Photos by Marc Ressang
Right now, Justin Bieber is in the middle of the Asian segment of his Believe world tour. As well as playing some arena shows, he's marked the occasion by making his groupies carry him up the Great Wall of China and skateboarding around Beijing as his own sweating bodyguards followed him. Unwilling to miss such a significant meeting of Western cultural imperialism and Eastern screaming teenagers, I headed over to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in the Pudong district of Shanghai to meet the local Beliebers.
Chinese people seem to be masters of the cult of personality and love famous people even more than Westerners. When David Beckham was in Shanghai in June, for example, there was an actual stampede in his press conference and seven people were hospitalized. When was the last time YOU cared enough about a stranger to get covered in your own blood for them? If they were killing each other over a retired midfielder from England, what would they do for the most famous kid on Earth?
The first people I met were Crystal (left) and Amy. As Crystal booted up her battery-powered "Belieber" sign, Amy told me that she likes Justin because, “he has a dream.” However, she also warned me that, “You don’t have to like everything about someone—I don’t like his tattoos and he was a bit lazy on The Great Wall.”
Unlike many of her western counterparts, Amy never wanted Selena Gomez—Justin’s ex—to disappear. “I like her music,” she explained. “And anyway, Justin would not fall in love with me, he’s 19.” Amy has got her head screwed on straight. When she chased me across the street five minutes later and begged me to get Justin’s autograph for her, I wished I could help her.
If you’re not creative like Crystal, you could buy tons of knockoff Bieber merch and other things. Like Justin Bieber calendars, so that every time you want to know the date, you can be reminded of Justin Bieber's face.
And Justin Bieber mouse pads, so that every time your piece of shit mouse breaks you can look down and be comforted by the cute way Justin Bieber holds his baseball cap.
And also binoculars, so that you can look at Justin Bieber really, really close-up IRL. This guy was bartering. He told me he doesn’t have a favorite Justin Bieber song because, unlike everyone else in the world, he doesn't know who Justin Bieber is. “Someone told me a famous 19-year-old singer was playing here tonight,” he shrugged.
Which was fair enough. It’s not as if that bald guy with the enormous puffa jacket you bought that Vaccines T-shirt off outside the Kentish Town Forum once listened to "Post Break-Up Sex" in the bath every night, is it?
This is Candy. She’s the boss of China’s Justin Bieber Support Club—which sort of sounds more like a psychological support group for Beliebers than a standard fan club, but whatever. As part of her role she organizes meet-ups once a year on March 1, Justin's birthday, where they all get together and have a big Bieber sing-along at a karaoke bar. Candy is 24 years old and recently graduated from the University of Brunel in London.
There doesn’t seem to be quite the same naff stigma attached to being a rabid pop fan in your mid-20s as there used to. Maybe it's because all Justin Bieber fans dress sort of like people at ATP did three years ago.
Justin has sought to cover his hotel and monkey care costs while on tour by selling a few hundred top-level VIP tickets, each including a meet-and-greet, for around $1200 a pop. For the fans with the most impressive nagging skills, it’s the holy grail. Some in this lot are among the lucky few.
Sadly, this guy missed out—although he paid around $600 for his ticket, which includes a bag of official Bieber tat. “I was late buying mine, or I would have bought the top level one, so I’m jealous,” he sighed. “I came here from Yunnan province, over 2,000 miles away. Where are you from, the UK? Haha, UK food is just potatoes. And some meat.”
Suddenly, there was a cascade of shouts and this Heston Blumenthal-looking guy in the Lakers T-shirt emerged from behind the security gates. I had absolutely no idea who he was, so I got my translator to ask him—turns out he's the music editor of a Chinese website and has written favorably about Justin in the past.
“I have a good relationship with Universal,” he mumbled to the translator. “I just like hanging out with everybody here.” More and more girls shoved forward to rub his shoulders, as if to absorb any remnant Bieber-dust, asking, “Did you meet him?!”
Look at his face, of course he fucking did; he's the man, he's the Chinese Perez Hilton, the Pudong Lester Bangs, and he's Bieber's favorite communist pop blogger.
Inside was pretty nuts. Although if this was, say, a One Direction show in the UK, we probably would have had a few fainters by now.
It was almost as if there was no need for this soldier to be there at all.
The crowd were warmed up by dancers in stripped-to-the-waist space suits, like this one, who kept taking shots of the shrieking teenage girls on his iPhone. What a Pro.
DJ Tay James provided the soundtrack of badly-mixed EDM-pop hits for them to dance to, whose main job seemed to be to constantly remind everyone that he is: “Justin Bieber’s official DJ, Tay James!!!” He must get even more second-hand action than that music editor guy.
And look, here's the captain himself. Who knew dressing like one of those 12-year-old goth kids who always gets shaken down for money at the skate park could turn you into a global sex symbol?
Smartphone video recording and glowing stick things—it seemed compulsory to do the same boring shit at arena gigs here as it is anywhere else.
The smartphones just tend to be a bit better spec here—or they are in the $1200 ticket section, at least.
And weirdly, everyone stood on their chairs for the entire show. It’s not just a pop thing for venues here to bring out the fold-out chairs for shows. For The Killers gig at the same arena earlier in the week, there was no standing room on the floor, just seats. Though admittedly there were about 8,000 fewer of them in the room that night.
Standing here in this gigantic bowl, it made me think that perhaps now all the world's pop cultures have become so homogenized that the only thing left separating us is fold-out chair etiquette.
But then Justin grabbed his crotch and I forgot about that. I sat behind two ten- to 11-year-old girls who'd come along with their moms; it made me feel a bit awkward.
Justin seemed to be at least semi-miming (I was 15 feet away from him and that Britney-style face-strap mic wasn't enough to conceal it), but that’s kind of what you sign up for with arena pop gigs these days, so really who gives a damn? It's Justin Bieber playing an arena show to teenagers in Shanghai, not Young Marble Giants playing to librarians at the Union Chapel.
I've seen enough footage of Justin Bieber concerts to know that there's always a bit where he brings a fan out on stage and sings to her. Heaven help this girl when she gets back to her seat. She’ll be a pile of shredded skin by the time the house lights are up.
After "Baby" (which was brilliant) it was all over, and everyone filed out into a pile of waiting parents for pickup time in a scene a touch like the end of Empire Of The Sun, where Jim’s parents try to pick him out from the crowd of children. This balloon I saw before the show seemed a poignant image to end on.
No pass-outs witnessed, then, but almost as much delirium as you’d expect from a fizzy pop-fuelled arena crowd. Seems like being a Belieber really is a universal language.
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamiefullerton1
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