Justin Bieber review – pop idol lacks bounce, despite bringing a trampoline

O2 Arena, London
‘Be quiet and listen,’ he tells screaming Beliebers, then limps through a Purpose tour show of hits and half-hearted dance moves, often without bothering to lift mic to mouth

During the first night of a residency at London’s O2 Arena, Justin Bieber has a serious announcement to make. “I’m hoping that when the songs are playing,” he says, “you’ll be quiet and listen.” Or perhaps he says: “I’m hoping that when the songs aren’t playing, you’ll be quiet and listen”. It’s hard to tell over all the screaming.

It certainly doesn’t seem likely that he wants people to pay close attention to his between-song patter, which apart from a slightly peculiar moment where he salutes the fans in the balcony seats with the words “When Jesus comes back, you’re the first to go” – it probably isn’t meant to sound as threatening as it does – inclines to the deadly: “I’m trying to figure out what to do with my hair”; “Who here’s bought some tour merchandise?”; “I don’t know what to talk about.”

Equally, it seems unlikely he’s particularly eager for the audience to pay close attention to his astonishing vocals. Bieber can certainly sing live, as proved by an acoustic version of his global chart topper Love Yourself. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to be doing it that much. Moreover, his attitude to miming would startle the kind of punk band who went on Top of the Pops in the 70s, eager to show it up as a lip-synched travesty. Sometimes he bothers to put the microphone to his mouth, but quite often he doesn’t. His voice continues booming out of the speakers regardless.

Robotic … Justin Bieber dances on his Purpose tour
Robotic … Justin Bieber dances on his Purpose tour Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock

It’s slightly odd given that other parts of the show are clearly designed to point up Bieber’s musical prowess: the obligatory drum solo isn’t any less boring because Justin Bieber’s playing it on a hydraulic platform, although he obviously knows his way around a kit. The audience, however, don’t seem to care. They started yelling their heads off long before he took the stage and clearly aren’t minded to let a trifling matter like their idol not even pretending to mime stop them. And perhaps they have a point. After all, if you have a terrible aversion to artists lip synching, you’re probably best off avoiding arena pop shows altogether, in the same way that if you have a terrible aversion to petrol pumps and buckets full of flowers, you’re best off avoiding garage forecourts.

Besides, there’s plenty of other stuff on display to distract you: HD projections that appear to meld with the dancers on stage, fireworks, a vast platform that hovers over the crowd, equipped with a trampoline, the better for Bieber to somersault on. And no matter whether he’s actually singing it or not, the music sounds OK. The best stuff mostly comes from last year’s album Purpose, not least the flatly fantastic single What Do You Mean?, but the qualitative gulf between its canny pop takes on tropical house and EDM and his earlier work isn’t as quite great as the reviews would suggest: some of Purpose is awful, particularly Children, which resembles one of those creepy songs Michael Jackson persisted in recording during the latter part of his career; whereas Baby, a single Bieber recorded before his voice broke, still feels pretty sparky.

Justin Bieber on stage.
‘Weird void’ … Justin Bieber on stage. Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock

The problem with the show is Bieber himself. It’s not so much that he cuts an uncharismatic figure on stage, although he does. It’s that he looks either bored senseless or actively miserable, like a man who’s been hauling himself around the world doing this kind of thing since he was 15 and doesn’t really want to do it any more. Somehow the choreography – which inclines to half-hearted hip-hop moves, or worse, robotics interspersed with Bieber grabbing frantically at his crotch, like an android suffering from pubic lice – seems to compound the feeling that there’s a weird void at the centre of the show where the star should be.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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