iHeartRadio 2013: A star-studded kickoff approaches

LAS VEGAS -- "The Super Bowl of music."

That's how Clear Channel Communications executive Tom Poleman described the iHeartRadio Music Festival that his employer is putting on this weekend in Las Vegas. And judging by the number of A-list acts due to perform Friday and Saturday nights at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he's not overstating it by much.

Radio-staple hit makers such as Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Keith Urban, Drake, Tim McGraw and Maroon 5 are all slated to appear, along with a handful of British rock legends in Paul McCartney, Elton John and Queen (with lead vocals by Adam Lambert).

For each, of course, the festival is an opportunity to promote new work -- Timberlake has said he's planning to play songs from his upcoming "The 20/20 Experience -- 2 of 2," and Perry and McCartney both have highly anticipated albums due out next month -- as well as to kiss the ring of one of the nation's largest broadcasters, whose radio stations continue to expose artists' music to huge numbers of listeners.

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But with its star-stacked lineup, iHeartRadio is also a chance for Clear Channel to demonstrate its influence at a moment when the very idea of radio is changing. The festival is named after a Clear Channel app that allows users to listen to the company's terrestrial stations over the Internet -- an obvious competitor to increasingly popular online music outlets such as Pandora, Spotify and the just-launched iTunes Radio.

And the 2013 edition, the festival's third, suggests that iHeartRadio is taking hold as an annual event with rituals and expectations of its own. Last year, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day famously melted down onstage during his band's set, providing a jolt of excitement at what might have been a staid corporate presentation.

Is iHeartRadio looking to establish a reputation for the unexpected like the one enjoyed by MTV's Video Music Awards? John Sykes, another Clear Channel exec who produces the show with Poleman, didn't deny it when I put the question to him.

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"When you've got this level of talent on one stage, something's bound to happen," he said with a laugh. Then Poleman added that Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke -- who touched off one of the year's biggest controversies at the VMAs -- are both in Vegas this weekend.

And so is Pop & Hiss. Check back for a report from Friday's show.

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Twitter: @mikaelwood