Justin Bieber at Staples Center shot by Jeff Kravitz/Getty
Justin Bieber, 22, is onstage at the Staples Center in LA wearing two plaid shirts—one around his waist in a Saved by the Bell-style, and the other one (the exact same shirt) on his back and casually open in a Kylie Jenner-style. There's no name for this plaid-on-plaid approach to fashion yet. But given Bieber also spends most of this evening sporting a bandana on tied round his forehead and a t-shirt with 2Pac's face on it (imagine Axl Rose trying to dress like a rapper), it seems an opportune evening to trademark this look "Two-plaid Shakur."
Bieber has been engaged in some signature high-energy choreography (the Texas Two Step as performed by someone under the influence of Adderall and/or excessive Lucky Charms) to songs such as "Where Are Ü Now" and "I'll Show You" for a good 30 minutes now, but disaster's struck. Just before Bieber moves to sing his fourth single from fourth album Purpose at the Purpose World Tour, the second plaid shirt—the one around his waist—unravels, leaving him wearing just one plaid shirt. One-plaid Shakur. Which really won't do at all.
As the shirt falls to the ground, Bieber looks down at it, like a boy who has just wet the bed and isn't sure how to un-wet the bed. A performer as experienced as Biebs would usually improvise at such moments. He could do anything with the shirt. Leave it on the floor! Throw it at a hysterical fan! Tear it up and curse the day it was born! Use it as a towel! But no. Instead, the music stalls, Justin picks up the shirt, and then spends a good 30 seconds or so reapplying it to his waist, while 50,000 fans hang about. He doesn't acknowledge the faux-pas or make light of it. This is serious. Without a shirt adorning his waist and his back, Justin Bieber simply cannot go on with the show. This show is—after all—called Purpose, and Bieber has temporarily lost his. Remember, this is a philosophical time for him. An age when all the Js (Jesus, Jean Paul Sartre, Justin Timberlake, James Perse) have become interchangeable and yet intensely meaningful to the young demigod.
Allow me a moment of reflection. This is 2016, and I am six months away from turning 30. This time last year, people like me (that is, people who know how to do a tax return and consider Whole Foods a fun trip out) suddenly became interested in Justin Bieber. With the help of Skrillex, Diplo, and an umlaut, Bieber enjoyed a renaissance in February 2015, one that didn't eradicate his previous idiocies from memory but forgave them via "Where Are Ü Now" a slice of heaven. It was followed by two further slices of heaven in "What Do You Mean?" (The Lion King's "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" reimagined as EDM lite) and "Sorry." Those three songs were the best three songs of 2015. The debates need only surround which of the three is the most heavenly. (It's "What Do You Mean?" Sorry to all the "Sorry" advocates). Indeed, 2015 was the year we all became Beliebers.
This considered, the Purpose World Tour is an opportunity for Born Again Beliebers to come face-to-face with their leader. Tonight, I can't tell whether Bieber does everything (ironically) without any purpose, or whether he's more aware of himself than meets the eye. Via the typography for Bieber's merch, he's mischievously managed to make all of America's teenage girls look like diehard Slayer fans. The silver pointy font that adorns the back of the stage set is a dead ringer for the Spinal Tap logo. Who knows if Bieber is aware of this. (He's not, I'm giving him generous benefit of the doubt, mainly because I still feel awful that he had to leave the pet monkey he loved so dearly in Germany due to his lack of knowledge in matters of international animal trafficking). Nevertheless, the evening is an insight into Bieber's mind. Michael Jackson's "Heal The World" fills the Staples Center as we take to our seats. Bieber finally appears around 9 PM after "You Are Not Alone" plays over the soundsystem. Maybe the sentiments “You are not alone / I am here with you” are from Justin to us. Or maybe, they're from Michael to Justin.
The sets put Coldplay Day-Glo to shame. There are acrobats. There's a backdrop that looks like the motherboard for the Star Trek Enterprise. There are moving travelators more efficient than anything at LAX (not hard, to be fair). Everything takes place in an exposed skateboard rink. Bieber first enters it via a perspex box, suspended high above the stage, like the escape artist David Blaine who once suspended himself over the River Thames in London. Except instead of the Thames, Bieber has images of Michelangelo's naked David decorating the wraparound screen behind him. For a pop star encased in a world of cray, Bieber seems to enjoy putting himself in boxes. This is but the first of many. Another box is lit up to look as though Bieber is in the centre of some burning shooting star. Another is a rectangular structure, again elevated above the main stage, which contains a trampolene. It allows Bieber to do somersaults in space.
Most of the choreography incorporates breathing time for Bieber to pull his oversized pants up, and also to deliver inspirational quotes to the audience for between-song links. “People tell you you're not strong enough,” he says, after two songs. “You know what I say to those people, right? I say I'll Show You!" Cue: "I'll Show You."
