justin bieber

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.


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


witchsong top fives of 2015, songs edition

Top Five Songs Kenzie Cried To, For Various Reasons, in 2015

1. Sia, “Alive
I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m alive
I’m alive
I’m alive
I’m alive
2. Patsy Cline, “Crazy
I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying
3. Taylor Swift, “Long Live
When they gave us our trophies
And we held them up for our town
And the cynics were outraged
Screaming, “This is absurd!”
‘Cause for a moment a band of thieves in ripped up jeans got to rule the world
Long live the walls we crashed through
All the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
I was screaming
Long live all the magic we made
And bring on all the pretenders
I’m not afraid
4. One Direction, “Through The Dark
When the night is coming down on you,
We will find a way through the dark
5. One Direction, “History”


Top 5 4 Songs from 2015 To Send To Space, as Proposed By Sophia

1) “Run Away With Me”, Carly Rae Jepsen
I want to send Carly Rae Jepsen to space. I want Carly Rae Jepsen to perform in zero gravity. Don’t you want that? This song has bagpipes. I mean, what more could you want? It has bagpipes, it is ecstatic. It is a rush of blood to the head, it is the gold standard for pop songs everywhere, it is made of joy. We can turn the world to gold. Someday I will run NASA and I want you to all close your eyes and imagine with me the future in which Carly Rae Jepsen’s sugarcane-robot voice rockets into the stars. This is the best communication of our capacity for desire. This is need shrieking and giddy, a laugh and nothing coy about it, this is the possibility of a new year stretching shining soap-bubble perfect in front of us. What reason is there to be, really, except for this song? BABY TAKE ME TO THE FEELING.

2) “Favourite Color”, Carly Rae Jepsen
From space our planet is so small and blue and sometimes I think about that and I want to cry. The universe is so big and we are a tiny rock. Do you think aliens know what the color blue is? Probably not, all things considered. What is blue except really the color of the Earth from space? We are small lives on a small planet and we are only ever made huge against backdrops of each other. This song, then: I’m bright baby blue, fallin into you / fallin for each other. The falling is mutual and so is the immensity—not just a person but a color, a feeling. The thing about Carly Rae Jepsen is these lyrics sound so silly written out and you hear them and they aren’t at all. I want her to write a song about every color there is so we can understand them all better: a gift from our baby-faced Canadian prophetess, baby blue.

3) “Last Christmas”, Carly Rae Jepsen
Is this the most important Christmas song that has ever existed? Maybe. I mean, probably. Give me one that’s more important and I’ll take it back but I don’t think you can. Carly Rae Jepsen’s voice like layers and layers of gauze with a hitch running all the way through it. Crystalline and then waver and waver and waver. I want you to watch the Late Show Performance of this song, where she wears a white sequined blazer and glittering black pants and her hair is very short and her eyes are very bright. There are few things a ridiculous as Christmas, you know, but one of them is Christmas parties—everyone dressed in too many sequins, everyone dreading going back outside in the cold. Her voice is so delicate and biting and she lets her teeth catch on all the most important words in this important song. Once bitten, twice shy. Send this song to space so that we can imagine all those stars twinkling like lights.

4) “I Really Like You”, Carly Rae Jepsen
You might think that it is redundant to send both this song and “Run Away With Me” to space but I promise you it isn’t. The spectrum of human want is complicated and so is every inflection of Carly Rae’s voice. Nothing in the world except maybe galaxies is as important as the hiccup in her voice, everything you say is a sweet re-he-ve-layyy-shun. This song propels itself forward and then sometimes startles, just for a second. She says I feel like I could fly and I do too, all those synths like a rush. This song carried me all the way through 2015 the way “Call Me Maybe” carried us all through 2012 and I am going to put it on a flash drive and launch it to Mars so that it can live forever.

Tess‘s Top Five Most Played Songs (based on no exact metric whatsoever) in 2015

  1. “Bathroom Sink” – Miranda Lambert

2. “Little Green” – Joni Mitchell

3. “I Have The Moon” – Lush

4. “Secret Love Song Pt. 2” – Little Mix

5. lol obviously it is “Ring of Keys” who am I fucking kidding?


Kenzie’s Top Five Songs Not From Any Of My Top Ten Albums

1. Rihanna, “Bitch Better Have My Money
2. Missy Elliott, “WTF (Where They From)”
3. Haley Kiyoko, “Girls Like Girls
4. Justin Bieber, “Sorry
5. Fifth Harmony, “Reflection


letter(s) from the editor(s): aly’s top ten albums of 2015

10. The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Brandi Carlile.

You lose so many things you love as you grow

9. Reflection, Fifth Harmony.

Where you from? Must be heaven / You’d be rich if lookin’ good was your profession / Think I’m in love ’cause you so sexy / Boy I ain’t talkin’ bout you I’m talkin’ to my own reflection

8. Another Eternity, Purity Ring.

I wanna know what’s your quietest feeling?

