If you believe the Internet (yes, collectively), then Justin Bieber is a colossal joke. Everything about him is grounds for mocking: his hair swoop, his askew baseball cap, his voice, his Canadian heritage, his dance moves, his potential love life, his tabloid photographs, etc. Nothing is off limits -- and no comment about his mom is too mean. To many, cyber-bullying Justin Bieber is a full-contact sport.
What stood out during his packed Scottrade Center show last night, however, was that the sixteen-year-old's many talents are no laughing matter.
By just showing up, Bieber could have sent the crowd home happy. But he didn't just coast on his tween-idol looks and dancing. He sat at a gleaming-white piano and sang "Down to Earth," as billowing smoke curled around him. He strummed an acoustic guitar and sang "Never Let You Go" and "Favorite Girl" while floating above the crowd, encased in a heart-shaped trellis. (Later, he made the same rounds while standing in an egg-shaped contraption; cue a Mork & Mindy-styled Mork from Ork image.) "Runaway Love" and "Somebody to Love" allowed him to show off fluid b-boy dance quickness - moves indebted to 'N Sync's hip-pop style and Justin Timberlake's lithe, liquid-funk sleekness.
His skilled band and back-up vocalists - a troupe known as Legaci, which was apparently also discovered via YouTube - easily handled the hip-hop/pop hybrids. (The latter spiced up the proceedings with an impressive a cappella medley of hits by artists such as Train, Usher and Timberlake.) A troupe of faceless but talented dancers added muscle and flash to Bieber's moves. And the stage set was suitably simple - wisely, it relied more on good lighting and Bieber's presence than bells and whistles for effect. While computerized backing tracks (music and vocals) seemed to crop up here and there, that's to be expected in an arena show that needs a gigantic sound to drown out screaming girls and to reach the upper rafters of a cavernous venue.
The idea and concept of Bieber is more important anyway. He's the archetypical teen idol, the ideal My First Crush; he's pretty, asexual and nonthreatening. He represents the impossibly perfect boyfriend - as in songs such as "U Smile," in which he sings lines uttered by a sweet, caring, sappy beau - and represents an idealized, fantasy version of love. (Or an idealized, fantasy version of the just-past-puberty boys many of Bieber's fans have to deal with on a daily basis.) And he's sensitive when he's hurt, as captured accurately in the solid, puppy-love-gone-awry ballad "That Should Be Me."