Friday, November 2, 2012

I'M A BELIEBER! (Becky Goes to a Justin Bieber Concert)

Back February of 2011, when my world was a little dark and I didn't have a lot of friends in my life, a punk-ass, sixteen-year-old, Selena-Gomez-perving, helmet-headed twerp used the magic of 3D glasses to look me in the eye and say, "Bitch, never fucking say never."

A girl like me doesn't forget a thing like that.


Look, I like Justin Bieber.  And not just because he made a psychotically optimistic, self-promotional concert film that temporarily restored my faith in humanity. 

I like him because (to be serious for a second) he represents a very specific cultural archetype that recurs cyclically but not regularly in the Western world.  My generation didn’t have one.  There hasn’t really been one in North America, in fact, since David Cassidy in the early 1970s:  a single individual – male, slightly effeminate, passable singing ability – who rides a wave of female enthusiasm to unsustainable heights of hysteria. 

Little boys don’t scream for their idols the way little girls do, and little girls don’t always have an idol to scream for.  The boy bands of my developmental years were easy to market, with their flavor-for-everyone lineups...but there’s something different about the level of adulation that emerges when everyone is screaming for one individual guy. 

Just in case it was going to be another forty years before the next Bieber-like phenomenon, I (obviously) had to go to his concert last night at FedEx Forum here in Memphis.

He's Justin fucking Bieber.  I wanted to see him for myself.  Looking like a girl...singing puppy love songs...making someone in my immediate vicinity spontaneously burst into tears…


Melissa and I were in row Q of Section 219.  This put us one row from the top, as far from the stage as possible, in the worst seats I have ever had in any concert in my life – even worse than the time Marissa and I bought scalped Justin Timberlake tickets after the concert had already started.

To our immediate right, left, and directly behind us were tiny, tiny humans with high-pitched voices.  In front of us was a sea of (mostly) slightly older girls.  Melissa and I seemed to be the only people in our age group who were not accompanied by small children, but no one looked at us like we were out of place.  At Aldo’s Pizza, before the show, I waited for the bathroom with a group of middle schoolers who were practicing synchronized dance moves in front of the sinks.

“Are you going to the Justin Bieber concert?!” one girl asked me, talking in that super-fast way that only middle school girls can.  I told her I was, and she flashed me her braces before going back to dancing.

She seemed like the type who might cry at the mere sight of him, and I couldn’t help but love her completely for it.


The second thing I noticed when Justin Bieber descended to the stage was his decidedly un-adolescent arm muscles.  "Descended" here is the operative word.  He was attached to these weirdly enormous wings via a harness that gently dropped him to the stage.  The wings (which were several stories tall) were the first thing I noticed.  But his arms were a close second.

That should have been my first clue that this concert was not going to go as expected.  Already he was not looking nearly enough like a girl, and as for those puppy love songs…

“Have any of you seen me in concert before?” he asked, to ear-splitting shrieks, three or four songs in.  He said that if we’d seen him the last go around, we’d probably heard something like…

Boy!Justin loves the color purple.
“What’s he singing?” I asked Melissa.  She shrugged.  A few bars later, just distinguishable beneath the screams, I heard the opening lines of “U Smile.”  And then he moved on to the opening bars of another couple of songs from his last album.  And then he started the show again by singing something off his new album.

Since I bought my ticket in June, the thing that I had been anticipating most from this concert was hearing Justin Bieber sing "U Smile."  I love “U Smile.”  I've belted out “U Smile” to the empty interior of my car on enough commutes to work that I've, embarrassingly, reached triple digits in my iTunes play count.

But twenty minutes in, there was Justin Bieber, telling me, one of the oldest people in attendance, that he'd grown past the "U Smile" phase of his life.

And that oh, by the way, I’d been a fool to come to this concert without buying his new album first.


Or maybe he didn't sing the songs I wanted him to because, well, he couldn't.  He's got a man-voice now, to go with his man-biceps.

