The Beliebers were having doubts. Was Justin being a diva, the girls behind me wondered. Was he ill? Had he gone to Rihanna’s party across town? As hackles rose, Bieber became a Boo-ber. No news was Bad news, the PA pumping out Michael Jackson’s 1987 album – to remind us all JB is no MJ. Finally, and disgracefully on a school night, almost two hours after the Canadian pop idol was initially billed, the concert began with a stunt of Jacksonian hubris. The 19-year-old was winched into the arena on a pair of huge metallic angel wings. For many parents, his halo had already slipped.
The shrieks of the overwhelmingly tween- and teenaged female crowd could have devastated a bat colony or, if harnessed, solved the problem of reliable alternative energy in a trice. This must have been the atmosphere when the Beatles played Shea Stadium. Except with hot pants, face paints and picture-messaging. I considered ingesting a sackful of candyfloss just to replicate the sugar rush.
Dressed, at first, in a white suit and vest, Bieber was the young Timberlake cloned, his dancing knee-flexingly, crotch-grabbingly well drilled. A cappella snatches showed off his X Factor-y melismatics; otherwise, as a vocal track blared, it was only when he caught his breath between routines that you could be sure the microphone was on. The three-tiered set was a steampunk space ship, with a jutting prow and Knight Rider-ish data screens.
Musically, it was a mechanical and largely soulless affair. Bieber is no Bruno Mars either. Drippy ballads and bombastically bubblegum R&B were leavened with hairy rock guitar. The high point, amid Matterhorns of shrill intensity, was the Euro-rave throb of “Beauty and a Beat”, which ended with Bieber bashing drums like a Muppet (Animal, I mean). “One Less Lonely Girl”, the much anticipated moment when a lucky punter was brought on stage, was oddly limp: the fortunate she briefly serenaded on a speaker-box throne like a perfunctory May Queen. Bieber had more genuine charisma in the videos shown of his past than in person.
Some fans were dragged homewards after a few songs; the majority stayed, yet mums and dads took to Twitter to chide the star’s tardiness. Most frustratingly, Bieber was absent when the fans had planned to sing him happy birthday after “Catching Feelings”. The Beliebers deserved better.