau in South Beach, this weekend, June 27 and 28. The only difference was, on this side of the screen, you had to stand around and pretend to be excited while Nick Cannon filmed commercial cutaways. And it wasn't just beautiful people in bathing suits. It was a complete census-swab of Americans, and they all came to the party because they won a radio contest.
We saw babies in strollers, twiggy tween girls, dazed college kids, married couples, cool moms and their cool mom friends. We also met a woman from Mexico who, when we asked if she, too, won a radio contest, just said, "vacation?" Alright! Cancun was in the house.
These things are curated like pop State of the Union Addresses. The line-up was stacked with a who's who of what your local iHeartRadio representative will be playing ad nauseam 'til this time September. Every genre was represented. Hip-hop came in the form of Lil Jon and Iggy Azalea. Neon Trees provided some rock'n'roll, while Canada's Magic! introduced us to the world of very-northern white-boy reggae. Ariana Grande was there to do her mini Mariah Carey thing, and J. Lo served as #ultimate superstar queen. Of course, pop's new best friend, EDM, was perfectly embodied by O.G. superstar DJ Tiësto.
The Fontainebleau is a beautiful, luxury hotel. You may recognize its extravagent pool area from that scene in Scarface when Tony's cousin mimes cunnilingus to a stranger. It also appears in Goldfinger and Police Academy 5, so it's a pretty classy joint. It's so classy, when Lil Jon sings "Shots," he has to demand that those not getting drunk get the what out the club. You can say "skeet" on national television, but you still can't say "mother fucker."
Lil Jon was a great choice of opener for Friday's kick-off festivities. He's the Atlanta hypeman who taught white people about "getting crunk." But this crowd, representing everyone who listens to iHeartRadio from Miami to Wyoming to Hawaii, maybe didn't quite know how to "Turn Down for What." As he DJ'd through "Animals" and other festival faves, there was the weird air of a dinner show. People were watching, but they weren't quite shaking it like a salt shaker.
You can't cage a crunk animal for long. Halfway through, Lil Jon left the turntables to the house DJ and took his rightful place at the front of the stage. He warned us that we were about to hit some "Turbulence," and what did the shaky skies rain down but a bit of Steve Aoki. The cake-master had a gig across the lobby at LIV that night, and it's not too hard to jump up and down with Lil Jon to your collaborative single. Sadly, no cake for us.
Iggy Azalea followed, jumping right into some naughtiness, talkin' about there's a party on our face and she's about to dance on it. She had a whole crew of dancers and still the crowd remained slightly slack-jawed. The bikini models flanking the crowd on either side in special VIP risers, however, were dancing and smiling like it was their job. People warmed up as she rapped about being 16 with no money and no family in the middle of this very city (it's kind of hard not to). She debuted a new single with Rita Ora, but "Fancy" was, of course, the big hit of the set.
After Nick Cannon got all Nickelodean-Awards on us, it was time for some big guns. To be honest, Tiësto is not this author's favorite DJ, but we say now, with no trace of irony, Tiësto was the best act of the whole shebang. Where others failed to captivate and electrify, this guy had the place feeling like a proper South Beach soiree. Maybe it's his decades of experience mixed with dance music's near-universal appeal. Maybe it's just that a sick light show and a steady beat can transfix anyone who's sipped a few cocktails. Whatever the appeal, everyone from the front to the back, the stagehands to the bartenders would rave about it later.
His guest appearances didn't feel forced or shallow. Matthew Koma was on hand to sing their slighty-disturbing summer hit "Wasted." It was an even bigger surprise when Neon Trees singer Tyler Glenn came out to provide vocals for Tiësto's "Red Lights." Both tracks appear on his latest effort, A Town Called Paradise. Tijs was sure to plug its availability before saying goodbye to his guests and finishing with a no-nonsense mix that, honestly, should have been the closing act. Poor Ariana Grande had to follow that with her little-girl-big-vocals routine. It was cute, but even when Iggy Igg joined her for their hit "Problem," it didn't stand-up to the power of pulsing bass.
Saturday night, Tiësto's buddy Glenn stole the show fronting his indie-pop foursome. He was the only person with the balls to confront the audience on their lackluster presence, screaming into the mic "Are you all here because you won a contest? Are you all here because you heard the cocktails were good?" He said he was sweating his ass off, and he needed them to move their able bodies. Dude pleaded with them, flailing on the ground, that as a 30-year-old man who just found the courage to come out as gay, he needed their support. When he finished their last hit, he said goodnight and literally dropped the mic. Who knew Neon Trees were so fucking punk rock? Magic! played what felt like an awfully-short set. Their island-rock vibes are well suited for Miami, but it's kind of weird to hear a reggae singer ask "why you gotta be so rude?" outside the context of Jamaican rude boy culture.
J. Lo, much like Tiësto, has been doing the whole headliner thing for a while. Whether or not you like pop music, there's nothing like a pop performer who gives the audience her all. Her style is one-part Gloria Estefan, one-part Paula Abdul. The Fly Girl was showing off her moves and her famous bum like 2001 never ended. Reportedly, her mom was on hand to dance the night away. #Adorbs. She gave us a breakdown of old hits, including "Ain't It Funny" and "I'm Real," as well as a big teaser of upcoming tracks from her tenth record AKA. Spoiler alert: Jenny from the Block is mining the world of dance music for her new sound, but she's actually doing it in a really smart way. Some of the tracks have the sexy elements of James Blake or Cashmere Cat, but there's still big room house influence and even some trap banger material. The single "Booty," featuring the conspicuously-absent Pitbull, sounded like the kind of earworm radio listeners won't be able to escape.
In the end, dance music dominated the affair, leaking a bit into everyone's set here and there, proving the "EDM" cash cow isn't quite ready for pasture. For us, the party was over by midnight, but you can catch the whole thing when it airs Wednesday, July 9, on the CW Network from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Luckily for you, it'll be edited, and you don't have to keep clapping while Nick Cannon reminds you it's for TV.
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Kat Bein turns down for what, all the time. @KatSaysKill