Was it live—or was it Memorex?
In the end, it didn’t matter whether Justin Bieber was actually singing anything at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland last night. The 22-year old sensation gave thousands of teenage girls what they came for: To be in the same room with him, watch him dance, and just breathe some of the same air.
If you were a parent (or critic), sure, the music wasn’t your thing and you were underwhelmed by the puppet-show feel of it all.
But if you were a true “Belieber,” you were in seventh heaven.
Biebs was in town Tuesday to promote his latest album, Purpose, a masterful pop concoction wherein a repentant Justin reflects on—and even apologizes for—some past miscreant behavior and takes a step into the adult world.
Only time will tell if he’ll successfully transition from heartthrob to mature artist. But if the audience’s piercing screams were any barometer, Justin’s got a faithful following. Neve rmind his recent tabloid-ready trespasses—the crazy tattoos, late-night parties, and public urination. All is forgiven.
Or at least, forgotten.
Bieber’s last stop here was in 2013, so fans have waited a looong time for his return. Because hey, two years is like, forever when you’re 15.
The young star made his appearance inside a glass box that was lifted to the rafters on barely-visible wires. Wearing a headband-bandana, strategically torn Bon Jovi jeans, and a couple of sweatshirts (all of which he’d remove in due time), Bieber sang—or feigned singing—into a handheld microphone while scrawling words upon the translucent walls in yellow dry-erase marker.
Why, they were song names like “Mark My Words” and “Purpose,” all legible if you strained to read them (and decipher them backwards).
It would’ve been funny if Justin had squeegeed the graffiti from the glass, too.
But the symbolism was apparent: Here was a pop phenomenon who feels like he’s been living inside a cage—albeit a cage whose boundaries allows the entire outside world to continue gazing in at him…scrutinizing, judging.
Upon descending from on high, Biebs escaped the box and led a coterie of backup dancers (some real, some video holographs) in a synchronized soiree across a massive, floodlighted stage. Ginormous screens displayed sundry images—from castles and trees to Michelangelo statues—while the gang jerked and gyrated (some executing perfect backflips). We appreciated that the “help” was both male and female, and a fair mix of skin colors.
So let it not be said that Bieber Co. isn’t an equal opportunity employer.
There was a band (or what looked like a band) stationed in the shadows at opposite ends of the stage’s uppermost riser, but we couldn’t tell if any of the players was doing anything that actually corresponded to the huge beats and synth stabs pumping from the P.A. speakers.
Naturally, most of the attention (and floor space) was given to the principal performer and his hip-hopping peers, who shucked and shimmied to “I’ll Show You,” “The Feeling,” “Where Are U Now,” and “Get Used to It” with practiced finesse (and impressive athleticism).
There were lasers, there were dueling spotlights, there were costume changes and set switches to ensure that whatever Biebs and friends wore were a thematic fit to his lyrics. There were risers and ramps and Houdini-like quick exits. There were pyrotechnics galore, from smoke bombs and theatrical fog to showers of sparks. The dazzling display would surely rival any holiday celebration in the eyes of your average sixth-grade girl.
Which was precisely the point…er, Purpose.
Halftime highlight “Company” saw Justin and his minions bouncing on a giant rectangular trampoline that descended from the ceiling and seemed to levitate just over the heads of the floor crowd. “Boyfriend” was one of just two tracks taken from 2012’s Believe (the other being “As Long As You Love Me”), not that anyone was counting.
The pulsating electronic shenanigans continued with “No Sense,” “Hold Tight,” and “No Pressure.” A rare moment of intimacy arrived when Justin strummed an acoustic guitar (he’s a southpaw) and serenaded fans from a sofa.
Justin might want to distance himself from early efforts like My World / My World 2.0, but he indulged his kids-bop past late in the set with “Baby.” The tour’s theme song, “Purpose,” capped things off.
Say what you will about Bieber’s musical prowess (or lack thereof), but there was no denying the sheer spectacle of his Quicken Loans house-quake. The concert was colorful, noisy, kinetic, and just mildly provocative enough to keep preteens talking for the rest of the school year. And maybe even like, the summer.
We’re certain none of the kids in attendance had any complaints, apart from wanting to be closer to their idol or have the magic last a little longer.
Singer Moxie Raia opened with a half-hour showcase that found her miming (albeit enthusiastically) to a prerecording. Rapper Austin “Post” Malone followed suit with a batch of beats that seemed to bleed into one another, the songs proper being indistinguishable from one another to this old fuddy-duddy’s ears. But they were all familiar to the kids, who sang along. The two most notable things about Malone’s act for us were that 1) he has gold teeth, and 2) he insisted the arena “pay respect” to the genius of Prince.
Otherwise, it was just a dude dancing to the canned music ostensibly triggered by another dude from behind a D.J. booth (whose concealed tabletop surface might well have had nothing on it).
Ah, but this was the type of show where illusion is key. Beiber could’ve smiled more. At times his stare was vacant, his motions set on autopilot, and he looked like he wanted to be someplace else. But his workout was complete—and convincing enough to satisfy the C-Town “Beliebers” screaming and shaking in the aisles.