7. RevivalSelena Gomez.

I mean, I could, but why would I want to?

6. Beat the Champthe Mountain Goats.

I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object

5. Froot, Marina & the Diamonds.

Sometimes you have to learn to forget about it

4. E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen.

‘Cause I want what I want do you think that I want too much?

3. Purpose, Justin Bieber.

Is it too late now to say sorry?

2. Made in the A.M., One Direction.

You know I’m always comin’ back to this place / You know I’m always gonna look for your face

  1. Get Weird, Little Mix.

We’re gonna get (get) weird (weird) all night I said let’s get weird all night

Honorable mentions: Sounds Good Feels Good by 5SOS, American Beauty/American Psycho by Fall Out Boy, Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves, III by JoJo.

I apologize for linking to myself so much but I, uh, apparently talk a lot, and also didn’t really listen to anything that I didn’t scream about this year. Sorry that I have so little chill.

Also – I am writing a Purpose review, I am! It is taking a long time because its thesis is “Justin Bieber is lonely and uncertain” and so I have to take frequent crying breaks. So I am sorry for that as well although I would then have to link to myself more, so I guess maybe that equals out.

Happy solstice! Happy whatever holiday! Happy try not to kill your relatives, and remember that no matter what they think of your hair/gender/sexuality/music taste, we love you here. Thank you for sticking with us this far – it means more than you know. See you in 2016!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber is very, very dear to me. I am writing this piece in advance of the piece that I am going to write about his new album because, as I was telling a friend of mine the other day, if I wrote about his album without first separately unpacking all of the stupid-deep emotional shit that I have about JB, I would have to put all that shit in the album post and it would be thousands and thousands of words and you wouldn’t read it, so we are splitting it up. I am going to try to keep this relatively brief but I am not promising anything, and what I want to make clear first and foremost is that every time I am talking about Justin Bieber I am talking about me, and who I am and who I have been, and the ways in which this Canadian goofball has been with me through that.

The first thing you need to know is that I have been listening to Justin Bieber for a long time. Like, a long time. I was listening to Justin Bieber before I even allowed myself to admit that I cared about pop, that it mattered to me deep in my soul. We have a history that is only surpassed by my history with My Chemical Romance.

The second thing you need to know is that people hate boys who sound like girls. They hate them with a weird and burning intensity that I have never understood, but as a JB fan and later a One Direction fan I can tell you that there are three things that a person will say to you, usually in this order, when they find out that you care deeply about these musicians: “I just can’t get into it, he sounds like a girl, like, no offense, but-” “Oh my god, aren’t they, like, twelve?” “You know they can’t really sing, right?” This last is my personal cross to carry through my entire life, apparently, because I can’t ever let it go, can’t ever just let these people exist in their wrongness. Oh really, they can’t sing, I shriek as I fling YouTube video after YouTube video in their general direction. Here are eight thousand instances of you being wrong, you colossal idiot. And of course no one listens or believes me or watches the videos, and then inevitably there is a moment in popular thought where the boy-who-sounds-like-a-girl stops sounding like a girl, and his music stops sounding like ~girl music, and suddenly the thinkpieces are everywhere. “Justin Bieber Slays Us All With His Acoustic Chops”, you’ll see a headline. “He Really CAN Sing!”

Remember when FOUR came out and that twentysomething dude went to a One Direction show and wrote this incredibly un-self-aware piece about how, like, wow, One Direction are actual musicians and he just was so impressed by how actually musicians they are because he never realized that, even though teen girls have been adoring them forever? That’s what it’s like all the time. There’s a tipping point for these artists where they become ‘cool’, where everyone (read: “music” “professionals” (read: dudes)) realizes that they’re good and that it’s not a shameful thing to enjoy them. And that point is both gratifying and incredibly frustrating.

So this is where I am coming to you from, as a person who has watched Justin Bieber grow up from a teeny-tiny thirteen-year-old, who has watched him do some stupid, stupid shit, and who has loved him anyway because he is a human person who reminds me both of myself and of my little brother. I am coming to you as a person who has been literally laughed out of rooms at parties, I am coming to you as a person who gets loudly and too-intensely defensive of a small millionaire who does not need my defending. Except maybe he does, because again, you know, he is just a person.

