In the wake of Chris Brown's fall from grace in 2009, the music industry needed a replacement: a photogenic male singer appealing to teenagers and adults. Trey Songz, a hitherto third-tier R&B crooner, found himself filling the niche, and he has met the challenge with surprising aplomb. His momentum is evidenced by a sold-out crowd of 5,000 screaming teenage girls – and, indeed, adult women – who manage to intensify their hysteria every time Songz hits a high note or slows the beat down. By the end, inevitably, underwear is thrown.
Sex appeal is key to this: Songz happily objectifies himself as much as any female pop artist, starting the show in shades, leather jacket, T-shirt and vest – all of which have been stripped off by the final song. But what he has also done is transmute his former ordinariness into boy-next-door appeal. Even as Songz plays the horndog – "This bedroom is my colosseum," he sings – there's something endearingly puppyish about him. Moreover, he tends to focus not on bragging about his prowess, but on how you – yes, you, the girl in the front row, in the red top – make him feel. Tonight's set is mostly composed of slow jams and ballads that adeptly blend sincerity and carnality – particularly in recent material such as Doorbell and Can't Be Friends, which possesses a depth and richness previously lacking.
Songz doesn't yet have the natural charisma of an Usher or R Kelly – and it doesn't help in this regard that his vocals are too quiet. One of the show's high points is actually due to another artist's absence, when the entire audience raps Nicki Minaj's guest verse on Bottoms Up, inflection for inflection. But Songz is a study of how star quality can be achieved by sheer hard graft: he does his darnedest to prove himself worthy of his new status.