Justin Bieber’s New Year’s Eve concert was appointment viewing for his millions of fans, not just because it was available to all for a reasonable fee of $25 (free to T-Mobile customers) on a night when much of the world remains locked down due to the unrelenting coronavirus pandemic, but also because the engagement represented his first show in three years. To top it off, the performance (a collaboration with Moment House and VenewLive) was to be held at a secret location and feature a visual spectacle powered by T-Mobile’s 5G technology.
The night didn’t entirely go off without a hitch. Logging into the streaming platform VenewLive proved problematic for scores of Beliebers who took to social media to complain about trouble accessing the concert (sample tweet: “We don’t even need a NYC ball drop because Venewlive did it early”). Although the company had in the past hosted virtual concerts by BTS (“Map of the Soul ON:E,” which brought in 993,000 ticketed viewers), Blackpink and AJR, among others, the confusing registration process required of every user delayed the show from starting by at least 30 minutes. In fact, as the clock inched closer to 8:30pm PT, it seemed the production might miss east coast New Year’s altogether.
Ever the resourceful bunch, Bieber devotees found unauthorized streams on YouTube and Twitch but the second-generation screen share was a far cry from the multi-camera, 1080-definition webcast on the official platform. Thankfully, VenewLive sorted out its issues — the site crashed due to “too many people trying to validate their tickets last minute,” it posted on Twitter (where it started the night with fewer than 400 followers) at 8:10pm PT.
In a statement released on Jan. 1, VenewLive said, “The start time of Justin’s performance was delayed to accommodate the unprecedented demand. The extraordinary number of last-minute tickets that were issued and sold were at an overall volume and rate that far exceeded any pay-per-view concert we have ever seen.” That demand equalled more than 1.2 million T-Mobile customers, according to the company.
At 8:45pm, once “inside” the virtual show, it was at long last possible to see the high-quality production that went into Bieber’s performance. Most impressive: the multi-camera control which allowed viewers to see additional angles from the back of the stage and above with a crane (see screen-grab below).
Getting “inside” meant being outside for those friends and family invited to view the concert in person at the Beverly Hilton hotel. The iconic building, opened in 1955 and home to the Golden Globes since 1961, was designed in a V shape by architect Welton Becket, allowing nearly all of its 500-plus rooms to have a balcony and a view. The “stage” was in fact the roof of the ballroom, which also hosts the annual Clive Davis pre-Grammy party (it goes virtual this year, Variety recently reported), and onto which half of the rooms face.
Concertgoers were checked into individual rooms with maximum occupancy strictly enforced (two or four depending on the room size). No one was allowed to interact with other guests in public spaces and the hotel’s services were mostly closed, but T-Mobile generously footed the bill for all in attendance to receive a generous spread that included dinner, dessert, wine and champagne. Social media posts suggest that the balconies facing west really were the best seats in the house as they allowed a view from which to take in the full scale of lights, lasers, pyrotechnics, fireworks and the 150-drone displays (Bieber’s initials, a cross) used throughout Bieber’s 85-minute set, as well as the intricate choreography of his eight dancers.
The idea to use the Beverly Hilton as a location for the New Year’s show came from Bieber’s management team at SB Projects, in particular Jules Ferree, the company’s head of brand partnerships. Speaking to Variety ahead of the main event, she pointed to a longtime relationship with T-Mobile, Bieber’s tour partner for his upcoming 2021 trek (AEG is Bieber’s tour promoter and CAA his agent), that made the show possible. “They have a great commitment to Justin and to us and have helped bring some crazy ideas to fruition,” she says. The NYE plan first came together in late fall with support from SBP’s Scooter Braun and Allison Kaye. Their goal, says Ferree: “To create an innovative, exciting way for fans to experience a Justin livestream that was anchored and differentiated by the look of the location and where we could do it at scale to reach as many people globally as possible.”
While thinking global, however, they acted local. Los Angeles is currently ground zero for coronavirus infections and safety was of paramount importance. Says Ferree: “We followed all of the local and industry COVID-19 protocols, making sure that everyone had been tested,” in addition to the strict regulations related to accommodations.
By all accounts, Bieber had a personal stake in how the evening would look and sound. “Justin worked so hard on this show,” adds Ferree. “He’s been extremely involved every single day since he went into rehearsals, which was back in November. He’s been wanting to to perform, and this is a huge production.”
Indeed, the 21-song set tested Bieber’s energy and vocal cords — after starting the song “Lonely,” Bieber asked to stop so he could drink some water (“I’m literally gonna die,” he said from the stage) — and pulled on many a heartstring. The song “Holy” was one such moment, as Bieber declared his love for wife Hailey, wherever she may roam (Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas, who co-wrote “Lonely,” were also in attendance). For his final number, Bieber debuted a new song, “Anyone,” which dropped officially at midnight.
From ideation to execution, Bieber’s New Year’s bow really couldn’t be pulled off at any other time other than COVID. Consider: when is the high-turnover Beverly Hilton completely vacant on New Year’s Eve? “It’s the silver lining, I guess,” adds Ferree. “It felt like the right time to do it. And, to be honest, we all needed something to bookend the year.”
All Around Me
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All That Matters
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What Do You Mean?
Come Around Me