"I've been on tour for about maybe a week… two weeks… I don't know,” he says, convincingly. Cue: "Company," a song about being lonely, on tour, and off of it. Naturally there are also ample opportunities for Bieber to display his musicianship. There's a segment for "Love Yourself" where Bieber gets to strum an acoustic guitar on a sofa and fumbles on one of the last chords (he did well up until that point). There's also a drum solo—from Bieber. Now wearing a t-shirt with Marilyn Manson's face on the front, and the words BIGGER THAN SATAN on the back, he sits upon a drum riser in the middle of the arena. Bonzo and Moon can rest easy, but Bieber's been smacking skins since he was two years old and his drum offs with Questlove are the stuff of YT click millions. You can't palm him off as a mere pop puppet.
As the show unfolds, it becomes clearer in a murky kinda way that Bieber's own purpose is to try really hard to inspire all of us to try really hard—at something, anything. It's communicated on "Children," his very own "Earth Song," a track about being a visionary, making a difference and wearing your heart on your sleeve. "Tonight's been a good night,” he says. “Listen, I feel like we all have a responsibility. Let's be strong powerful, strong-minded human beings. Thank God. It's up to us to raise a generation that's strong and healthy. I don't know, man. This one's for the children."
As if to then take action immediately and pass his life experience onto the next generation, four young kids join Bieber onstage for the dance routine to "Children," and, as it comes to a close he hollers: "Give it up for the children!" referring to said specific kids. Then he asks for their names but doesn't quite catch the last girl's, conscientiously requesting it three times. After performing a song called "Life Is Worth Living," he picks up a toddler offered to him by someone in the front row. “Are you scared? Don't be scared!” he says to the toddler, who is not calmed by Justin's decision to propel him to sudden spotlight and adulation. Eventually realizing this isn't a good idea, Justin hands the child back and walks offstage. Being Biebs is clearly not for everyone.
When he returns, he acknowledges the presence of Kanye West in the building tonight. "He's a true inspiration. I thank God,” he repeats. “He's a pioneer of a human being. Incredible. Not many people go out and live and aren't afraid to make mistakes." His generalist philosophy is met with the universal, globally recognized sound of arena affirmation: earsplitting screams. “Come on, this side!” he shouts, goading everyone to his left. “Come on, the middle!” Then he goes to the right side, then back to the middle, then the left, then the middle again, then the right again, and back to the middle. “You're not gonna let them win, are you?” he asks, doing it all over again. If love can be torture then this is what that sounds like.
Finally, the night ends with a water-y performance of "Sorry." Because what's better than saying sorry? Saying sorry IN THE RAIN. As sheets of droplets fall onto his dancers, Biebs parades back and forth in front of them. “One thing I need from you is to find your purpose, your journey, your choice,” he concludes. It's a conclusion that's the most inconclusive, decisively vague so as to be universally applicable. What does he mean? Where is he now? Is it ever too late to say sorry? And what about the children? And rather pertinently what about the Presidential campaign and the fate of the world? Perhaps his disciples had the answers…
YASMIN (13), ISSY (12), KYLIE (12)
Noisey: What is your purpose here tonight?
Yasmin: To meet the love of my life.
Issy: To make fun memories with friends and see the person I've always been looking forward to seeing my whole life.
How many songs are on Purpose?
Together: 18, yeah 18.
How many do you think you can name?
Yasmin: "No Pressure," "Love Yourself," "Company," "Children," "Trust," "Sorry," "Get Used To It," "What Do You Mean?”
Issy: Did you say "No Pressure"?
Point proven. Of all the songs, which is the best?
Yasmin: “No Pressure"!
Kylie: “No Pressure's" my favorite, yeah.
Justin Bieber Instagrammed a picture of his ex girlfriend Selena Gomez and apparently she's been invited tonight. Do you think she'll show?
Issy: She commented back "Perfect!" so I think she might.
Do you think they should get back together?
Issy: Because they have feelings towards each other. They always have to hide it or put their feelings away because it might not work out for them. But they have strong feelings for each other.
What do you mean?
Yasmin: Like what does "what do you mean" mean? It means what do you mean? Is it yes or is it no? Do you love me or do you not love me? You know, what do you mean?”
ALICIA (20), MALIA (14), AMAIRINI (21)
Noisey: What is your purpose in life?
Alicia: I think my purpose is to help people and be happy.
Amairini: My purpose is to help people. I wanna help people with autism so like that's my purpose.
Malia: To find happiness, I guess.
How many tracks are on Purpose?
Alicia: There's a lot and they're all great.
Amairini: Wait, is this a trick question?
Of all the singles, which is the best?
Alicia: My little sister is in love with "Sorry." I personally like "Love Yourself." I think that's a really cute song.
Malia: I like "No Pressure.”
Alicia: [cutting in] That's not a single!
Malia: Oh sorry sorry sorry! I mean… It will be a single eventually.
