My Mama Don’t Like You: Justin Bieber at Barclays Center

I debated whether or not to buy a ticket to Justin Bieber’s New York tour for months. It was a big financial decision. Or as a co-worker said the day after when I walked into the office in a Bieber tee, “I hope that wasn’t expensive!” Newsflash: pop concerts are not cheap, particularly when everyone on StubHub sells tickets at $150 over the original value for all those of us who couldn’t buy them the day they were released due to work, funds, life. However, I knew I desperately needed the momentary reprieve that a night of Bieber and “What Do You Mean?” could give.

2016 has already been a rough year for us all. We’ve endured the loss of Bowie and Prince, survived another winter, and, if you’re like me, departed work a little more world-weary with each passing day. I bought the ticket to Justin Bieber in hopes of celebrating his revival (yes, Selena Gomez’s not the only one) and hoping for my own.

No one can deny the ascent of Justin Bieber on last year’s charts. His crossover appeal has seen such a rise that Urban Outfitters now sells “vintage” men’s tees of his baby face (I loathe these shirts. Men can continue owning Metallica tees for all I care.). It’s been ok’d by Complex and Pitchfork to indulge in Bieber’s musings. I’ve always been a Bieber fan musically, but I’ve been on the fringe of his fandom. I will defend “Die In Your Arms” until the end of time, but I’ve never quite seen the appeal of his locks or tattoos. I already have my fandom (One Direction), and it takes up more than enough of my time and money. Yet in light of their hiatus, I knew I had the savings to allow for one night of carefree dancing and swaying to “No Sense” and “Love Yourself”. The price of admission was entirely worth it once Bieber sat on a velvet sofa and sang you think I’m crying on my own, well I ain’t to a reverent audience.

Upon arrival at Barclays, I immediately made the mistake of purchasing a tee outside of the arena only to discover my favorite shirt inside after four steps into the arena. $80 and two tees later, I trudged past the merchandise only to discover the beer lounge immediately to my right. I’ll be honest: I plopped myself there for the first two openers alongside wine moms and Bud Light dads. I was here for Justin and Justin alone. I made sure to charge my phone, and watched as gleeful teens in a uniform of ripped black jeans and tank tops made their way to their seats. I lusted after a Saint Laurent jacket that walked by on a young teen and watched the number of Calvin Klein merch bags grow in number. I was pleased to see that most of the people in attendance were still the young women who had been there since the beginning. Pop airwaves might be drowned in “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean?”, but among the fans paying for tickets are the same women who attended the Believe Tour.

The tour opened with Purpose’s album opener, “Mark My Words.” Singing from the middle of a glass box, fists and face pressed against the glass, Justin Bieber sang Mark my words, that’s all that I have / Mark my words, give you all I got. After the spiral of the last few years, Purpose begins with a hushed promise.  There was a reliance on the stark images of Justin on top of a metaphorical mountain on stage, the slope of the stage. He climbed the inclined stage as he did the charts—effortlessly.

The concert kicked into gear when Bieber came back out, the box descending into the depths of Barclays Center, to perform “Where Are Ü Now”, the smash hit remix of 2015. “Where Are Ü Now” has been remixed for the tour, and Bieber effortlessly carried out killer dance moves alongside his vocals. Singing to us fans, he pleaded, I need you, you, you, you, you, you / You, you, you / I need you the most.

It’s impossible to separate the narrative of the relationship between Selena Gomez and Justin from Purpose. He confronts the tabloid culture of his breakdown on “I’ll Show You”, singing My life is a movie and everyone’s watching / So let’s get to the good part and past all the nonsense… Much like his continued appearances on James Corden, striving to show his heart, his humanity, Justin just wants us all to focus on the beats and lyrics. He wants us to focus on his craft and not the spectacle. I’m not made out of steel / Don’t forget that I’m human, don’t forget that I’m real… It can be hard to remember that the celebrities we see on Tumblr and Twitter exist outside of our browsers. “I’ll Show You” asks us to look for the man behind the music. Act like you know me, but you never will… As I stood there, swaying and spilling beer, I thought of all those meet and greets Bieber had cancelled due to sapped energy. The distance between us and Bieber grows daily as the magnitude of his celebrity engulfs him, but lyrically we’ve never known him better. Bieber, the singer, is trying to let us in. He just wants to set the limits. He just wants to show us, under the lights of an arena.

Bieber went on to perform “The Feeling,” his collaboration with Halsey, and the instant classic “Boyfriend”. The arena joyously sang along to the slick vocal magic of “Boyfriend,” which is just as massive as it was in 2012. It’s still exhilarating to sing along to Chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue / I don’t know about me but I know about you.

I was happiest to hear “Love Yourself.” There’s no arguing with the brilliance of the lyric my mama don’t like you and she likes everyone. By pairing up with Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber wrote the first song off Purpose that might not actually be aimed at Selena or his fame. This isn’t an apology, but a declaration. The kiss-off that I’m happy to add to my pop arsenal is you should go and love yourself. Even better, in a year of self-care, the shortened love yourself. Ed Sheeran knows how to write a ballad, and this track allows Bieber to do what he does best: quite simply, sing. I’ve loved watching Bieber take this song around the world. The presentation in concert was minimal, which allowed for the track to find its true depth. Anyone who has watched the concert film Believe knows that Bieber’s tours of old were about bombast, cinema, and flair. The Purpose Tour smartly contains itself. It’s not as interested in the staging as it is in Justin’s restoration. Sure, there are dancers; but at times there is just Justin, the man, alone on stage. Nearly consumed by the lights, we get to watch him apologize and resurrect the career he nearly imploded.

Thankfully, the last half of the concert retained old hits “As Long As You Love Me” and “Baby”, while adding  “Purpose” and “What Do You Mean?”

It’s interesting how “Baby” in 2016 retains its desperation:

And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ‘til you wake me from this bad dream
I’m going down, down, down, down
And I just can’t believe my first love won’t be around…

At the height of his fame, Justin still is in pieces. He still can’t believe his first love won’t be around. Week after week, we get continued Instagram posts where Justin reflects on his history with Selena. While she was seen crumpling a sign calling for her to marry Justin earlier last week on her Revival Tour, Justin seems intent on hanging onto the past.  “Baby”, a breakout pop hit, feels just as relevant to Justin’s history and headspace now as it did in 2010. The song now carries the weight of his real true love, the media backlash, and the continued desire to connect with millions of people through music.

I am still speechless that Bieber performed “Children.” The track dragged. If I’d been in need of another 20-oz beer this would have been the time.

I’d like to remind you to not leave during his drum solo, a pulsating reminder of the talent behind every changing hairstyle (thankfully, he cut the cornrows before Barclays so I could attend in good conscience). The encore of the night was, of course, “Sorry”. As we grabbed our coats and threw away our beers, Justin wanted us to remember that he wanted to redeem himself. Justin, in my opinion, consider yourself absolved.

Setlist:

Mark My Words
Where Are Ü Now (Jack Ü cover) (Purpose Tour remix)
Get Used To It
I’ll Show You
The Feeling
Boyfriend
Cry Me A River (Timberlake cover)
Love Yourself
Been You
Company
No Sense
Hold Tight
No Pressure
As Long As You Love Me
Justin Bieber Drum Solo
U Smile
Children
Life Is Worth Living
What Do You Mean?
Baby
Purpose

Encore:
Sorry

Ashley

About Ashley

Ashley Hull wishes she was a mermaid, but she’s happier she’s managed to find her voice. She currently resides in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for her, she’s likely in front of a mirror applying lip stain while singing Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” under her breath.

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