TORONTO - In a world of ever-diminishing attention spans demanding ever-more immediate gratification, staying on top of the pop music heap for three months is impressive, never mind three whole years.
So whether you love him or hate him, itís foolish not to give Canadian superstar Justin Bieber some respect. His brand of irresistibly catchy pop and white-boy R&B is aimed not at crusty, beer-emboldened Grey Cup attendees, nor at snarky grumps who make fun of the way he dresses in photo opps, but rather at the hearts and minds of his predominantly young, overwhelmingly female fans.
This boy knows his audience. This boy knows how to put on a show. And this boy can sing.
Though judging from his sold-out performance Saturday night at Torontoís Rogers Centre in front of roughly 60,000 frenzied fans, maybe we canít keep calling Biebs a boy. To a deafening roar that would have drowned out a 747 preparing for takeoff, the 18-year-old pride of Stratford, Ont., was transported onto the stage on a giant pair of metal wings, sporting a sleeveless white hoodie that showed off a pair of arms much less twig-like than one might imagine. Biebs has been hitting the gym. Heís looking like, well, a man.
ďWhatís up, Toronto?Ē Bieber asked after kicking off with All Around the World, the first track off his latest album, Believe. (Answer: the decibel level.) And later on, introducing Never Say Never, ďI never thought Iíd be on this stage, at the Skydome. I never thought Iíd be wearing leather pants.Ē Really? Thatís a recurring dream for some of us.
A concert of this magnitude and expense is a well-oiled machine that runs at very specific settings and does not respond well to unpredictability. Still, Bieber did have a couple surprises, including calling fellow hometown boy Drake on stage for tour-exclusive duets of Right Here and Drakeís own The Motto. He also took breaks from his pyrotechnic-laden song-and-dance to do an acoustic guitar rendition of Fall (from the basket of a cherry picker sweeping over the crowd, no less) and even jumped on the drums for Beauty and a Beat, although Neil Peart doesnít have anything to worry about. (Kids, please donít respond, ďWho?Ē Please.)
Through a 100-minute set that ranged from a medley of his earlier songs (One Time, Eenie Meenie and Somebody to Love) to achier fare like As Long as You Love Me to come full circle in the encore with his monster hits Boyfriend and Baby, Bieberís maturing voice only occasionally lost its battle with the walls of sound from the tens of thousands of fans around him.
Even a headset microphone mishap late in the show didnít faze Biebs as he geared up to end his set with Believe; he just grabbed a handheld mic, skipped the piano accompaniment and kept going. The kidís a pro.
So how does one critique a Bieber concert? Not enough costume changes? (There were plenty.) Not enough special effects? (He had lasers, fireworks, video projections and more.) Not enough hits? (He sang nearly all.) What more could a Belieber want?
Even opening acts The Wanted and Bieberís friend and label-mate Carly Rae Jepsen could do little wrong as they warmed up an already very heated crowd. Jepsen finished her brief set with Call Me Maybe, the most inescapable song of the past year. At least until Gangnam Style came along.
For tens of thousands of young women, a whole lot of memories were made this night, and theyíll be talking, tweeting, Facebooking and Gchatting about this show for weeks. Years from now, will they feel the same way? Will Bieber make the tricky transition out of the realm of teen heartthrob into whatever lies beyond?
Hard to say. But based on the songs, the moves and the slightly terrifying level of fan devotion that he inspires, I wouldnít bet against the Biebs.