In today's melting pot of pop music, there are plenty of effects like Auto-Tune that commercialize the category, filling gaps where vocals fall short. But listen closely and there are a host of artists still relying on their raw talent, musicality and songwriting to gain popularity.
106.1 KISS FM's Jingle Ball lineup offered a little bit of both: newly independent artists Niall Horan and Liam Payne, who brought breakaway styles that are miles apart from their One Direction roots; and the electronically charged, overproduced DJ duo The Chainsmokers.
Dallas was the first stop for this annual holiday concert, which also featured Charlie Puth, Kesha, Camila Cabello, Hailee Steinfeld and Why Don't We. The evening at Dallas' American Airlines Center was fast and furious, with most acts getting fleeting 20-minute sets -- just enough time to get a feel for what they're selling before it was time for somebody new.
So in the same speedy fashion, here are highlights from the show:
1. Former boy band singers Niall Horan and Liam Payne don't need One Direction.
Both singers have spent the last year redefining themselves as solo artists apart from their beginnings in the mega popular boy band One Direction. Payne's music has cool confidence, with seductive elements that play well with his smooth and precise vocals. He danced and strolled across the stage throughout the set, singing hits like "Strip That Down" and "Get Low" with ease.
Strapped behind an acoustic guitar, Horan offers a more folksy, organic style. Considered the romantic of the boy band, he now sings smitten stories about young love. An uncharacteristically quiet crowd at the Jingle Ball stood captivated by the calming rendition of his debut single, "This Town." It was charming and subdued, much like the Irish singer, and revealed the pop star's softer side. Grinning from ear to ear, Horan closed with the more racy track, "Slow Hands."
2. Kesha hasn't lost her wild ways.
Even though Kesha's newest Grammy-nominated record, Rainbow, is a far cry from the carefree, brash style she struck out with years ago, she hasn't lost her fire.
Kesha pranced across the stage to brassy track "Woman" with explosive energy and an attitude to match its defiant lyrics. But just as quickly as she turned it on, she shut it off with "Praying," the confessional she re-emerged with after accusing her record producer Dr. Luke of sexual misconduct.
3. Charlie Puth's greatest asset is his songwriting.
Puth isn't just a young heartthrob with a crystal-clear falsetto. He's an accomplished songwriter who co-wrote and sang on Wiz Khalifa's momentous hit, "See You Again," as well as tracks for Lil Wayne, Jason Derulo and Trey Songz. He played and performed "See You Again" on the keys, squeezing out the demanding notes as the crowd sang along. Puth shared why he wrote each song as he moved through his set, showing he's just as proud of his songwriting abilities as he is of his capable high notes.
4. Don't get addicted to The Chainsmokers.
Live DJ sets are always questionable. Will they re-create their recordings or change it up for the audience? Or will they just hit some buttons and call it a day? The Chainsmokers fell somewhere in between: The duo brought out a drummer for the evening, and Andrew Taggart (one half of the pair) sang on the EDM-fueled pop tracks. But most of the set was filled with the same building choruses, booming bass drops and exploding smoke cannons. Predictable and repetitive, this eccentric pair has the onstage energy but no originality to back it up.