It was election eve inside the Verizon Center, perhaps the only room in Washington where the assembled weren’t agonizing over Ohio’s 18 electoral votes. Instead, 14,000-plus fans fixated on an 18-year-old from Canada whose estimated annual income more than doubles that of Mitt Romney.
His name is Justin Bieber, and when he floated down from the stadium rafters Monday night on a system of cables while wearing prosthetic angel’s wings, the capacity crowd lavished the teen idol in howls of vowels.
It was a handy reminder that this concert was actually happening in real life and not on the Internet, where Bieber continues his reign as social media’s ubiquitous pop prince. Still, many fans opted to keep experiencing Bieber as pixels on a screen, pointing their cameras toward the singer’s James Dean-ish pompadour as his voice struggled to slice through the corn-syrupy thump of “All Around the World.”
But over the next 90-odd minutes, Bieber failed to make his case in 3-D. His massive success has earned him comparisons to Elvis Presley (heartthrob-turned-rock-god), Michael Jackson (heartthrob-turned-pop-god) and Justin Timberlake (heartthrob-turned-global-multiplatform-brand), but Bieber lacks even the most infinitesimal fraction of that trio’s combined physicality. Pop-locking across a three-tiered stage, he looked like a kid imprisoned in his own choreography — a robot doing the robot.
Some of his most spirited steps came after a drab “Love Me Like You Do,” when one of his backup dancers, dressed as a menacing paparazzo, chased Bieber toward a costume change with his clickety-clicking camera.
Makes ya wonder: Did Bieber even want to be onstage? Were his dreamy doe eyes actually spaced-out stares of exhaustion? His vocals — a mix of live singing and pre-recorded backing tracks — lacked a pulse and frequently sounded Bible-paper thin.
The singer fared best during a sequence of acoustic ballads, including a cute version of “Fall” that allowed him to strum a guitar while hovering over the audience via hydraulic lift.
He closed the segment with a cover of “U Got It Bad,” a 2001 single from Usher, the R&B star who bestowed his endorsement early in Bieber’s career. (Related news: Carly Rae Jepsen, the “Call Me Maybe” singer whom Bieber famously endorsed this year, was scheduled to open Monday’s show but didn’t post.)
The decibels spiked in the concert’s homestretch with the digital sputter of “As Long As You Love Me” — namely because Bieber had changed into an open black jacket, sans undershirt, providing a forbidden glimpse of the abs.
And when that jacket finally spilled off Bieber’s shoulders during the airbrushed gospel of “Believe,” the energy in the room went totally upside down. The star didn’t seem to want to be there. His audience didn’t seem to want to be anywhere else.