My experience of the Purpose Tour in October 2016 was a paradoxical experience from that of Bieber’s Believe Tour in 2013. His evolution became apparent from the outset, after expecting the same kid that looked poised and positioned, like a doll, placed eloquently upon the stage. On his previous tour he had been flown in from the sky via wings made of instruments, dressed all in white, trying to convey the perfect, pristine popstar that he once was perceived to be. Not anymore. Bieber infused a sense of calm into an arena filled with hysteria. Although, his new-found authenticity unfortunately empowered Bieber’s laid back nature, translating into coldness and boredom during a lot of the performance. His lackadaisical approach was however addressed during the show as he excused himself; “I’ve been on tour for a while now, away from my friends and away from my family. That’s tough sometimes.” (birminghammail.co.uk, 2016).
The Guardian stated after the show that ‘Bieber [felt] virtual, a civilian promoted beyond his capabilities, a cypher in which bemused boredom has replaced the imperative to entertain.’ (Empire, 2017). Though, whilst heavily choreographed dances and themed costumes are still at the core of his show, there was a dramatic improvement from his previous cookie-cutter tour performances. Everything down to the costumes and choreography has been softened this time around, aiding his undeniable quest to disrobe himself from the image of perfection that he had acquired in his first years of fame. The ragged oddly placed together items of clothing, paired with his seemingly genuine openness on stage and ability to joke and laugh alongside more touching moments whilst singing ‘I’ll Show You’ and ‘Purpose’, give access to a more authentic side to Bieber that his previous tours have lacked.
The Knocks and Mic Lowry played their support act roles for the night, with the Liverpool born five-piece stealing the show with their perfect harmonies. The Knocks, a New York based electronic-style duo followed Mic Lowry, however, failed to excite the aggravated crowd with their summer-inspired live DJ set.
After standing for hours in a long, rainy queue outside the arena, behind the devoted, if not frozen campers, one fan tweeted ‘it’s cold and we have 7 hours in the queue left #PurposeTourBirmingham’ (@molllyxo, 2016), whilst another showcased his devotion to Bieber after bravely admitting ‘People think I’m working from home because I’m sick. I’m obviously in the queue for #PurposeTourBirmingham’ (@AllHailTheVoid, 2016). As the excitement and aggression grew stronger, the line began to rapidly filter through the doors of the Genting Arena. Once you were in, you had to run like your life depended on it, following the mass group of teen girls hurtling down the two large tunnels towards the unknowingly locked standing doors. This caused a huge build-up of squashed super-fans, packed like sardines into a contained tunnel, whilst the people at the back pushed forward to get closer. People were dropping like flies, fainting around me in the hour wait that ensued stuck in the tunnel, not being able to move my arms as they were plastered to my sides by the pure force of other human beings packed in so tightly.
Once inside, after tackling a stampede of overly passionate beliebers the rest of the arena filled up, allowing the support acts to take to the intricately detailed stage. An hour later, Bieber’s arrival was imminent, the atmosphere in the room fell silent as the arena turned pitch black and the introduction to ‘Mark My Words’ started. A single spotlight poured focus to a glass box, paused, hung above the stage with Bieber inside, his voice inaudible over the mass of screaming girls.
The remainder of the show was more of an overall entertainment experience than a live appreciation for the actual music. The set list continued, along with an array of distraction techniques, including indoor weather changes, making it ‘rain’, a stage transformation into a skate park, plus a giant travelling trampoline on wires. There were few moments onstage without dancers performing carefully choreographed, cookie-cutter moves, accompanied by excessive lights and pyrotechnics. The continuous extravagance displays how music entertainment has shifted, and how it has become a small part of something much bigger than itself. Nowadays, planning a tour involves an endless and ever-evolving collection of multiple industries collaborating together.
One of the most breath-taking parts of the show was the extravagant stage design, beautifully commercialised to fit very-high-paying fans into the stage in two pits built into a large triangular runway, with three separate walkways connecting the main stage to the miniature stage in the crowd. The staging helped Bieber to deliver a new level of intimacy during his performance, as it allowed him to give more people a close, personal experience as he repeatedly sat, sung and spoke to different groups of people around and within the massive stage. The set-up allowed interaction with the crowd to be of ease during the show, and, whilst he mostly preached about his life woes in between songs, he did pause for fifteen minutes to have an impromptu Q&A session with the audience, passing a microphone around the standing area. This added a light-hearted, humorous side to the overall performance that was missing. A change of tone was needed, as up until that point in the show everything was set in a very serious tone, as he spoke openly about his battle with anxiety and newfound journey with God, dishing out scripted life advice at every given opportunity to introduce the next song. In a review by The West Australian, audience members during his date in Perth ‘felt like [they] were watching the transition of child pop star to celebrity evangelist’ after hearing similar content spoken onstage during their show. (McRae, 2017)
Halfway through Bieber stripped the performance down, just himself, a carefully placed sofa and a guitar. A momentous silence ensued around me, the whole arena completely mesmerised, taken out of their own headspace, just listening. JBs acoustic set was tapping into the souls of each audience member, with his rippling vocals echoing around the extensive sound system in the arena. I felt it, standing there watching my childhood idol, that momentary feeling where the rest of the room vanishes, in acoustic renditions of his hits like ‘Cold Water’ and ‘Home To Mama’. This showcased the raw vocal talent he was discovered for, giving undeniable insight into his true passion; music.
