As pop sensation Justin Bieber prepares to play one of the biggest gigs the region has ever seen, Rob Garratt dissects the phenomenon and gets inside the head of the seemingly troubled star.
When 25,000 tickets for Justin Bieber’s upcoming gig at Dubai’s The Sevens Stadium sold out, it was already the biggest concert the city had ever seen, according to promoters, with fans from across the GCC set to make the trip to see their idol. So when Done Events announced a second gig, a day after the original Saturday May 4, it sealed Bieber’s position as the biggest music act ever to visit the UAE.
Bieber is incomprehensibly huge – he has more Twitter followers than anyone else in the world, at 37 million and counting – but his appeal has been carefully crafted around the world, but especially to us. He
helped us overcome many diffi culties we have faced in life and he taught us to always chase our dreams, never give up and, most importantly, to believe.’
Moving stuff – and there’s more. Leyla and Nathalie are among the hundreds of teens hoping for a chance to meet the Canadian star as part of Virgin Radio Dubai’s hunt for ‘The Ultimate Belieber’. Over the past weeks, hundreds of fans have been queuing up for the opportunity to enter a video booth and record a personal message explaining why they’re a ‘Belieber’.
‘We sit down after the shows and watch the videos, and can’t help but be moved,’ says Virgin Radio DJ and Time Out columnist Kris Fade. ‘I ask all these fans, “What is it about this guy?” and they all say the same:
“He inspires me. I think he’s hot. I love his music and it’s just him – I’ve been a Belieber for years, I’ve seen him grow up as I’ve grown up.” It’s the same feeling as The Beatles in the ’60s.’
Bieber fever may be comparable to the fervent outbursts of Beatlemania seen in years gone by, but is that where the comparisons end? Where Lennon and McCartney wrote the bulk of their music and flouted conventions, Bieber appears to many to be a manufactured star, the puppet creation of savvy record-company executives eager to crack the teen market. Discovered on YouTube in 2008 by American talent
manager Scooter Braun, he was introduced to Usher, quietly signed to the pair’s joint management company (reportedly outbidding Justin Timberlake), and quickly packaged as a pop sensation. Just months later he began breaking Billboard chart records, and was later named the fi rst artist to have seven US chart hits from a debut release, My World.
Much is made of Bieber’s fruitful youth spent teaching himself piano, guitar and trumpet, even mastering the drums at the age of two, but his writing credits are shared with a legion of pro pop songwriters, suggesting his control is negligible. It begs the question: how much talent does Bieber really have? While many musicians might never admit to liking his music, few dispute the hard work he’s had to put in. Nikhil Uzgare is lead singer of Point of View – the winner of Time Out Dubai’s Best Act award – and the promoter behind Rock Nation. ‘As a promoter, he’s done completely the right thing – targeted a young audience not into serious music.
It’s incredible for a performer of his age to do so much. Musically, he has some of the best session musicians in the world, so he can’t sound bad. Vocally, maybe he’s not so good, but people aren’t into his voice – they’re into the grooves, catchy choruses and idol worship,’ he summarises. ‘He defi nitely has talent to pull off so much. Everyone goes through a lot to get where they are – it’s up to you if you want to acknowledge his hard work.’
Aside from the debate about his talent, far more damaging to Bieber are the recent accusations that he no longer represents a good role model to his legions of young fans, especially as he faced increased media
scrutiny during the recent European leg of his world tour. Things turned sour on March 4 when Bieber turned up two hours late at London’s O2 Arena. A few days later he was rushed to hospital after collapsing on stage at the same venue, feeding rumours about his physical wellbeing.
A few hours later Bieber got into an altercation with a London photographer, caught on camera yelling threats at the pap while he was physically restrained by his entourage. Later that month there were more
charges of violence when a neighbour accused Bieber of battery following a confrontation outside his LA home. And in a case of worrying star narcissism, after an April visit to Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House he
signed the guestbook with the comment: ‘Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.’
Psychologist Dr Tara Wynne, clinical director of The LightHouse Arabia, a Dubaibased community mental health clinic, said Bieber’s behaviour is likely to get worse before it gets better. ‘It seems he’s suddenly been tagged with this bad-boy persona, and it all sounds very much about aggression and impulses,’ she says. Comparing Bieber to other teenage stars such as Michael Jackson and Miley Cyrus, Dr Wynne says the problems occur because young celebrities are not allowed to develop a normal sense of self. ‘Justin Bieber has been catapulted from a normal existence to an extreme lifestyle of huge expectation. Where do young people get the internal resources to deal with that? Young people are not prepared to cope, they’re quite primitive, so will often turn to addictive and risk-taking behaviour or substance abuse.’
Yet it’s possible, Dr Wynne adds, that this could all just be an attention-seeking act to move from his cutesy youthful image to a more rebellious adolescent, going hand in hand with his deeper, mature voice and
ageing the Bieber persona as his fans age with him. Whatever the real state of Bieber’s mind when he takes to the stage in Dubai, it’s clear that for Leyla, Nathalie and tens of thousands of other ‘Beliebers’, it will be the greatest moment of their year.
Are you a Belieber?
Justin Bieber’s second major concert tour, Believe, has already proved a long and rocky road. Starting in the US last September, the tour will trundle on for more than 120 dates over ten months, before wrapping up in Atlanta in August.
Announced last September, Bieber’s Middle East debut at The Sevens, on Saturday May 4, sold out in early April. A second date a day later was swiftly announced – but this came hand in hand with news that Bieber’s April 6 gig in Muscat had been cancelled amid alleged concerns in the international press about the raunchier elements of his show. At the time of going to press, tickets for the Dubai gig on Sunday May 5, priced at Dhs350-1,000, were still available. www.timeouttickets.com