Justin Bieber’s “Believe” tour started four days ago in Glendale, Arizona amid a flurry of Twitter-disseminated controversy, with reports and videos revealing that the 18-year-old singer had vomited onstage during the end of his performance. Fans rushed to support the ailing Bieber, who blamed his upset stomach on a pre-concert meal of milk and spaghetti. Though trite and irrelevant, this highly-publicized bout with nausea served to illuminate the extent to which Justin Bieber has permeated the popular consciousness. He is truly an idol of the Internet age, with every tiny misstep analyzed at warp speed.
Kicking off a two evening run at the Staples Center Tuesday night, the now non-dyspeptic Bieber brought an epic yet strangely incoherent stage show to an adoring Los Angeles crowd. Now in his late teens, the singer has matured both in terms of his vocal register and physical appearance. Most notably, his bowl of golden blonde hair has been replaced by a gelled crew-cut and throughout the performance his wardrobe reflected an urban-inspired attempt at edginess.
Entering from the upper portion of the arena, Bieber was lowered onto the center of the stage wearing a massive pair of charcoal-colored wings. The sheer magnitude of the shrieking audience’s reaction was stunning and physically overwhelming. Bieber was quickly joined by a troupe of male backing dancers as the band launched into the uptempo strut of “All Around The World.” Fireworks exploded, laser lights shot wildly from the ceiling, confetti fell to the floor and plumes of smoke were released from the bottom of the stage — all in the show’s first five minutes.
As the concert progressed, Bieber established a predictable routine of partially-sung choruses, lightly-choreographed dance moves and crowd-baiting displays of affection. During the introduction for “Too Young For Love,” Bieber showcased his vocal range in a wordless improvisation that set the heavily youth-skewed audience ablaze. Early hits “Eenie Meenie,” “One Time” and “Somebody to Love” were crammed into a brisk medley that was performed with relative disinterest from the singer, who seemed much more enthusiastic about the newer tracks.
Stage sets evolved, but a thematic coherence was never established. A melange of narrative storylines were touched upon, including a classic paparazzi-escape sequence and a “Hook”-inspired plunge into a nymph-inhabited sea bed. These plot points were usually used as time-killing filler during Bieber outfit changes and only rarely did they connect to the content of the musical material.
Towards the later portion of the set, Bieber stood aboard a mechanical crane that rotated throughout the circumference of the arena. He performed two acoustic tracks, “Be Alright” and “Fall,” the latter of which found Bieber accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and singing with great emotion and tonal precision. Without the pomp and glitz, his talent is unquestionable and the acoustic tracks allowed for a welcome respite from the sensory overload that characterized the evening.
Bieber was joined by two guest performers during the set — opener Carly Rae Jepsen for the breezy, acoustic-lead “Beautiful” and Jaden Smith for a rapped verse during the fiery “Never Say Never.” A two-song encore comprised major hits “Boyfriend” and “Baby,” after which Bieber thanked his fans and stated: “Go home tonight and do what you love, and be the best at it.” His ambition has never been in question, but a greater thematic focus would go a long way toward helping Bieber reach the level of maturity for which he strives.