Picking up one of three awards Sunday night at the American Music Awards, Justin Bieber said, "This is for all the haters who thought maybe I was just here for one or two years."
The award itself was so lethal looking, he probably could have done away with a few haters on the way out, but he's such a nice Canadian boy, which is a big part of his appeal with the teen/tween crowd, who showed him nothing but love Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
This was the 18-year-old's second visit to Pittsburgh and second sell-out in what is basically year three of his blockbuster career. Neither the artist nor the venue were willing to provide tickets for critics (who tend to be haters), but, in the interest of the greater journalistic good, I was able to score one outside for $90 less than the people paid for it through an online ticket service.
The show was nothing more or less than what you'd expect -- Bieber running through the paces of a typical awards-show style production to the high-pitched squealing delight of his Beliebers. Popping out of the floor wasn't sufficient for this one. After a frenzied countdown, he descended from the rafters like Justin God of Pop -- all in white, hair up like James Dean -- on a pair of majestic sci-fi movie wings to bounce into "All Around the World."
Bieber sprung for a three-tiered stage designed as a ship with a wall of video screens, lasers, fog, a 10-person dance crew and actual people playing music. It was nothing as eye-popping as the spectacles we've seen here for Black Eyed Peas, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga or Madonna.
He launched into an overly generous 90-minute set of teen-pop cotton candy fluff, varying the pace between uptempo workouts ("Take You," "Somebody to Love," etc.) and thin sugary ballads. When he was dancing, he probably wasn't singing much -- after all, the vocal track kept running while he was throwing up in Arizona -- but that goes with the territory.
The mike seemed more live during the stripped-down songs, like the quick "U Smile/That Should Be Me" a cappella that ramped up the screams, the acoustic "Be Alright" and "Fall," which had him strumming a guitar while riding above the crowd in a cherry picker.
Based on the girls around me, directly opposite the stage, the packs of teenagers had a screaming decent time while the little ones would have been just as happy watching a video, which the show resembled. The people next to me spent more than $600 on four tickets only to have the 7-year-old girl lose interest quickly and spend the show playing a video game on her mom's phone.
Fellow Canadian star Carly Rae Jepsen called off sick for this gig, so not only was there no opening set with "Call Me Maybe," there was no duet on "Beautiful" as they've been doing on the tour.
Bieber Fever raged highest in the final 20 minutes when he did his on-stage fan serenade (to Victoria) on "One Less Lonely Girl" and returned for the bigger hits: set closers "As Long As You Love Me" and "Believe" (at the piano) and the crowd-pleasing, shout-along encores of "Boyfriend" and "Baby."
Piped in or not, Bieber is nothing special as a singer and he's even less of a dancer (no match for his mentor Usher), but looks and charm often trump talent in the world of teen-pop. In that sense, the ship theme is dead-on as the whole enterprise could sink at any moment (ask the Jonas Brothers or the Titanic), but, hey, having been here as a kid for The Jackson 5, I understand how the tour shirt, the program and the memory of going with your mom, sister or BFF can last a lifetime.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.