Now on the one hand it’s hard to feel sorry for the very rich
You could record an album of Mountain Goats covers and torpedo your career overnight
You chose this life

But on the other hand even a rich guy needs some space
And should be able to get to his car without people all up in his face
And getting on his case

You don’t have to leave Justin alone
You don’t have to leave Justin alone, but don’t be an asshole

Are there bigger problems in the world yes
Abortion is legal but not everybody has access

Try not to be an asshole
Try not to be an asshole

Justin Bieber has done some stupid shit. He is a 21-year-old who has been Beatles-level famous since he was fourteen, and he is a millionaire white boy with questionable taste in TV and jewelry, and he has done some stupid shit. And he is still a person. I talked about this a little bit when I wrote about Taylor Swift. I think people very genuinely forget that celebrities are real people. There’s this weird and callous disregard of their humanity that you see anytime they are suffering, or doing something stupid, or some combination of the two. “Well, they chose to be famous. You know the paparazzi don’t bother people that don’t give them anything to talk about. They knew what they were getting into.” So let me just – to lay the cards out on the table – let me say a thing, here. I am very much invested in becoming a pop star, I am probably trying out for the Voice next year, I would love nothing more than to be wildly famous. Like, I have dreams about this and they are so vivid that it sometimes hurts to wake up. So, okay. I want to be famous. But I don’t want people to scream things at me, and I don’t want people to write mean things about me in magazines, and I don’t want to feel like I can’t leave my house or say anything ever without it being misinterpreted. I don’t want those things, and I think it is cruel and disingenuous to suggest that anyone does, and to suggest that that is simply the cost of being a celebrity. Maybe it is, I guess; maybe I am too forgiving, to willing to let them simply be people. All I know is that when I was fifteen and sixteen and seventeen and eighteen and beyond, probably, I was doing and saying a lot of stupid shit that I genuinely regret, and if I had been in any kind of a public eye when I was doing those things I can guarantee you that people would not sympathize with me. And I know that you all know how I feel about forgiveness, and who does and does not deserve it, but I have to say this. If you don’t allow for the possibility that people can grow and change and become better, then I don’t know what any of this is about. And maybe I am too soft on JB, maybe I am too optimistic in my faith in the human spirit to overcome the weirdness of being young and famous, but I can’t help it. There are things I can’t forgive but being young and rude and feeling invincible are not those things, because I did a lot worse, and if I can’t live in a world where Justin Bieber can still be a good person then I myself am probably not a good person.

I had a Justin Bieber shirt in college, one that I wore until it physically disintegrated, and I loved it because it was sort of a trick, visually. It said “JUSTIN BIEBER” in massive letters, but they were so big and blocky that you couldn’t really immediately tell what they said, and then within the letters was a picture of JB himself, but it was all sunset-colored and again, you couldn’t really tell immediately who it was. So I would be talking to someone and we would be carrying on a conversation and they’d be respecting me, you know, as a person, and then they’d take more than a second to look at it and I could see, visibly see, their estimation of me change. And it hurt! It still hurts, if I’m being honest, when I meet someone new and they say something dismissive about pop music, about teen fiction, about the things that have shored me up and made me the person that I am today. There is something very dehumanizing in the way that people talk about these things, these girl-oriented things, oh, young adult fiction is so damaging, it’s so unrealistic, it’s so poorly written, oh, Justin Bieber can’t even sing, it’s all autotune, and like, I’m sorry, but this usually comes from someone who thinks Jeff Mangum has a really good voice. Or rather – maybe it’s not even that he has a good voice but that his message transcends things like “having a good voice”. Like – I am not dismissing Jeff Mangum as being important – but you have to have noticed that no one says these things about non-pop musicians. What I mean is that Justin Bieber can write a hook like nobody’s business and that is not – categorically not – less important than a song about how sad we all are.

Different things are important to different people, but it’s always pop that gets dismissed because it’s “easy” and “shallow” and “not serious” and a number of other adjectives that are not-coincidentally also used to describe girls. And then there’s the tipping point – the music bros finally admit that they like to dance, or whatever – and all of a sudden it’s okay to like pop. Certain pop, though – no one who’s writing the JB thinkpieces now is going back and listening to My World 2.0; that guy who went to the 1D concert isn’t blasting Up All Night on his way to work. Those things still belong to the girls and the people who don’t appreciate real music. Justin Bieber had an incredible voice when he was twelve and he has an incredible voice now, and I saw Never Say Never in theaters twice and I cried both times, and I could talk to you every day for the rest of my life about individual syllables on each of his albums, the way he has always known exactly how to get at my heart, but I won’t. Either you get it or you don’t. Either you look at this millionaire and you see a fourteen-year-old kid trying to make a basket with his back turned to the hoop, or you don’t. I’m sure it’s harder to do if you weren’t paying attention to him when he was that kid, but I want you to try. Or at the very least – I want you to try this: When I talk about the album next month, when I try to explain to you how talented and incredible and precious this boy is, I want you to think about what you can forgive. I want you to think about your own mistakes, and making them on a stage so large that you can’t see the edges of it. I want you to think about the fact that he cried, openly wept, after his performance at the VMAs this year because he didn’t expect people to cheer. He didn’t expect to be forgiven. But he wants to be, and he is working toward that, and I just want you to think about what that means to you, if anything. I don’t expect anything more from you than that. This is my stupid cross to bear, my stupid hill to die on, the fact that I can’t abandon this kid that I can’t help but see as my little brother, but at least do me this favor when we reconvene: Try not to be an asshole.