This year's B96 Jingle Bash lineup makes for a good illustration of pop music's current interconnectedness, the incestuous relationships that spring up here and there to craft not whole albums but hot tracks and hit singles.
The Jingle bill this weekend, sponsored by WBBM-FM (96.3), is the usual package show, a run of short sets featuring up-and-comers (Minneapolis R&B singer Auburn, Chicago dance-pop group Jump Smokers) and established hit-makers (Nelly, Jason Derulo). But it's the top talent that provides a snapshot of hit-making in 2010: Justin Bieber, Far East Movement, Mike Posner and the man at the center of almost everyone's webs this year, last week's seven-time Grammy nominee Bruno Mars.
B96 JINGLE BASH
with Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Nelly, Far East Movement, Mike Posner, Jason Derulo, Auburn and Jump Smokers
♦ 6 p.m. Dec. 11
♦ Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
♦ Sold out
Mars' production trio, the Smeezingtons, for instance, crafted several tracks for Far East Movement's hit album "Free Wired," including co-writing the infectious "If I Was You (OMG)" and FM's latest single, "Rocketeer." FM also worked with the Stereotypes, another trio of producers, who shaped songs on Bieber's "My World 2.0" and newly released "My Worlds Acoustic." Mars also shreds some guitar on Posner's song "Bow Chicka Wow Wow" on his hit debut album, "31 Minutes to Takeoff."
So this is a concert with built-in duets.
"I hope so, man," Far East's Kev Nish said in our chat with the band. "We should all crash the stage together and come up with some 'We Are the World' thing to rock. Is Common going to be around? We did a show with Common a while back. Man, he's got all the elements -- the voice, the freestyle, the breakdance. Let's get him up there, too!"
Far East Movement likes all the elements. The group is one of those overnight success stories -- the night being about seven years long. The four singer-rappers --Nish (born Kevin Nishimura), J-Splif and Prohgress (James Roh), later joined by DJ Virman -- came together in 2003 in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles and cranked out a debut album, "Folk Music," in 2006. Things began happening fast and furious: Their song "Round Round" landed on the soundtrack of that year's action flick "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift." The follow-up, 2008's "Animal," charted the single "Girls on the Dancefloor," and FM was picked up by Interscope subsidiary Cherrytree Records, home to fellow dance-floor patrons Robyn and Lady Gaga. That helped them secure collaborations on "Free Wired" with high-profile guests such as Snoop Dogg, Keri Hilson and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, among others. The album's "Like a G6," a bouncy tale about "getting slizzered" on champagne bottle service, shot to No. 1 by October.
Chart success is one thing. The Far East guys have a different measure of hitting the big time, though.
"When Kanye tweeted about 'Like a G6,' that was just insane," Nish said.
The FM guys are huge Kanye West fans. When West was supporting his debut album, "The College Dropout," in 2004, the newly convened quartet went to see him at the House of Blues on L.A.'s Sunset Boulevard. "We were there as fans. That stuff sounded so amazing right then, and it was so inspiring the way he captured the crowd," said FM's J-Splif. "He threw a towel out during the show. I must have jumped 15 feet to grab it. I was so in the moment, I needed that souvenir. That night changed our lives. We left that show wanting to believe we could be onstage rocking the crowd the way Kanye just did."
Like Kanye's mash-up of styles, Mars' work with the rapping-singing B.o.B. or the genre-bending of Posner, FM's music mixes up hip-hop basics with blippy '80s synth sounds and thoroughly contemporary R&B-pop flavors. "Some people expect we're a hip-hop group," Nish said. "We set out to make an alternative pop album inspired by everything we love in dance and hip-hop and all the genres we love."
Also like Mars, FM has gotten some attention for the mash-up of its ethnic heritage. Mars was born in Hawaii to Filipino and Puerto Rican parents. The members of FM have different combinations of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino backgrounds. The No. 24 debut of "Free Wired" was Billboard's highest ever for an Asian-American group.
"When it comes to talking about our backgrounds and ancestry, it's something that really doesn't show up in our music -- not in the way people expect, anyway," Nish said. "We're just L.A. kids. We grew up downtown. Some of what we were exposed to is the result of our heritage and where we happened to be in L.A., but for us to talk about our Asian heritage would be maybe like LL Cool J talking about his African heritage. It's pretty far back there, you know? A guy like that is rapping about how he grew up and where he grew up, and it's not Africa. Downtown L.A. is what inspires us, and going to clubs in different cities, listening to what the DJs play. We're more of a playlist than a genre."
FM arrives in Chicago fresh off a European tour. Before that, they were in Asia with labelmate Lady Gaga.
"She gave us some fashion advice on tour," Prohgress said. "We have this on-and-off fifth member, DJ Brass Monkey. He uses this big monkey head in the middle of the show. She saw that and said, 'Maybe you should take this style up a little bit. Put a sword through [the monkey's] head and make him bleed through the eyes.' He took her advice. She's really down to earth."