Justin Bieber Illustrates the Limits of Virtual Concerts

Justin Bieber Illustrates the Limits of
Photo illustration VIP+; Bieber: AP Photo; virtual Bieber: Courtesy of Wave

If ever there was a time to be asking whether virtual concerts will continue even as the pandemic fades, it’s now. 

Media businesses were forced to pivot to virtual events en masse in 2020 to minimize revenue losses associated with the pandemic, but they have remained part of many companies’ roadmaps even as in-person events return. For example, music event promoter Insomniac worked with Roblox to bring Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), one of the biggest annual electronic music festivals around, to Roblox in October. 

Justin Bieber’s virtual concert last week was the latest high-profile digital event of the pandemic era, which has also seen artists like Ariana Grande and Lil Nas X stage big performances on online platforms that are angling to become the go-to destination for the future metaverse. 

But as Bieber’s show indicated, there are still many ways in which marquee interactive online events could improve to get more consumers to buy-in to the format.  

Bieber’s concert was staged on the platform of interactive entertainment company Wave, rather than Roblox or Fortnite. The pop star performed hit songs including “Peaches” and “Hold On” from his latest album, “Justice,” via a digital avatar that he controlled by wearing a motion-capture suit.  

The concert was free to attend and also livestreamed on YouTube, though attendees needed to be watching on Wave to fully interact with the event. The various ways to interact with Bieber during his performance included sending messages in the chat — some of which would pop up with users’ names during certain songs.  

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Courtesy of Wave

There were also moments in between songs where Bieber would appear in a virtual dome that displayed the faces of certain attendees who’d been previously selected by Wave as eligible to appear onscreen during the concert.  

But by far the most common interactive feature of the concert was simply clicking various onscreen buttons throughout certain performances that allowed attendees to, among other things, virtually send hearts to Bieber, help make flowers bloom and send light (pictured below). 

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Courtesy of Wave

That in itself seemed to be the biggest letdown of the event. Because the concert had been billed by Wave as “an interactive virtual experience,” many consumers likely went into it expecting to be able to more meaningfully mingle with Bieber and other attendees at the event. 

For example, concert attendees weren’t assigned avatars that they could use to freely move around the various digital settings that Bieber performed in.  

Sure, that would have made the event a much trickier endeavor to pull off. But even sans digital avatars, it would have been nice to be able to move the camera angle of the concert, as attendees’ views were fixed the whole time. 

When considering the event’s fixed camera angle and relatively sedate slate of interactive features, the Justin Bieber-Wave event feels like something that fans could watch a replay of and still not get much of a lesser experience than live attendees did. 

It is important to remember that the event was free, so it doesn’t seem right to expect an uproar among Beliebers that wanted more from the event. The various drastic changes in scenery, which would have never been possible in a in real-life (IRL) Bieber performance, were visually appealing and likely helped keep viewers engaged. 

Moreover, the various points of the performance that overlayed video of Bieber IRL singing in his motion-capture suit were also a good way to remind viewers that the star himself was actually performing. 

Where Wave could have taken things a step further to maximize the mileage of this Bieber performance was with its social-media sharing tools — some live attendees could have faced difficulty in capturing parts of the Bieber performance to easily post on social platforms as they occurred.  

It’s possible that some had screen-recording software to capture interesting parts of the show, but there were likely groups of attendees who wished they could’ve more easily natively recorded clips of Bieber on Wave to post on Twitter or Instagram Stories soon after certain songs were performed.  

If Wave had had a record button which let concertgoers natively capture their point of view of the concert that could be saved until the Bieber performances concluded and then posted directly to Instagram or Twitter, the virtual experience company likely would have seen more social media mentions of the virtual “Justice” show last week. 

There was also no way to purchase anything directly from the Wave platform as or after Bieber performed. This seemed like a particularly glaring missed opportunity to drop a batch of merch specific to the Bieber-Wave event that could have helped Wave and team Bieber recoup costs associated with getting the virtual performance pulled off.  

After all, it stands to reason that if you knew about the Bieber-Wave concert in the first place that you were probably either very into Justin Bieber (and a potential merch buyer) or just an interactive entertainment-tech enthusiast. 

Again, it wasn’t all negatives during Bieber’s performance last night. The digital format surely allowed some to see Bieber perform that wouldn’t have otherwise felt comfortable seeing the artist live due to COVID concerns. 

It also was also almost admirable how much restraint Wave appeared to show in branding things throughout the digital Bieber event. During the digital event countdown, there was a Timex brand mention, and various signs said Wave in the setting where Bieber performed “Peaches.” 

But even taking those things into account, it’s accurate to say that there was hardly any branding throughout the Bieber-Wave event. It’s understandable that Wave wouldn’t want to force-feed advertisements to concertgoers, but there was probably room for at least a little more subtle brand mentions throughout Bieber’s performances. 

In future Wave events, perhaps the company will be more open to sliding in branded digital objects into certain settings.  

Bieber and other mega music figures like The Weeknd and J. Balvin are already financially backing Wave, so the platform will have many more opportunities to perfect its digital concertgoing experience and attract more media businesses to participate in the format.