Shakira’s Pop-Up Show: Not Something She Dreamed Up at Breakfast


They may look impromptu. But they are not. Pop-up performances in Times Square aren’t quite the spontaneous events the term suggests.

Shakira’s performance on Tuesday evening lasted barely longer than a subway trip from the Port Authority bus terminal to Grand Central and went off without a hitch. But that was largely because of months of behind-the-scenes planning that included securing permits, meeting multiple times with city officials and the police, and carefully calibrating when, exactly, to announce the secretly planned show.

Overseeing those preparations was Nick Holmsten, the co-founder and co-chief executive of TSX Entertainment, which operates a large concrete stage on the third and fourth floors of a building at the corner of Seventh Avenue and West 47th Street.

Most days the performance space is hidden behind an 18,000-square-foot electronic billboard. But on Tuesday, two panels, weighing 86,000 pounds, swung open to show Shakira, along with her dancers and musicians, 30 feet above the sidewalk.

A reported 40,000 people were there to watch from below as Shakira opened her show with “Hips Don’t Lie.”

“There is an enormous amount of work,” Holmsten said in an interview, describing the hurdles of planning a pop-up musical performance in the center of Manhattan.

In addition to organizing performances, TSX runs a range of entertainment-related ventures, including recording studios and a supper club. The performance by Shakira was the third that TSX had produced at the West 47th Street site. Post Malone performed last July; in November, the South Korean pop singer Jung Kook appeared.

Beyond making arrangements with artists, Holmsten also has to make sure that he has permits in hand from multiple city agencies and from the mayor’s office, a process that he usually begins about two months before a show is to take place.

In the case of the performance by Shakira, Holmsten said he obtained permits to install speakers at Father Duffy Square and permission from the Fire Department to allow the use of smoke as a special effect.

Another form of preparation involves dressing the TSX stage, which Holmsten likened to “a very raw warehouse.” Ashley Evans, Shakira’s creative director for live performances, called it “literally a concrete box.”

Evans and others arranged for the installation of a video wall at the back of the space, plus a mirrored floor and ceiling, to create the image of what he described as “an LED video cube.” The idea, Evans said, was for Shakira to “play off the fact that she was performing in a box.”

Holmsten, who grew up in Sweden and started a music app there before working in senior roles for Spotify, said the Police Department is involved from the beginning when pop-ups are planned.

“We need to run even the artist through them and get approval for the artist,” he said.

The police are most interested in questions of timing, Holmsten added, which includes knowing when performers plan to arrive in Times Square (i.e., when nobody is expecting them) and making sure shows are scheduled for no more than 15 minutes.

“Sometimes if it looks good after 15 minutes the Police Department can give the thumbs up” for a short encore, Holmsten said.

Tarik Sheppard, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner of public information, said officials also make plans to manage foot and vehicular traffic around Times Square. He added that the department’s intelligence and counterterrorism bureaus watch out for threats that could affect the event.

One of the most crucial timing questions, Sheppard and Holmsten agreed, is when to announce a pop-up. The aim is to give the public enough time to show up, but not so much that a large crowd comes too early.

“How do you find that sweet spot?” Holmsten said. “That is, I think, the No. 1 question.”

The news that Jung Kook would perform was made public roughly 30 minutes in advance, Holmsten said, because his young and fervent fans could be expected to spot social media announcements quickly and flock to Times Square.

Shakira fans are a bit older, so the performance was announced on her Instagram account two hours before its scheduled start at 7:15 p.m.

Of course, that meant that thousands of Shakira fans would be swarming Times Square just as thousands of Broadway theatergoers were trying to make curtain time.

Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance (the business improvement district for the area, which was part of the discussions), said the Police Department had decided that no one could cross Seventh Avenue or Broadway between 45th Street and 47th Street around the time of the performance, but made an allowance for theatergoers.

“If someone went up to a police officer with tickets and said ‘Hey, I’m going to the Minskoff Theater or the Richard Rodgers Theater,’ then they were allowed to cross,” Harris said.

The Broadway League, which represents many of the theaters, did not respond to a request for comment on how it thought the evening went.

As for the litter left by 40,000 concert fans, the Alliance handled the post-show cleanup, which Harris described as minimal.

Holmsten said the crowd had dispersed from Times Square within 40 minutes. Workers then began removing equipment that had been set up for the show.

“By around 10 or 11 in the evening most of the stuff is gone,” he said. “You cannot even see that anything happened.”


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