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Justin Bieber At Prudential Center, Saturday, July 9th, 2016, Review


Outside the Prudential Center on Saturday evening in trouble prone Newark, New Jersey,  black protesters welcomed young white girls with “Hands up. don’t shoot” intimidations, leaving the kids scurrying past in a rush, thereby just about destroying the whole point of the exercise. The intimidation factor was alarming and if the#blacklifesmatter meant it to help the cause, it didn’t among those kids. Meanwhile inside the Prudential Center on Saturday evening as part of Justin Bieber’s “Purpose Tour 2016”, DJ Tay James told the girls, “everybody get their hands up”. The juxtapositioning was both telling and irrelevant, because either way it won’t affect policing but it will make the next generation feel removed from a conflict that affects them.

Justin Bieber isn’t about the politicking of pop fans, he is about the budding sexuality of girls, a never never land where Justin grows older and the girls remain the same age, and Justin grows more tired and more cynical, and the girls scream for more. Saturday night, Bieber wasn’t quite abrasive but he was certainly not putting in the effort he should have. Not lip synching  all the time but singing along to backing tracks, at no part did the performance grab hold of him the way it did to the audience, it was as if he had forgotten how to smile and was just working through 90 minutes before hitting the tour bus. The “Purpose” tour has found the Bieb trying to grow into being a grown up, whether storming off stage, or complaining how he isn’t treated as a human being, or refusing to take selfies, Bieber 2016 isn’t the growing pains plank of the “Believe” tour, a door he closed with a Comedy Central roasting in which he was roundly put in his place by celebrities, said he was sorry, and  moved on to adulthood with hit single “Sorry”and with his best song since “Baby”, “Love Yourself”, brought him all the way back.

But true adulthood began with the second song of the evening, the Skrillex-Diplo Jack U smash “Where Are U Now”, a digitalized hook on tape which had the audience howling, actually everything had the audience howling. I went with my thirteen year old great niece and she looked about herself in a state of suspended disbelief. In an electronic cage with special effects lights and film surrounding Bieb, and the place a whirlwind of young Americans, questions of music, which was loud enough to not matter quality wise, the sheer spectacle erased doubts as to the value of the performance. Hands up, cameras on stun, the place was alight with flashlights on cell phones and girls who were completely in the moment.

It is worth making another point here, performers who complain that cell phones means fans are not sharing the moment miss the underlying reason why: they aren’t giving their fans a reason to concentrate on the show. I’ve found the problem isn’t cellies or selfies, it is talking and the thing with talking, it means the audience isn’t being made fully attentive. There was ZERO talking at the Bieber concert (a lot of screaming…), everybody was completely attentive and every time they looked at the stage there was something else to bring them joy. Huge screens everywhere, a giant metal bridge where Bieber and his dancers performed mid arena, dances, black flips, puddles of rain, special effects, music loud enough to constantly remind you where you were: everything, except for Bieber himself, there for one reason only: to give you a memorable experience. My niece loved it, it was her first concert and it made her a fan for life. In a world where nothing holds your attention, the show holds your attention. In the row in front of me there were maybe eight year old girls and they loved it. Next to the youngsters,  twenty something girls with beers were singing on the top of their lungs and they loved it. Bieber has been doing this for years and he didn’t love it, though he looked gorgeous with a new short haircut.

The first time I saw Bieber perform onstage he was maybe fifteen years old, a fifteen year old fan friendly baby faced cutie who had broken his foot and was hobbling around the stage, but was a true pro. I wasn’t crazy about the material but I was very impressed with the professionalism. When rumors of his belligerence with the waiting staff and fans began to filter down a couple of years later, I thought he was being railroaded, the teen was being held to a higher standard than the President of the United States, the effects of such huge fame on such a young person must have been, was, immense. I promise you, if I had been Justin, I would have been worse.

But as the embodiment of a sales tactic, he continued to sell well, a huge maneuver, from boy band pop to boy band hip hop production to show for it, with no dip in the music by committee recordings, and only a steadily slackened live performance to show the price of a burgeoning adulthood. It was well executed by the Canadian superstars management team. This is what I wrote in 2012 about Bieber’s performance at MSG: “A dubious ballad, “Catch Feelings” is proof positive that some art can have no redeeming social value. This sucks. This is just terrible. I have seen Justin three times before Wednesday, and he was much better. What a messy, boring, weighty yet weightless set it is. How charmless is Beiber bragging about his ping pong prowess (you just know the band members let him win, don’t you?). How indolent and bad mannered.” I stand by it, with the clear understanding that the performance improves when you have a fan standing next to you, with my niece on Saturday night, I noticed what I missed in 2012. Bieber did many things right, they just weren’t musical things. He came on stage early, he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t sloppy, he was disinterested to distraction, but he hit his spots. The hits, the “Boyfriend” and “Baby”, the “What Is It You Wanted”, “Love Yourself”,  and “Sorry”,  were exactly what the fans wanted. Absolutely on the money. Great art? No. Great pop art? Yeah, I have to say that it did its job and then some.

My niece could have chosen a much worse first concert, this one was so much fun for her, she was planning her next (Drake? Beyonce?)  as she left the center.

Grade: B-


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