Better Than: Spending $325 on some ugly kid.
The Review: You have to be amazed at the remarkable speed at which adorable Justin Bieber has gone from Canadian nobody to selling out arenas worldwide. According to my niece's "collector's edition magazine" called Justin: Share the Special Moments in His Life, he released his album last November. In April, I checked the tour dates thinking it would be fun way to reinforce my status as Favorite Aunt. I plunked down $175 for four of the last nosebleed seats in the BankAtlantic Center. I'm sure it sold out days later -- and that was before Bieber had appeared on Saturday Night Live or performed at the White House.
On the way to the show, we (my half-sister from Germany came, too -- Bieber's famous there already, also) listened to Bieber songs from my niece's iPod. When I heard a song called "First Dance," with lyrics that say, "Our parents won't know... no chaperone...I'll be gentle but we have to go slow," I wondered if Bieber was going to pull a Miley and corrupt these girls after all.
We arrived around 7 p.m., paid $20 to park and noticed about 40 limos that had delivered girls to the concert. Because the tour is a big business run with to-the-minute precision, we missed an opening act -- a 14-year-old girl named JJ -- and also missed most of Sean Kingston because we had to shuffle to three different T-shirt stations to find one that hadn't sold out of $35 tour shirts. Then it was off to get chicken wings ($11 each) and drinks ($4.25 for water). [[ I'm not bitter -- I expected to be gouged -- but I include prices here as a warning.]]
As a timer counted down the seconds until Bieber came on, there was the expected deafening roar of screaming girls -- louder than the Space Shuttle taking off, I am certain. The lights dimmed; a video played on three screens showing Justin playing video games backstage; and then he rose out of the stage floor to perform his first song, "Love Me," a catchy jam that samples heavily from a '90s-era Cardigans hit.
Bieber' s story about his YouTube videos getting discovered by Usher has been often-repeated, and Bieber has been quoted over and over saying "I didn't try to get noticed. ...I never had the intention of getting famous, not once." But he's embraced being thrown on the money train, smiling at every photo op, being careful not to complain even once, dutifully Tweeting "love" messages to his fans, and charming his way through appearances on talk shows and late shows by being a shameless flirt. (He's asked out interviewers and Rihanna, and quips that he's single but "waiting for Beyonce to call.")
Bieber does have a really nice voice -- a little scruffy with a warm tone -- so it's a too bad that his marketers take the whole young-romance thing to cheesy overkill levels. His band played in the background -- in fact, underneath a catwalk, in the dark. For a few songs, Bieber got into a heart shaped cage and floated over the audience. He rolled through his album -- "When You Smile, I Smile," "One Less Lonely Girl," etc. There was no corruption after all: he wore long pants and long-sleeved shirts for the majority of the show, even jackets for half of the set. A big heart was printed on the sleeve of his shirt; his dancers had hearts on their t-shirts, too. As every girl knows, Bieber always brings one girl onstage for one song, and sure enough, he did. She sat dutifully on a stool and clapped. He quickly handed her roses and scurried away from her, but made sure to pat her on the back before she left the stage.
Bieber played guitar for a few songs -- the most musically impressive being a kinda cool acoustic cover of "Heartless" by Kanye West. He took a five-minute break and let his backup singers do an a cappella medley of radio hits including "OMG" by Usher and "Soul Sister" by Train. Crowd energy dipped during moments where covered snippets of songs by Michael Jackson and Run DMC -- the kids didn't get the references.
Actually, the biggest crowd moment came during a video montage of Bieber's baby photos. When they aired old video footage of a toddler-aged Bieber singing the alphabet song -- "A,B,C,D, E,F G." -- the audience went into sing-along frenzy.
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Towards the end, Bieber got on the drum kit -- he's talented -- then brought Sean Kingston out to do their song "Eerie Meenie." The lights went down for about a minute before he burst back out for the moment everyone had waited for -- performing "Baby" to a sea of waving cell phones and glow sticks.
But Bieber's most real moment came at the end, when he brought his best friend on stage and they ran around chasing each other. He seemed relieved to be done with his day's work (I wonder how many people are making a living off him) and drop the pretend-romance schtick for the night.
Personal Bias: Bieber's cute, but I still prefer Joe Jonas.
Random Detail: Justin's first favorite song was "God is Bigger than the Boogie Man," from Veggie Tales.