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Pop CultureMarch 19, 2017

Live review: Has Justin Bieber lost his… purpose?

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Sacha Judd finds Justin Bieber’s Purpose World Tour concert at Mt Smart Stadium lacking in fun, energy and, um, purpose.

I was pretty excited when my friend gave me a free ticket to Justin Bieber’s Auckland concert on Saturday. I wouldn’t describe myself as a dedicated fan, but the Biebs won me over with his 2011 documentary Never Say Never, which (while it’s only amassed a meagre 2.1 rating on Letterboxd) was one of the most compelling things I’ve seen about virality in the YouTube era.

Back then, Bieber was still a moppet who cleaned his room when his grandma told him to. And he had that cute Christmas song: “I’ma be under the mistletoe, shawty with you.” Then he sold out Madison Square Garden, abandoned his illegal pet monkey in Germany, peed in a mop bucket and seemed to have gone off the rails in that entirely predictable way that people who become unfathomably rich and famous before the age of twenty do. So I stopped paying attention.  

Fast forward to his 2015 album, Purpose, and suddenly Bieber had redeemed himself. He turned out a succession of global hits, and worked with such credible producers and collaborators that it was no longer embarrassing to be humming the dolphin-like pre-drop of ‘What Do Ü Mean?’ while you wandered around the office.

So I was predisposed to have a pretty good time Saturday night. We bought our four-packs of pink mystery cider at Mt Smart surrounded by hordes of excited young fans, and bounced along to opener Martin Garrix as the sun set, thinking this was going to be fun. Sadly, Bieber wasn’t having any fun.

At first, I thought his wooden movements and thousand-yard stare were part of the act: that he was now too cool to be moved by the thousands of screaming fans reaching for him in adoration. Bieber is no longer an enthusiastic teenybopper, after all. He’s serious. He’s cool. He wears serial killer spectacles.

But as the show progressed, it became clear that it wasn’t an act. Bieber is just dead inside. While his energetic dancers threw themselves bodily around the stage behind him, he shrugged a shoulder or kicked apathetically from side to side. Lasers and pyrotechnics lit up the night behind him, but his costume changes consisted of taking off one tour-branded jacket and replacing it with another. When he sank into a couch to play a couple of songs on a guitar, you could tell he didn’t really want to get back up again.

The crowd still gave it their all, dancing and singing along at deafening volume. Bieber put his hands in his pockets and chewed some gum.

We finished our ciders and started in on some wine. It was hard to have a good time when Bieber clearly wasn’t. “I feel a bit sorry for him,” my friend confided. Bieber gave up and sat down on the stage.

Winning over a New Zealand crowd is pretty easy. All you have to do is tell us our country is beautiful and we tend to swoon. Bieber’s music videos feature the ReQuest and Royal Family dance crews, so a shoutout to Auckland would have had us in the palm of his hand. Instead, Bieber muttered some canned platitudes about how we all need purpose. But, unfortunately for his audience, Bieber seems to have lost his.

It almost felt like a relief when the perfunctory set ended. I hoped that Bieber was going straight to a plane or a hotel to get some sleep. And maybe take his own advice about “seizing every day”, or something. To be honest, the advice was so bland, I can’t really recall it in any detail, but the Biebs clearly needs a break.

The next day, my friend said, “He didn’t perform that song I like. The one about causing trouble in hotel rooms.”

I tried to work out which song she meant. It took me a minute before it clicked. “That … is a One Direction song. 

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