There are approximately 3,418,059,380 women on the planet. They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and ages, styles and manners of speaking. And when Justin Bieber appears in a glowing cube out of the center of an arena stage floor, all the varied women in the audience feel a collective warmth in their pants.
So it went at the American Airlines Arena on Saturday, July 2, the first of two back-to-back Bieber shows. The Canadian cherubic-heartthrob-turned-tabloid-bad-boy slid straight into the DMs of our hearts with an hour and a half of massive singalongs, ripped jeans, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of heart-wrenching hair flips.
It's his first tour in nearly four years and his redemption run after a highly publicized fall from grace. This is his moment to stand as a man in gloriously backlit maturity – and yet, when you hear those girls wail in panty-twisting delight, it becomes inarguably clear that Bieber is still the sugary-sweet pop star he was — and always will be.
He may try to distance himself from that image. He may call on “White Iverson” rapper Post Malone as an opening act to croon forlornly about coke and championship rings. He may don Marilyn Manson tour T-shirts circa Antichrist Superstar and rock mad flannel, but when he opens his mouth to sing “Boyfriend,” it's still the stuff of tweenage dreams. He's got a face tattoo and a mugshot, but when you hear him ask “What about the children?” it's hard to imagine the 22-year-old as anything resembling dangerous.
Not that he's entirely failed in his revamp campaign. There were plenty of day-one Beliebers in the audience, but there were also lots of fresh faces. Mixed among the 16-year-olds accompanied by moms were groups of 20-something hipsters giggling with delight. When the lights go down and Bieber calls out to “all the ladies,” everyone becomes the same squealing mass. His collaborations with Skrillex, Diplo, and Chance the Rapper have helped welcome new blood to Bieber's brood, many of whom would have never dreamed of saying “I like Justin Bieber” — even just a few months ago.
Watching him dance almost apathetically on stage, you see how Bieber has become the inevitable bridge of the mainstream gap. He was born a month before Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain shot himself in a greenhouse, but where the '90s icon found himself crushed by the weight of stardom and drug abuse, Bieber turns his struggles into Billboard gold. He can piss in a bucket on camera and spit on his fans, then go perform highly choreographed group numbers on a floating trampoline. He's both a snot-nosed punk raised in low-income housing and a blonde angel that sings, “As long as you love me, I'll be your silver, I'll be your platinum, I'll be your gold.”
As he ripped into one of his first and most memorable breakthrough anthems, “Baby,” the audience screamed along to every word. It's strange to remember those early days when he was 15 and baby-faced, but even then, his destiny was set. Let's not forget: He had Ludacris on this teeny-bopper track, after all. Go and watch the YouTube clips of 8-year-old Justin murdering an adult-size drum set in his single mother's messy home and peep the Tupac poster hanging in the corner. Maybe Purpose isn't about a highly structured media rebranding at all. Maybe it's really about Bieber re-introducing himself to the world as he always has been.
We as fans and critics and haters can cast Bieber in whatever light we want. He can be the chipmunk voice on the radio we jump to change or the husband-to-be we one day hope to meet. Bieber doesn't care. Maybe he once did, but he doesn't anymore. He emerged onstage trapped in a glass box warning us all to mark his words; indeed, they are all that he has.
Before the night was over, he was going to show us. By the end of the night, he was dancing under falling rain, and no matter what he was singing, he wasn't sorry.
Bieber knows his purpose, and it's to get on that stage night in and night out and make women all over the world lose their shit like little girls. Sometimes his life is a shit-show, but he really shouldn't be sorry because, quite honestly, the shit-show and the pop-show on stage are equally as good.
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