At the end of his performance on Monday night (Nov. 12) at Brooklyn’s shiny new Barclays Center, Justin Bieber performed “Boyfriend,” then “Baby.”
The one-two punch caused the piercing screams of the teen star’s pint-sized Beliebers to rattle the arena one last time, as Bieber, alongside his happy-go-lucky troupe of back-up dancers, quickly plowed through his two biggest hits before bidding the crowd adieu. “Boyfriend” and “Baby” are not just Bieber’s most recognizable songs but are arguably the two best distillations of his bubblegum charm, with the former offering a decidedly swaggy reflection of Bieber’s newfound adulthood and “Baby” still one of the most lovable compositions Tricky Stewart and The-Dream have ever dreamt up.
The problem, however, is that Bieber had over an hour to fill before unleashing those two songs on his followers, and the dazzling pyrotechnics of the ‘Believe’ tour failed to fully mask the work-in-progress that is the pop star’s catalog. As soon as Bieber flew into the Barclays Center on metallic wings — descending from the rafters like a forgotten Greek god — a parade of dubious set list choices began, with “U Smile” brushed off and “One Time” folded into a medley along with “Eenie Meenie.” Bieber explained early in the show that he would be focusing more on his current oeuvre on the ‘Believe’ tour — an understandable move, but one that prompted long swaths of lesser “Believe” tracks like “Catching Feelings,” “She Don’t Like the Lights” and “Out of Town Girl.” And after whipping out a special (heartbreak-induced?) cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” two nights earlier in Boston, Bieber’s Brooklyn set felt oddly impersonal, with only a few quick shout-outs to the borough in the opening minutes serving as a nod to the Biebs’ first Barclays visit.
Still, Bieber’s show is aimed at tween girls, and his follow-up to the ‘My World’ tour enthralled the thousands of kids that hung upon Bieber’s every word on Monday night. There was dance-fighting during “Never Say Never,” acoustic strumming during “Fall,” flashing neon lights during “Beauty and a Beat” and abs flashed when Bieber salaciously attached his own flying harness; during all of these moments and more, the onlookers dutifully deflated their lungs. At 18, the Biebs is a veteran of this type of spectacle, and wiped away palpable exhaustion to shimmy during “As Long As You Love Me” and croon to a special fan onstage during “One Less Lonely Girl.” He was the perfect master of ceremonies, confiding in his audience that “All you gotta do is swag, swag, swag,” and later sharing that, whether you want to be a “doctor or a dancer,” you can indeed achieve your dreams.
There will come a day when Bieber dives head-first into adulthood — when he’ll have more curse words incorporated into his set than baby videos, when the leather pants and crotch-grabbing won’t be quite as uncomfortable, and when he’ll have a heavier collection of pop songs to choose from. Until then, the Biebs is in control on this iteration of his arena trek, and inspired squeals in Brooklyn on Monday night that no Nets win could ever produce.