Justin Bieber’s Believe tour raised some doubts amongst the Dubai faithful.
Those deeming his much-publicised tardy arrival in London back in March as an aberration would have found it tough to argue with jeering fans before the singer took to the stage two hours late.
The Beliebers are a passionate lot. Governed by hormones (and accompanying parents) they went from high-pitched squealing when the gates opened at 5.30pm to a vehement booing when the clock ticked past their bedtime two hours later, by which time their hero had still not deigned to make an appearance.
Yet all seemed forgotten when the 10-minute countdown appeared on large screens at 10pm.
After a monologue about “believing” and “taking risks” by a shadowy character resembling Morpheus from The Matrix, the singer descended some centre stage stairs and launched into the frenetic hip-hop dance mash up All Around the World.
Just when they had screamed all their misgivings away, Bieber then had the gall to take a five-minute break - with his tour DJ commanding the stage for a few radio anthems - before Biebs was back with a white singlet and gilded gloves for the thumping Take You.
Dubai is show 90 and 91 of the world tour and the strain on Bieber showed.
Not even the whizz bang video montages and cracking backup dancers disguised the singer’s fatigue.
This resulted in a performance so full of miming it conjured up unwanted memories of Britney Spears’ 2011 lip-synch extravaganza at Yas Island.
Then again, this is the flip side of having a tween fan base. There is no room for subtlety. Each tightly choreographed song comes with dance moves and beats as urgent as a tweet.
It was no wonder Bieber couldn’t wrap his voice around the paparazzi-baiting She Don’t Like the Lights what with him trying to keep a measured vocal tone while going toe-to-toe with his dancers. Something had to give and the vocals were ultimately sacrificed for entertainment value.
He rarely slowed the pace down, however the real Bieber eventually showed up with the pristine voice that originally rocked YouTube. Sitting beside his guitarist, both rolled into a rendition of Die in Your Arms as sweet as a campfire singalong. It was a much needed reminder of a raw talent that has become somewhat muzzled by an army of expert producers and media handlers.
With Bieber’s voice remaining firmly a backing instrument, a lion’s share of the entertainment was placed on the show's premium production value. To a certain degree it worked.
It was a production tailor-made for the attention-deficit generation with nearly a dozen screens placed alongside the stage with a mission to illustrate the track’s message or set the mood. During the affecting Love Me the evocative rain backdrop and low lighting did a good job of making us forget summer was fast approaching.
While in the set highlight Beauty and a Beat, the kaleidoscope of imagery - including throbbing speakers and a whooshing onscreen cameo from Nicki Minaj - melded brilliantly with the dancers to create something indeed futuristic; the pushing of the pop envelope Bieber seems to strive for. Sandwiched between all the action is the show’s loose theme, which is of "beliebing" in yourself.
Bieber took a few moments throughout the performance urging the fans to stare down their fears and chase "that dream". Considering his backstory the message carried some weight.
However with the set closer, Believe, which is meant to be a heroic testament to Bieber's achievements, one looks at the exhausted performer and wonders at what price?
With the media circus around him in no fear of ending and the Believe tour extending to 30 more dates, one hopes Bieber emerges in one piece and takes a long well-earned break.
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