Sunday 18 February 2018

I'm a 35-year-old music critic and I've got Bieber fever...

John Meagher took his niece to see the world's biggest pop star and got caught up in all the excitement

John Meagher

John Meagher

For days, I'd been dreading it. Six weeks previously when I'd promised to take my niece to Justin Bieber's debut Irish show, the concert seemed to be at some nebulous point in the future.

Now it was here, and instead of watching the much-billed Barcelona-Arsenal football match, I would be running the risk of aural damage in the company of Ireland's pre-teens and their long-suffering parents.

As a music critic with this paper, I'm no stranger to The O2, but I've never known it to buzz with the sort of excitement I witnessed on Tuesday night.

I've seen Boyzone and Westlife in concert so I'm familiar with the sound of screaming girls, but these kiddies kicked up a racket considerably louder and more piercing. And that was before the Canadian, who's just turned 17, even arrived on stage.

My seven-year-old niece, Resa -- up for the night from Roscrea, Co Tipperary -- initially appeared intimidated by the huge crowd and the deafening screams. She was glad of the ear muffs she had worn to combat the cold, and how I wished for a pair too.

But when the diminutive Justin finally appeared, her expression of wonder said it all.

Critics like myself can sneer to our hearts' content about phenomena like Justin Bieber, but only the truly stone-hearted would not be moved by his young fans' reactions.

For many, Resa included, this was the first time they would have seen somebody famous in the flesh -- even if said figure was just a tiny speck on an enormous stage.

That other tween sensation Miley Cyrus played the same venue last year, but that was only a warm-up for Bieber.

Unknown just three years ago, his meteoric rise is as spectacular as anyone in entertainment history. As every besotted young girl knows, he was born on YouTube, strumming his guitar and flicking his hair.

For anyone unsure about the significance of Justin Bieber, it might be worth bearing the following in mind: He is the most Googled person on the planet -- by a considerable distance. He is one of a select handful whose YouTube clips have been watched more than a billion times. He is the second most followed person on Twitter -- after Lady Gaga.

And then there's the haircut. When he had his locks shorn a couple of weeks ago, the move caused such anguish among his fanbase that the number of his Twitter followers dropped by 80,000 in a single day.

Don't forget the money equation. Reports vary widely, but he is thought to be worth $100m already. And now that he's in the midst of a globe-trotting tour, his personal wealth is believed to increase to the tune of half a million dollars a day.

That was easy to understand when I saw the queues at the merchandise stands at The O2 and the huge demand for the tiny T-shirts at €30 apiece.

With such a weight of expectation, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for Bieber when I got my first sight of him after all the pyrotechnics had abated.

He is someone, after all, who hasn't experienced a normal childhood since he was 14. And, while he's bound to enjoy all that money in the years to come, right now he's on a high-intensity treadmill of his own making.

But, as you would expect from someone who has spent every moment of the past few years in the public glare, Bieber has been sculpted into a well-honed pop machine. Every aspect of his performance was choreographed and there was no room whatsoever for spontaneity.

But such quibbles are those of a 35-year-old male, still sporting the critic's hat. For everyone else, it seemed, Bieber's show was one giddy thrill after another. There were loads of fast-tempo pop songs, gentle ballads and some well chosen covers. The set had more than enough to keep the kids happy.

And judging from the enthusiastic reactions of their mums around me, they weren't exactly having a bad time.

There were very few males present. One feels young boys would rather kiss their sisters than admit to liking Justin Bieber. And the dads appeared to have given the night a very wide berth.

As the only male in the section of seating where I was, I was conscious of several mothers throwing sympathetic glances in my direction -- not least when Resa's hands were clamped to her ears during the high-decibel screeches.

When the night ended, she assured me she enjoyed the show and wondered about the possibility of Justin's autograph. I'm glad that the Dublin Eye -- aka, the Big Wheel -- was able to take her mind off the pressing need for that elusive signature.

As the sell-out crowd were streaming out of the venue, I wondered if Bieber's popularity has peaked. Might he just be another passing fancy in a notoriously fickle industry? That's anyone's guess.

YouTube is now a happy hunting ground for the world's talent scouts and only last month X Factor impresario Simon Cowell signed a 10-year-old to a multi-album deal. The music business has always thrived on the next big thing and that phenomenon has increased exponentially in the internet era.

And does Bieber have what it takes to develop his career and make music to appeal to an older audience? He's reaching that age where his songs of innocence might start to jar for him -- it's worth nothing that the warm-up act was 10-year-old Willow Smith, daughter of Hollywood star, Will.

When you consider the poor track record of previous child stars, the odds are stacked against him.

Irish Independent

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