Depending on your definition of a popstar, Justin Bieber is the greatest popstar in the world. Ed Sheeran plays the nice guy act, Taylor Swift is polished within an inch of her life and Adele is far too down-to-earth to be put in that class. Bieber, on the other hand, is everything a popstar should be. He’s bratty, self-indulging, vaguely inspirational and run by a PR machine that’s almost more successful when the wheels fall off. While popstars of now have ditched the unattainable look in order to be relatable to their fans Bieber has remained on his pedestal and that’s what made his stadium show in Sydney, the final Australian stop on the Purpose tour, so entertaining.
Bieber has been touring the Purpose show for over a year now and understandably, he’s really over it. At points in the show he visibly looked bored which is no mean feat considering that boredom is a very hard emotion to achieve when you’re in front of over 70,000 people. His saving grace is that the stage show is phenomenal. From the get go, we were treated to dancers, moving stage parts, furious lighting and the occasional firework. Bieber is there kind of like a co-pilot on a very smooth, domestic flight. They need to be there but they don’t really need to do all that much.
To be fair though, he does enough. He said his hellos to the crowd, moved from A to B and sung live for majority of the time, occasionally letting a few lines slip so that the crowd could pick up his slack. Beginning with Mark My Words, he scrawled words on a glass box before standing himself in the middle of a circle surrounded by furious lights and singing, “my life is a movie, and everyone’s watching.”
“Don’t forget that I’m human, don’t forget that I’m real,” he further sings on I’ll Show You and while it’s an overly serious thing to say, it’s potentially something the crowd does need to be reminded of as they squeal every time he makes the slightest of hand movements. Many were there to work on their Snapchat stories as much as they were to see him and that meant a lot of the show was seen through a screen.
The first half of the show was lacklustre. It was uncomfortable to watch Bieber running around in both a jumper and a bomber jacket in humid, sweaty heat and he was running through the motions with little to no enthusiasm at all. His vocals in Where Are Ü Now were overshadowed by the booming production, The Feeling was as weak as it was on the record and a decision to change-up the key and melody of Love Yourself left the crowd on a blind detour trying to singalong.
Thankfully, once we farewelled the acoustic bit, things loosened up. Maybe it was the four glasses of Shiraz or maybe it was the fact that the Biebs was starting to enjoy himself but the mood shifted. Been You was perky and dripping with energy, No Sense gave us an opportunity to imagine how Travis Scott would sound in a stadium and No Pressure gave us a chance to really hear Bieber sing because, believe it or not, he’s actually got an incredibly textured voice.
Then the gimmicks started to come and we were in pop heaven. This is what a show is about – endless transparent gimmicks not being relatable. He got scarily close to kissing a dancer in Company only to pull back (so close) and he took to the drum kit for a totally self-indulgent drum solo that was pointless but so endlessly entertaining. The best part though was Children, the most ridiculous song since Michael Jackson’s Heal The World, which saw Bieber pull up five children to dance with him to lines like, “Look at all the children we can change.” He then asked for all their names and actually sound genuinely enthused by how “cool” Jet was as a name for a kid. The gimmicks aside, Children‘s drop is a mighty beast and it elevated everyone out of their seats.
It was as if after that moment, the show had truly taken off. DJ Snake’s Let Me Love You was a surprising highlight and by What Do You Mean? he looked to be genuinely into it, feeding off the crowds energy – a crowd he seemed to despise at the beginning of the night. The setlist is 90 per cent Purpose songs, reminding us that it was one of the revolutionary pop records of 2015, but interestingly it’s his debut hit Baby that garners the biggest reaction.
We weren’t going to get through the night without another inspirational moment so Bieber told the crowd that they could achieve whatever they set their mind to before kneeling down on the ground for Purpose. It’s moments like these that make you feel like you’re watching a popstar parody but if you don’t embrace it, you’ve missed the whole point of going to a Bieber show in the first place.
He left us momentarily before returning for Sorry and creating mass hysteria in the stadium. Everyone From Mums to daughters and everything in between (like me, a 24 year-old male) were up dancing and having the time of their life. Occasionally you’d glance over to someone sitting down pretending they’re not infatuated with the glorious bridge of this song and think, “what a sad, sorry life you must lead”. Bieber bounced off-stage telling everyone that he’d had the, “best night of his life,” or something along those lines. That’s probably wildly untrue but when it comes to pop shows don’t ever let the truth get in the way of a good story.
On the way home the Uber driver suggested we see Metallica if we wanted a real show. But, as it turns out, we didn’t want to see his kind of “real” show. If you went to Bieber expecting that you would be the centre of his universe, you would’ve been bitterly disappointed. This is a 22 year-old guy who gets bored as quickly as the rest of us and he’s heard the same screams over and over again. Sure he’s temperamental and a little over-the-top but he has the songs and the voice to deliver a show on auto-pilot and still be endlessly entertaining. Maybe the fact he doesn’t pretend to always be engaged makes him more relatable than the pristine actors like Swift. Maybe, just maybe, we’d seen a “real” show without even knowing it.