Man!Justin collaborates with Nicki Minaj.
There was the visible tattoo on his arm (one of eight, apparently), and the haters-gonna-hate video in which he declared, "I just wanna be me." 

There was a dance sequence based around a paparazzi chase, and enough gratuitous crotch-grabbing that I wanted to reach down the aisle and cover the eyes of the kindergartener who was sitting next to Melissa (sporting a hot pink cast and whacking Melissa periodically with her glow stick).

And then there was the moment when he shrugged his jacket off, ever so slowly, swinging to this part of the crowd, then that, teasing scores of fanatical girls with the suggestion that it would be them he'd be handing it off to...

In the end, he theatrically walked back toward his band while carelessly dropping his coat to some girl he hadn't actually looked at.  Something about that bit of showmanship made me sad.  Yes, I realize that concerts are largely theater…but there was a symbolic undertone there that hit a little too close to reality for me.  Boys Justin's age - and older – often really do treat girls like that, so add “thoughtless clothing gifting” to the list of things I wasn’t expecting to see from the boy who made a name for himself singing lyrics like, "When you smile/I smile.”


But then, about halfway through and while circling the crowd in a crane contraption, he paused in the middle of an acoustic set to point to someone and say, “I like your sign.”

“Awwww!” I yelled, jumping up a little in my seat.  After that, he kind of seemed like Justin Bieber to me again.

The “One Less Lonely Girl” tradition of bringing a girl on stage to croon to remained intact, and before “Never Say Never,” he pulled a shaking, shivering, hysterically crying girl to the stage, letting her cling to him like he was he was her dying salvation before shuttling her backstage so he could continue his show.

There was the video thanking his fans for their support.  There was the endless bending-over to touch hands with the throngs around the stage.  And there was the occasional throwback to earlier albums (Can a bitch get some love for “Eenie Meenie”?) that got the crowd going in ways the newer stuff couldn’t match.

There was something so beautifully innocuous about the audience, seeing these girls who are only a few years away from being roughed up by “the real world,” collectively falling into this silly but utterly harmless shared dream.  From where we sat in the rafters, we could hear the screams of the crowd follow him as he walked back and forth across the stage.  What incredible power.

And yet what those girls were screaming for wasn’t Justin Bieber himself.  It’s something bigger than him.  Something he, himself, just happened to stumble into.  They screamed for the fame.  For the image.  For the fantasy.  It happened to be Justin who landed the role this time around, just as others have before him and just as others will after him.  But he’s not what special about “Justin Bieber.”  The specialness comes from the audience attaching meaning to him.

Theatrics and tattoos aside, he remains the only person alive today who could make a sold-out crowd in Memphis, Tennessee, sob at the mere sight of him. 

Watching them squeal was something to see.


As if recapping not only the concert itself but his career as a whole, the encore was “Boyfriend,” his most “adult” hit so far, followed by the most hopelessly happy heartbreak song ever written, “Baby.”  There were a lot of moms around us who jumped up for “Boyfriend,” but there wasn’t a person in the place who stayed seated for “Baby.”

It’s just fun, you know?  It’s happy and it’s carefree and it’s completely stupid and it’s fun for several thousand people to join in with a guy in idiotic shoes to sing the words, “Baby, baby, baby, OH!  Like, baby, baby, baby, NO!”  There should be more of that in the world.

But teen idols are real people, and at some point, they start to grow up.  Justin finished “Baby” by melodramatically shrugging off his vest and standing bare-chested before us, looking every bit the eighteen-year-old that he is. 

I was nagged throughout the concert by the thought that this was somehow the end of something.  There has been an irreversible erosion to the babyish-ness that made him a star in the first place.  And yet I guess the fleeting nature of these phenomena are a large part of what makes them so special to begin with.

I have to say that he’s done a phenomenal job with the task that the universe bestowed upon him.  He’s done his duty in making a generation of girls believe

One day, maybe very soon, things will change.  He'll do something that makes us all remember that he's a human being and, above all else, an adult.  He'll still be loved, but it'll be a more realistic love - a more terrestrial and accessible type of love.  He'll become just another star (or, God forbid, has-been). 

