15,000 Bieber fans can be wrong

by Ryan Snyder

Shoving. Hair-pulling.Screaming. Crying. Lots andlots of crying. And that’sonly among the mothers.Stories abound of the conductstandards and crowdcontrolproblems one mightbehold at a typical JustinBieber concert, but judgingfrom his performance lastWednesday, it’s not quitethe hostile environment it’smade out to be. But Bieber’sfans can scream, that’s forcertain, and there’s somethingabout the floppy-haired moppetthat adds a couple dozendecibels to the average teenagegirl’s register.The shrieking came inwaves as the stage’s countdownclock ticked off the seconds,but as the lights droppedat 00:00:10, the hormonallyfueledclamor was deafening.The overhead LED boardran a “behind the scenes”video of Bieber playing videogames with his backup dancers,but casually morphed intoa commercial for tour sponsorXbox’s Kinect. Consideringthe 15,000 in-house andfront-row tickets with a $369price tag, pounding a crasscommercial message intothe crowd’s head at its mostattentive gave the show all theartistic acumen of a grocerystore checkout stand before asingle note was played. At itsconclusion, the stage floodedwith smoke, and the steelbarredglobe onstage beganto fill with a five-foot-nothingfigure. The squeals, havingcoalesced into an ambient dinat this point, told the rest of the story.Teen idols certainly aren’t a new phenomenon,but the Bieber craze feels almost alien.Frank Sinatra was such a venerable figure inAmerican music, but it’s easy to forget that asa young man, he was the object of millions ofscreaming bobby-soxers’ desire. He was 27 then,however. The ‘N Sync craze wasn’t that longago, and the 2.1 million copies of No StringsAttached that they sold in the week it dropped— something that will never, ever happen again— doesn’t feel as all-consuming as Bieber Fever.Type in the word “Baby” on YouTube to seehis video for the song as the first result, andyou’ll realize just how popular he is — andbabies are pretty popular. By himself, he’s hadchart success that we’re just not accustomedto seeing teen idols have. His album My World2.0 hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, makinghim the youngest male solo act atop thecharts since Stevie Wonder in 1963. He wenton to sell even more records the followingweek, making him the first artist since theBeatles to accomplish that feat.Bieber, of course, is neither Little Stevie northe Fab Four. His patently obvious lip-syncing tothe opening three songs squashed any of thosecomparisons from the outset. Then again, it’sunrealistic — if not impossible — to expect asinger whose voice only changed a few monthsago to have the stamina for a 113-date worldtour. When it was clear he wasn’t AutoTuned,he wasn’t half bad. Bieber floated over thecrowd strapped to a giant metal heart for“Never Let You Go” and “Favorite Girl,”pointing down to the audience and making afew fans’ nights in the process.And then came the video interludes, ofwhich there were a lot. Long stretches ofYouTube videos from all eras of Bieberdomsegued the young star’s costume changes from awhite hoodie into… a black hoodie. Lady GaGa,he’s not. Though ultimately they were filler foran otherwise lackluster performance concept, thevideos, all of which can be found on YouTube,gave interesting insight into his fan base. A videoof baby Bieber singing the “ABC” song to athumping house PA beat saw his fans singingalong to the most rudimentaryof ditties, and the “next timewon’t you sing with me line”was eerily portentous.Though surprise guestshad been a staple on hisMy World Tour up until theGreensboro date — rapperWiz Khalifa appeared onstagewith him in his previous showin Pittsburgh — Bieber didensure the crowd had oneless lonely girl. He broughtout the writer of the Bieberized“12 Days of Christmas”for a serenade of “One LessLonely Girl,” who shockinglywore no emotion on her face.Even the well-placed, thoughcasual enough tussle of hishair couldn’t invoke a flinch.Over-rehearsal tends to drainthe natural emotion from theinexperienced actor.There’s little chance thatanyone will be discussing JustinBieber in the same breath asStevie Wonder ever again, butit’s easy to see how he’s forgedwhat musical talent he doeshave into such unfettered success.He’s more influenced byR&B than his peers, as his firstsingle “One Time” and showcloser“Baby” would suggest. The former basicallysounded like it could have been an Ushersong, only to be handed over by his superstarmentor and made his own. Though he reachesthe same audience as the Taylors and Mileys ofthe genre, he’s been shrewdly shaped as a youngwhite singer acting out the black R&B idiom,in a way playing the role of a young Pat Booneand giving a white face to black music. And withBoone, being friends with Little Richard madeall the difference.