A heavily critiqued part of the show was stated in a review by Nerve Media, explaining how ‘at one point he told the audience to be quiet so he could speak, which is quite insulting to fans who are just cheering on your success (felt like he was going a bit Kanye on us Beliebers).’ (Reid, 2017). Nevertheless, as a member of that audience, I did not feel offended by this amicable request, as the continuous high pitched screeching that moved in an invisible sphere around Bieber, made it unbearably problematic to hear the actual performance. The request was vocalised to give every concert-goer a chance to enjoy the show, and the only person with the authority and microphone to do that was Bieber himself. A few people may have been offended, however he went on to explain that screaming after songs to show appreciation is more than welcome, it’s the hysterical shrieking during an intimate moment with a small group of fans whilst singing or speaking that is particularly problematic. He continued to express how he wanted to speak, and get to know those fans in close proximity but during every attempt he was hit by a wall of high pitched screams. (Bieber, 2016) His explanation for his plea is understandable, however, whilst Bieber continues to maintain a young female fan base, this issue of bewilderment is more than likely to remain a problem.
The overall Purpose Tour experience reminded me of the Justin Bieber from Canada, before the fame. I was watching the four-year-old kid that was drawn to every instrument placed in his view, shown in his biographical motion picture Never Say Never (2011). Although his alertness and enthusiasm was lacking in areas, a newfound serenity echoed from a popstar that not-so-long-ago was making headlines almost daily for publically shaming himself, whether it be urinating in mop buckets, abandoning a pet monkey or being arrested. (Lipshutz, 2017). This comes as a great breakthrough for Bieber and his team after leaving a large audience at V Festival 2016 extremely underwhelmed last summer. The Telegraph rated that performance at one star, whilst writing that the ‘hungover’ singer ‘spent a lot of time with his back to the crowd and the volume of his featherlight vocals didn’t change regardless of the increasing distance between his mouth and the microphone.’ (Vincent, 2017). At the time, bad reviews were the last thing that Bieber needed during his comeback album promotional tour as he attempted to rebrand his image from wannabe gangster to his intercepted interpretation of normality.
Bieber, J. (2016). Speech during concert. 24 October 2016. Purpose Tour Birmingham, Genting Arena.
Crawley, J. (2016). ‘People think i’m working from home because i’m sick. I’m obviously in the queue for #PurposeTourBirmingham.’ [Blog] http://www.twitter.com. Available at: https://twitter.com/AllHailTheVoid/status/787954931529580544?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.birminghammail.co.uk%2Fwhats-on%2Fmusic-nightlife-news%2Fjustin-bieber-queues-barclaycard-arena-12035342 [Accessed 23 May 2017].
Empire, K. (2017). Justin Bieber review – arena dramatics and pure cheese. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/15/justin-bieber-london-o2-arena-purpose-tour-live-review [Accessed 21 May 2017].
Lipshutz, J. (2017). Justin Bieber’s Troubling Timeline: 25 Unfortunate Moments From The Past Year. [online] Billboard. Available at: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop-shop/5885001/justin-biebers-troubling-timeline-25-unfortunate-moments-from-the [Accessed 24 May 2017].
McRae, R. (2017). Oh dear: Aimless Bieber loses Purpose. [online] The West Australian. Available at: https://thewest.com.au/entertainment/music-reviews/concert-review-aimless-justin-bieber-loses-purpose-ng-b88403101z [Accessed 21 May 2017].
Molllyxo (2016). ‘it’s cold and we have 7 hours in the queue left #PurposeTourBirmingham.’ (2016). [Blog] http://www.twitter.com. Available at: https://twitter.com/moIIIyxo/status/787955950053388288?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.birminghammail.co.uk%2Fwhats-on%2Fmusic-nightlife-news%2Fjustin-bieber-queues-barclaycard-arena-12035342 [Accessed 23 May 2017].
Never Say Never. (2017). [film] Directed by J. Chu. Madison Square Garden, New York, USA. Los Angeles, California, USA. Toronto, Canada.: Paramount Pictures (presents) Scooter Braun Films L.A. Reid Media (as ‘L.A.’ Reid Media) AEG Live (in association with) Insurge Pictures Island Def Jam Music Group MTV Films Magical Elves Productions.
Reid, J. (2017). Gig Review: Justin Bieber’s ‘Purpose’ tour – Nerve Media. [online] Nerve Media. Available at: https://nervemedia.org.uk/nerve/gig-review-justin-biebers-purpose-tour/ [Accessed 21 May 2017].
Rodger, J. (2016). Dozens of Justin Bieber fans queue at Barclaycard Arena. [online] birminghammail. Available at: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/justin-bieber-queues-barclaycard-arena-12035342 [Accessed 23 May 2017].
Rodger, J. (2016). Justin Bieber blasts ‘obnoxious’ Birmingham crowd. [online] birminghammail. Available at: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/justin-bieber-blasts-obnoxious-birmingham-12040281 [Accessed 23 May 2017].
Vincent, A. (2017). Justin Bieber disappoints with ‘hungover’ performance at V Festival. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/artists/justin-bieber-disappoints-with-hungover-performance-at-v-festiva/ [Accessed 21 May 2017].