WINNIPEG - I have never swum with sharks, ridden out a hurricane or been swept up in a riot. But now I can say this: I have been on the floor at a Justin Bieber concert and lived to tell the tale.
That's right; thanks to a bizarre twist of fate, my seat for the sold-out local stop on Bieber's My World tour was on the floor of MTS Centre. In the first 20 rows. Dead centre. Mere yards away from the stage. Smack dab in the middle of a massive, teeming horde of 13,000 screaming girls (along with a few parents and the gay couple next to me).
In all my years, I haven't experienced anything like it. The wailing. The crying. The heat. The exhaustion. The running. The panic. The horror. Of course, that was just me. The girls? They loved every nanosecond of it. They sang. They danced. They jumped. They took each other's picture. They waggled their glowing wristbands. And of course, they shrieked -- deafeningly -- from start to finish.
Why wouldn't they? After all, they're teenage girls. And the 16-year-old Stratford native is the teen-pop god of the moment. He's fresh-faced and non-threatening. He dresses in white. He likes to dance. He has girl hair. He's like, baby, baby, baby, oh. And in his fast-paced show, he gave his fans almost everything they want: A bunch of sugary, superficial pop. A little personal attention. And a whole lot of choreography, lights, lasers and effects.
Fresh from the MVAs and backed by his sizable ensemble -- four male dancers, four backup vocalists and a six-piece band -- Bieber hit the stage shortly after 8 p.m. (hey, it was a school night) and spent the next 85 minutes putting on the sort of goofy ADD spectacle only a teen could get away with. Or appreciate.
He leapt and bolted around the massive two-level stage when he wasn't dancing. He flew over the audience (and over my head) in a giant heart-shaped steel frame -- and then again in an egg-shaped pod. He was hoisted on wires and pretended to scale a building Batman-style. He changed outfits half a dozen times. He played guitar and piano. He bashed away on a drum kit. He covered Michael Jackson and Aerosmith. He called the girls "pretty" and the "greatest fans in the world." He serenaded one onstage and gave her flowers. He showed old home videos. He even aired a PSA about texting and driving. Somewhere in there he amateurishly (and sometimes tunelessly) warbled pretty much every song in his one-album repertoire -- from openers Love Me, Bigger and U Smile to his encore Baby -- over his fast-food drive-through headset in his thin voice. He also took a surprising number of breaks for such a short show, leaving the stage for minutes at a time while videos played, backup singers crooned, or his guitarist tried to pretend he was in an actual rock band.
Not that any of it mattered. Had Bieber come out in sweats, sat down and picked his nose for an hour, the girlies would still have gone bananas. Same way their older sisters did for The Jonas Brothers, and how their little ones will for whoever is next. One teen-pop idol is pretty much the same as the next. And frankly, to those of us who are immune to his boyish charms and unmoved by the lofty profundities of his diary-level lyrics, Bieber is nothing special. He's just another minimally talented pretty-boy lashed to the roller-coaster of fame, hanging on for dear life as those around him ride behind on the gravy train, raking in every penny they can before all the fans get real boyfriends, discover better music and generally wise up.
Hope he's enjoying the view from the top. And that once the ride is over and the screaming stops, he lives to tell the tale, too.