Amairini: Mine is definitely "Sorry.”
Allegedly Justin Bieber lives in a hotel room and no longer has his own home. Is this acceptable?
Alicia: I mean, he's Justin Bieber, he can do whatever he wants. If I had all the money in the world like he does I'd live in a hotel. Hotels are fun!
Do you like Justin's fashion sense?
Alicia: Yeah I do. It's cute.
Amairini: No! Sometimes it's like—What are you wearing? [ED: Wait is this a song title?]
Is it too late now to say sorry?
Amairini: Haha. It's never too late!
ALEXANDER AND JULIAN (25)
Are you twins?
Alexander: We are.
Which single is your favourite Bieber single?
Alexander: I gotta say "Sorry," sorry! It encompasses the whole entire main point of his album Purpose. And I think that's the message that he wants to get across.
What is the message of Purpose?
Julian: To find your purpose in life. To find something that motivates you to keep going forward.
What's your purpose?
Julian: “No matter what you go through in life, mistakes or triumphs, we must learn from unique experiences and build a future. That's the purpose of Purpose—to inspire people who believe in those kind of ideals and to find your purpose, carry on no matter what your struggle is. Whatever endeavour you're facing, find the emotions to come forward.
Do you think Justin Bieber is a good guy?
Julian: What he's done to spur a positive image has taken a lot of effort. He's come a long way. This is a new beginning.
What do you think of his dress sense?
Julian: I'm not a fan of how he's dressing right now. I was more into his Beliebe wardrobe.
Where are you now?
Julian: Hmmm. You mean: Where are you at in your life? I don't think it's a matter of "where are you now?" as a specific person. This is a more objective question—"where are you now in your life?”
And where are you now in your life?
Julian: In a good spot. I believed in this album and I pulled through.
Alexander: “I'm in a good place right now, here with my brother, about to see one of the best artists in the world so I just take it day by day and pursue this philosophy.”
ANDREA (28), ANNIE (28), TRACEY (29)
Which is Justin Bieber's best single?
Andrea: Gosh. I'm gonna stay with "Sorry."
Annie: “I'm gonna go, "Where Are Ü Now."
Tracey: “What Do You Mean?' Yeah. That one.
Do you think Justin Bieber is a good guy now?
Andrea: [Pauses] No.
Annie: He puts on a good facade.
What do you think of how Justin Bieber dresses himself?
Together: I love it, love it, love it.
What do you love about it?
Andrea: He doesn't look like anyone else.
What do you think of the US Presidential race?
Tracey: It's a joke. I'm not even going to vote. I can't even.
Andrea: If Trump wins I'm going to get a one-way ticket to London and never come back.
Tracey: He's getting all the crazies! I don't like him but I'm not like 'Woo Hilary!' either.
Did you prefer Bernie?
Tracey: Right… Some of the other ones were better.
And what about the children?
Andrea: I don't have any.
AJ (26), CHRISTIAN (18)
Which is the best Justin Bieber single?
AJ: “Love Yourself.”
Christian: Yeah I like "Love Yourself." I've been listening more to "Children.”
Do you think that Justin Bieber dresses well?
AJ: “Now he does.”
What do you like about the way he dresses?
AJ: I don't know how to describe it.
What do you think of the US Presidential campaign at the moment?
AJ: [Pause] No comment.
What do you think Justin Bieber is talking about when he talks about having purpose?
AJ: It's just about being healthy when you're going through a break-up.
Do you think he gives good break-up advice?
JENNA (14), ALLIE (15 tomorrow!), NATALIE (15)
Of all the Justin Bieber singles, which is best?
Jenna: “Love Yourself.”
Allie: “What Do U Mean?”
Natalie: “What Do U Mean?”
What do you think "What Do U Mean?" means?
Allie: I don't know it's just all about confusion.
Natalie: Yeah confusion in relationships.
Justin Bieber lives in a hotel. What do you think about that?Allie: Yeah, I think that's really cool.
Jenna: Sounds AWESOME! I would wanna do that.
Allie: I would love to live in a hotel and be proud of what I've done with my life.
Do you think that if Selena Gomez turns up tonight they should get back together?
Allie: I mean only if they want to.
Jenna: I want them to get back together. I think she's good for him.
Natalie: I think they're a cute couple but they'd probably go through a break-up again.
Allie: They just hurt each other.
What do you think purpose is?
Allie: Finding out what you're supposed to do in life.
Is it too late now to say sorry?
Nathalie: Well it depends on the situation.
Who is Bernie Sanders?
Allie: Oh gosh.
Natalie: He is running for President and he's a Democrat!
What do you think of the Presidential campaign at the moment?Natalie: I think there's a lot of potential candidates but I don't really have a preference. I don't know enough so I don't think it would be fair to pick someone.
Allie: Justin should be President.
Eve Barlow's purpose is to stop the onslaught of impending hearing problems. She's on Twitter.