Full disclosure, I’m not a Bieber fan. But was morbidly curious to check out what his stadium spectacular would be like. Here are some of my thoughts.
During the first three songs of his Sydney show, (‘Mark My Words’, ‘Get Used To It’ and ‘Where Are Ü Now’), Justin Bieber spent a substantial amount of time performing inside boxes and cages. It could easily be assumed the cages were a thinly veiled metaphor for how trapped he feels by the rock’n’roll lifestyle. The consistent and unrelenting crotch-grabs were less of a metaphor (there were 23 of them before we lost count).
There’s no real way to sugarcoat it; the first half of this show felt entirely underwhelming. If only Bieber performed with the level of passion with which he told the Channel Seven news crew to “fuck off”. Some artists have a knack for connecting with you on a personal and intimate level, even from the stage. Bieber doesn’t.
A real turning point in the show, however, came when Bieber belted out the chorus to ‘I’ll Show You’ (“Don’t forget that I’m human, don’t forget that I’m real”) with previously unseen intensity, and a vaguely pleading tone, as if personally imploring the general public to stop fucking stalking him.
Any questions about whether he actually sings live remain difficult to answer. On one hand, you heard him puffing like an asthmatic jogger between songs, which meant his microphone was definitely on. And his acoustic renditions of ‘Cold Water’ and ‘Love Yourself’ certainly showcased his vocal abilities. On the other hand, he did spend the first half of ‘What Do You Mean?’ with his handheld microphone hanging limply at his side, whilst enthusiastically lip-syncing to a backing track that I’m almost certain is the album version of the hit song.
The real highlight of the night, though, was when he bashed out his seminal classic ‘Baby’, which also marked the first smile from him all evening. It was almost as if having 80,000 people sing along to the song he wrote almost ten years ago reminded him of why he was there in the first place. As 20-something girls sang with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for a banger like ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers, it was obvious that ‘Baby’ really is Bieber’s magnum opus.
While it’s easy to take cheap shots at Biebs, it’s impossible to deny that the entire show was a high-value production. But with all of the incredible video, lasers, pyrotechnics and smoke effects, Bieber himself wasn’t the spectacle – he was just a part of it. The stage set itself was on an almost unprecedented scale, with so many moving parts that one can only assume all crew members had to go through three days of induction just to pass OHS guidelines.
A last thought: if someone had told me five years ago that I’d find myself in a stadium at a Justin Bieber concert, and there would be as many muscled men clad in Bieber tees as there was 15-year-old girls, I wouldn’t have beliebed it. But this is Bieber’s world now. We just live in it. Apparently.