I was warned.
Enjoying Bieber's music, I have learnt, warrants a fair amount of shaming. And as a young man in his mid-twenties, one conventionally outgrows the phase where you seek solace in pop-music that acts as an antidote to the many maladies of the teenage heart. Bieber's music isn't considered 'evolved enough' by some, so what if he's been nominated for a Grammy more than a couple of times.
It's fashionable to hate him.
"Man up, dude. You need better taste in music, listen to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Nirvana," a musician friend cautioned, his tone eerily telling of the social-media judgment that'd follow lest I go in an atheist and come home, a belieber.
The concert was deliberately held on a Wednesday, as teens and collegians, Bieber's primary TG, are home for summer break. Driving from town to Navi Mumbai's DY Patil Stadium, the show's venue, I listened carefully to, amongst his other songs, to the album he was going to croon later in the night, Purpose.
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Now, I'm not exactly a music aficionado, which means I react to music, much like most fans do: emotionally and not analytically like the connoisseurs would. And despite being conditioned by close friends to have a 'casual disdain' for Bieber's songs, I felt a minor surge in emotions. For someone (only recently) past the first series of heartaches, the songs were also reminiscent of my adolescence.
On reaching the venue, I saw an army of extremely well-groomed young girls, accompanied by what appeared to me, reluctant male companions, thronging the many gates (there were about 8). Dressed impeccably in tank and crop tops, distressed denims and stylish shorts, most of them donned Bieber merchandise and a selfie-stick, of course. Some even copied his look, oversized T-shirts, casually cropped hair, and black shades. At the gates, the security was so heavy (about 500 cops) that I saw more khaki than Zara.
A few teens I spoke to came from Jaipur, Delhi, Kolkata and Assam. The Bieber fever was real after all. Here were hordes of youngsters, shelling out mega bucks (tickets were priced between 4k-75k), convinced that Bieber was the answer to the painful perplexity of the teenage heart. I struggled to spot people in their late 20s or early 30s. But other than the occasional parent who was (obviously) accompanying her kid, there were very, very few.
Despite that, or perhaps because of it, once the stadium filled up (it has a capacity of about 56,000), the energy on ground was electrifying, even when nobody was performing and random EDM music played. Every now and then, the crowd would bob their heads and screech in unison, Mumbai heat be damned. Seated comfortably at one of the VVIP boxes (which made a significant difference in how I responded to the entire show as the enclosure was air-conditioned, had food, liquor, and couches), the sight was overwhelming. I wondered with quiet awe how one person had transcended the conventional limitations of fame to attain continental popularity this insane.
Right about 8 pm, Bieber appeared on stage in a white tee and black trousers and the crowd collectively lost it. From my vantage point, it appeared like an underground cult had entirely submitted themselves to their quasi caliphate's Elder God. Having attended the Coldplay event in Mumbai last November, I hadn't seen such a frenzy, even when Chris Martin emerged on the stage.
Bieber opened his set with 'Where are you now' even as glitzy fireworks covered the night sky, offering a surreal view. The collective energy of the crow escalated as Bieber went from 'Get Used To It' and 'I'll Show You' to 'The Feeling' and 'Boyfriend' within a span of about 30 minutes. From what I could gather from my surroundings, Bieber was controlling the crowd's heartbeats through the beats of his music.
Even at the boxes, it was hard to just stand and sway -- everybody was jiving with a sincere enthusiasm. The crowds shrieked when he sang 'No Sense,' sat in a poetic silence when he crooned Cold Water sitting on a chair with his guitar. Predictably, the madness was at its peak when Bieber threw his breakthrough hit, Baby, at the audience.
By now, he had changed into a red tee. An eclectic dance of green and red lights ensued on stage as Bieber's unbelievably flexible dance crew wowed the audience with their aerobic moves. There was something contagious about that wild energy : for a moment you felt you could fly -- it was a combination of his music, the dance, the dipping heat, and the crowd's spontaneous reaction. It was a kind of energy that can only be found when there's a shared experience and love for the subject enthralling you. Bieber finally ended the show with his album's big hit, Sorry and a promise to come back to India again.
Many complained that he lip-synced some of his songs but from what I could tell, at least 5 of the songs he crooned were live. Sure, there could've been more and when fans pay a premium, they're right in demanding nothing less but a well-prepared, compelling performance. Towards the middle, you could see Bieber's energy levels drain but he quickly made up for it towards the end.
It helped that Modi, unlike during the Coldplay concert, didn't spring up on an LCD, saying, 'Belieberoooooon.'
I went there with an open mind to see a musician perform his heart out. What I saw was a performer excessively self-aware of the influence he wields on his audience, songs that reflected a considerable amount of maturity, and more importantly, and an earnest young artiste trying to do what he knows best -- entertain.
I wouldn't say I came home a Belieber, but that wasn't the purpose in the first place.
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