Nostalgia has always been a thing in popular music. With each passing decade, people long more for the music of their youth, which has led in recent times to a booming (excuse the pun) nostalgia live music market of legacy acts plying their trade long after their “glory” years. In recent times, the nineties and early-noughties nostalgia have come into vogue, and it is this era which dominated the line-up of this year’s ZM Friday Jams festival.
Back for its third year and once again being held at Auckland's Western Springs Stadium, this year’s Friday Jams was very much catered to the R&B and hip-hop fan with Janet Jackson, 50 Cent, and the Black Eyed Peas backed up by the likes of Brandy, Jason Derulo, and New Zealand’s very own Scribe and Savage.
Heading into the evening, I was very intrigued to see what the audience was going to be like. How old were they? Did they just want to party like it was 2003 again? were they genuine fans of the artists on display? Time would tell as the evening progressed.
By the time I had found a spot to take in the action, American rapper J-Kwon, singer Keri Hilson and local legends Savage and Scribe had already taken to the stage.
Basically, every act before Jason Derulo was a warmup for the headliners, with each doing a ten to twenty-minute set plugging their hits. These were short sharp sets which could be described as entrees before the main courses.
The first act I had a chance to see was Sisqo. Backed by dancers, clad in black and brandishing a dragon microphone, the Thong Song singer’s vocals were too low down in the mix making it hard to hear him. It needn’t matter though as the crowd didn’t care. They were here for the 'Sisqo show' and nothing was going to stop their party.
Audio problems marred Brandy’s set also with the first number suffering from the intermittent sound. She apologised to the crowd and said she would be back again. Clearly, she was angry and this was not a good look for the organisers as it makes the artist look bad when it is not their fault.
Things stepped up a gear when the first of the main headliners arrived in the form of Jason Derulo. Although you could argue he is a bit of a poor man’s Weeknd, the crowd loved him and you could feel the energy of the stadium lift after a poor start to proceedings with the audience singing and dancing along to every word and choreographed dance move.
Then it was time for 50 Cent whose performance kicked off with a countdown clock on the big screen. Backed by a live band, something I was pleased about given my pet hate of rappers touring with no band, initially Fiddy came across a bit like an uncle at a party trying to rap, while there were yet more sound issues. Thankfully, though, he eased into the performance and when tracks like P.I.M.P. came on it was like being back in the early 2000s and order had been restored.
Yes, his best years are behind him, but 50 Cent still showed he had the ability to bring joy to a crowd and at least he looked like he was having fun doing it. Plus, I was reminded what an earworm Candy Shop was in what was one of the evening highlights.
The Black Eyed Peas were up next minus Fergie of course and coming off the back of a controversial flight in Australia where will.i.am accused a steward of racism. It is easy to forget these guys were one of the biggest acts of the 2000s, but from the opening number Let’s Get It Started you got reminded of that fact very quickly as the band took the audience through a hit-packed set.
Their performance was the best of the night with the crowd dancing and singing like it was 2006 and enjoying hit after hit including Where Is The Love and I Gotta Feeling. The Peas got the brief of the day perfectly giving the audience what they wanted which was 2000s nostalgia and delivering it in a thoroughly professional and entertaining way.
The final act of the evening was Janet Jackson, the artist I was most interested in seeing. She had a terrible time in Australia being accused of lip-synching and the problems that occurred across the ditch seemed to have followed her to Auckland.
Jackson’s set was immediately besieged by audio problems, the theme of the night, with no vocals throughout the opening number. Clearly thrown off, she then proceeded to shout the lyrics, but I guess this proved at least she wasn’t lip-synching.
I admire Janet Jacksons' energy and ability at 53 to dance and sing at the same time in what was visually and production-wise an outstanding set. However, vocally it just wasn’t happening and the crowd was not feeling it either. Gone was the energy of the previous acts and instead, people were leaving in droves with those who stayed feeling a bit deflated by what was overall a lacklustre set from an iconic performer.
In conclusion, Friday Jams served its purpose well which was to bring nostalgia to Auckland. It was on the whole entertaining and for most of the night, the crowd was into it and having fun. This is all you can ask for from what on the surface is basically a novelty festival made up mainly of acts whose peak years have long gone.
New Zealander’s love nostalgia especially when it comes to music and you can bet on Friday Jams returning next year with another roster of artists from the past. Let’s just hope they sort their sound out because there is nothing worse than seeing a world-renowned artist trying to sing but not being able to.