Something happened to pop star Justin Bieber in late 2015 when he released his latest effort, Purpose.
Suddenly, he didn't just appeal to adoring teen girls around the world. Purpose broadened his fan base to those looking for something other than just another teen idol. It wasn't just fans who took notice; other musicians began to respect, or just pay attention to, the Beebs. Escape The Fate recently covered "Love Yourself," and even goth-rock legend Marilyn Manson posted a Twitter photo of himself wearing a Bieber T-shirt. With all the hype, was there a chance that Bieber may have finally grown up and turned into a real artist?
The answer is no, and the first hint may be all of the writing credits on the record, which indicate that there were a bunch of cooks in the kitchen. For many of the fans that attended his Wednesday, March 30, show at Gila River Arena, they learned that their hero loved himself much more than they could ever love him.
The Beebs came out sporting the jersey of Arizona Coyote left wing Max Domi to kick things off. He would eventually sport Marilyn Manson and Misfits T-shirts. That said, there was nothing sporty, goth, or punk about his performance.
It was 30 minutes into his approximately 90-minute set before the Beebs earnestly sang an actual note or even put much effort into pretending to sing. I know this because I'm a photographer, and was looking at him through a 500-millimeter telephoto lens for the first three songs. His mouth barely moved, and he appeared to be, at best, lip syncing, or at worst just sullenly meandering around the stage. After the heartthrob wrapped up "Boyfriend," he sat center stage on a couch with an acoustic guitar, dove into "Insecurities," and actually used his microphone for the first time. This was the only time Bieber actually shined throughout the evening or even showed hints of musicianship. He was decked out in a white bandana and a flannel shirt, and resembled a poor man's Kurt Cobain with a touch of Axl Rose. The Beebs had fans, mothers, and guys attending with girlfriends singing along to "Love Yourself," which showcased what he is capable of.
It wasn't just Bieber that had you scratching your head; the size of lines going around the arena while the show was going on was another story on its own. I approached a fan and asked her why she was waiting for merchandise instead of watching the show; she told me, "The T-shirts will sell out, and I already saw all the good songs." This was 40 minutes into the concert.
Bieber acted much like a DJ who was listening to his own songs. Even members of his band did the standard hype tactics trying to get the crowd involved.
There were several times throughout the night that the singer didn't even bother trying to lip sync the words, and he clearly looked like he'd rather be anywhere else. Then there was the "drum solo" he attempted, which started with him dropping a stick and then fumbling through a minute of drumming that would make any professional drummer ill. He eventually addressed the crowd and had each side of the packed arena make noise. During this interaction the singer yawned and said, "See what you do to me?"
At some points throughout the show, I almost felt bad for the guy. He looked so miserable. You'd think that he'd show at least a perfunctory level of joy while performing on stage in front of thousands of ticket-buying fans, but at least outwardly, that was not the case.
Actually, given the fact that Bieber canceled meet-and-greets on the tour because they left him "feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression," maybe his lack of enthusiasm for his fans isn't surprising.
If you were wondering how his adult voice would adapt to his early hits like "Baby," you don't have to worry. All the vocals for the track were on tape, like the majority of the lackluster show.
Personal Bias: I really wanted to enjoy this show. My expectations were somewhat high, given just how famous Bieber is. At the very least, I hoped the show would blow my socks off with great production.
The Crowd: Mainly young girls and their mothers.
Correction, 9:47 a.m., 4/1/2016: This review originally stated Bieber wore a Phoenix Coyotes jersey. The team is now known as the Arizona Coyotes.