Aside from hair/choreo/star quality, the main ingredient of an amazing pop performance is great lighting. Have great lighting and you can hide a lack of star quality. Shit lighting and even the professional popstar can fall flat. So here are the ten best live performances of 2014, ranked by their use of lighting.
10. One Direction – ‘Steal My Girl’ (live on Wetten Dass)
One Direction ‘turned up’ to Germany’s Wetten Dass with not one, but two pop lighting essentials. The lasers do admittedly look very limp and like they ‘can’t be fucked anymore’ (the same could be said for the band). However, the strip light ‘bed of nails’ is a very good pop prop. If only they used it more; even The Saturdays would have danced out-of-sync in front of it. It could also do with a firework show or a Molly ‘Children of the Universe’ golden shower.
9. Fleur East – ‘Uptown Funk’ (live on The X Factor)
Proof that good lighting maketh the popstar. Ok, so it’s mostly Fleur East just being really good, but gold lighting can make even the worst popstar look semi-convincing. Here though, they make Fleur East look world-conquering. There’s something a bit ‘opening of the Mrs Carter Show’ about it, in that it looks like Fleur is in control of the lights rather than to carry her along (see the dancing on the first verse). Also, props for them having strip lights ‘backstage’.
8. Sanna Nielsen – ‘Undo’ (live from Eurovision)
The light prison has been a staple on The X Factor for a while now, but this year Sanna Nielsen took it to Eurovision. She had to do away with the original plan to have crystals hanging around the stage, and instead chose to have a disco ball. It’s not the most innovative use of lighting ever seen, but it works because it makes the song seem as dramatic as it thinks it is. The diamond video screen is a nice touch too, especially for the school disco ending.
7. Beyoncé – ‘Drunk In Love’ (live from The Grammy’s)
Much like the One Direction performance, here Beyoncé spoilt us with two lighting props. The first is the coloured lighting, which gives the performance a ‘lost in Soho’-type feel. The second is the strobe light. I guess that they would look slightly better in person, but it highlights the ‘surfboard’ bit well (which is the best bit of the song). Speaking of ‘lost in Soho’ and strobe lights, I saw the two together when I saw Sky Ferreira last year and it was incredible.
6. Kacey Musgraves – ‘Follow Your Arrow’ (live from The Grammy’s)
Also at The Grammy’s this year, Kacey Musgraves used some neon cacti for her performance of ‘Follow Your Arrow’. Admittedly they’re quite boring, but can we just talk about her light-up cowboy boots. SO FUCKING GOOD. As a child, I wasn’t allowed a light up shoe because they weren’t practical enough for my parents. What I’m trying to say is that Kacey is living my childhood dream and for that reason the lighting here is excellent.
5. Katy Perry – ‘Love Me’/’This Moment’ (live from the Prismatic World Tour) & Kylie – ‘On A Night Like This’ (live from the Kiss Me Once tour)
I’ve included both of these because the performances are pretty much the same: female popstar in sparkly dress sings a song about ‘a moment like this’ in front of a massive laser show. The Katy Perry stage is a lot better than the Kylie one, but Kylie has the better song. Katy Perry has lights in her hair, but Kylie’s dress is more ideal for a laser show. It’s as broad as it’s long. And on the plus side, Cheryl didn’t sabotage either of their laser shows.
4. Ella Henderson – ‘Ghost’ (live on Britain’s Got Talent)
Ella Henderson decided to use some giant Christmas lights for her performance on Britain’s Got Talent. Admittedly they look like they’re there to distract from Ella Henderson’s performance ability, but they’re quite exciting. Hopefully she’s referencing The Pussycat Dolls’ ‘Buttons’ and ‘Jai Ho’ videos, and for that reason alone the lights are incredible. She also had some less-exciting-but-still-quite-nice lights for her X Factor performance of ‘Yours’.
3. Katy B – ‘Crying For No Reason’ (live on The Graham Norton Show)
This is the moment when Katy B became a proper popstar. In said moment, she used some pretty red strip lights. This isn’t as exciting as Ella Henderson’s, Katy Perry’s or Kylie’s, but it’s more subtle and it fits the whole thing perfectly. I like how this performance is an homage to the music video, which reminds me of when Rachel Stevens would tailor a whole campaign’s wardrobe and choreography based on the music video (the fingerless gloves!!)
2. Lorde – ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ (live at the AMAs)
The lighting inside Lorde’s cube (not a euphemism) is not that exciting. It’s just a coloured filter, after all. But, much like the Fleur East performance, Lorde is completely in control of the lights, rather than the lights being there as a way of distraction. It looks like she’s either in a rave or a white room, which is ideal given that she’s doing perfect ‘I don’t care what I look like’ dancing. Lighting-wise, it tails off at the end, but this is the live performance of the year, right?
1. Cheryl – ‘I Don’t Care’ (live on The X Factor)
The 3,300 lights in this Cheryl performance apparently gave one man an epileptic fit. Well, it’s one hell of a light show. The part where she walks out from the middle of the lights at the start is particularly good, in that it looks like Cheryl is a proper, world-dominating popstar. The other really good bit is the last twenty seconds, because the whole light show/performance peaks and it shows that euphoric ‘I don’t actually care anymore’ vibe. Her hair looks incredible too.