And when that happens, I’ll remember the fun of last night and what it was like to see him at his peak…

...and I’ll always be a Belieber. 


  1. So glad you were able to go! I feel like I get to live these pop culture history moments vicariously through you : )

    When Jonathan and I saw U2 in 2004, there were 40 year old women around us sobbing for Bono, so I have a feeling Justin will have a loooooong career ahead of him!

    - Meg

    1. AH, that is awesome!!! I love that kind of thing! I just love when people love things so completely, because I have a long and (very) public history of doing it myself, and also because I hate apathy in general. :D

      It was a very fun time and I'm glad that translated. I do *really* wish I would have bought his new album beforehand, though. I had no idea that 90% of what he sang what going to be from that! :-/

      (On another note, thanks for the message yesterday!! I'm not sure how we so perfectly managed to miss each other that many times in such a short time period, but in any event, I am taking your suggestion to heart because a little motivation might be needed about now! :D)

  2. This is one of my favs posts! I LOVE the first paragraph, its like the perfect sum up of my feelings when I watched the movie for the first time.
    ""Bitch, never fucking say never.""

    I thankyou for your wonderful account of the evening.. i feel like i was there with you. One question though, were you kinda hinting at the fact that Justins arms looked better and much more appealing than you imagined??

    Ive already told my Mum shes on baby sitting duty when he comes here next year. They havnt released dates yet but im be there with bells on and earplugs in my ears!

    1. Have you seen him before, Sam?? I thought maybe you had...but maybe I was just thinking about you seeing him in the future. At any rate, you're going to have a GREAT time (although I would strongly suggest studying up on the "Believe" album before you go, if you haven't bought it already)!

      Haha!! Um, yes. That's exactly what I was hinting at with his damned (manly) arm muscles. I got so much crap from people about going to this, and I very patiently explained that I just wanted to see him, and that going to his concert didn't mean I, like, had a crush on him or something. And I still don't have a crush on him (come on, he's like twelve), but I definitely noticed that he's growing up.

      It was funny...I actually brought earplugs but then I didn't use them! I did, however, have to cover my ears a couple of times. :) Carly Rae Jepson was the opening act; seeing her sing "Call Me Maybe" was pretty damn awesome/hilarious in and of itself!

  3. No I havnt seen him... you might be remembering the fact that we "won" tickets to go see him in Sydney. Which was a free concert anyway and I was 11 weeks pregnant (still spewing multiple times a day) and the concert was at 5am (doors opened at 3:30 it was for a morning show) We had to pay for flights and accom. We decided to wait until this years PROPER concert and pay for really good seats rather than stand in the cold in the early hours of the morning and listen to 3 songs only. Plus i didnt want to spew on any 12 year olds, and i didnt want to be elbowed in the belly soooo we will wait till we can buy some seats.

    Justin shot up in the looks department when he had the haircut (which thankfully happened just before i saw the movie so i think that helped me see him as a bit more grown up) and i dont blame you for checking out his arms. I dont blame the 12 years olds for loving him, heck i would have too. Hes a pretty good looking kid. If my son ends up with half his looks id be pretty happy!

    I dont have a crush either... but im not sure id say no ;) Oh yeh, i just went there!

    1. HAHAHA, I am laughing so hard, Sam!! I'm not sure I'm ready to go there yet...but I'm not saying I'm ruling out *ever* going there... The haircut definitely helped. Yeah, if I was in his target demographic right now, I'm pretty sure I would be obsessed with him...

      And ha, yes, that must have been what I was thinking about! In fact, I'm not sure I ever heard the full story there, but I knew there was a concert at some point. You'll definitely enjoy a *real* concert better! He puts on a good show. The stage was three stories and he had both a band and a DJ...and wardrobe changes and backup dancers...yeah, I'm jealous already that you'll be seeing him. :D