Published May 19, 2016In case the dick pics, the GQ cover, the excessive tattooing and the blunted lothario lifestyle wasn't already enough of a reminder, Justin Bieber reinforced one important fact at his first of two Toronto shows last night (May 18): he is now a grown-ass man. Gone is his not-too-distant past as a teeny-bopping heartthrob, replaced by rock-hard abs and an overcompensating desire to show us he is serious about his, ahem, purpose.
He came out of a box, and later appeared caged, like an animal, perhaps to demonstrate the metaphor that in the end he can't be contained. This kind of straight-faced, heavy-handed seriousness was the dominant mood of the night, as Biebs countered 20,000 screams with a po-faced hometown boy routine. At first sporting a Maple Leafs jersey instead of the red-hot Raptors (then, later on, "rePurposed" Wu-Tang and Kurt Cobain tees), he didn't exactly return much of the love he received. But it really didn't matter — all that did was that he was there, in the flesh.
After a "Mark My Words" preamble, he launched into his Grammy-winning Jack Ü collaboration, "Where Are Ü Now," surrounded by a team of dancers. Bieber chose to keep up with his crew, sacrificing his vocals to finish his dance moves. In fact, for the majority of the nearly two-hour set, he opted to let his feet, not his mouth, do the work. (That's what pre-recorded vocals are for.) Again, it didn't matter. Bieber may not have sang all of his songs, but the crowd sure did, and the noise they generated was even greater than his when he took the mic.
What Bieber lacked in gratitude and vocals, he more than made up for in his platform show. His triangular allowed him to stroll, bounce and even sometimes moonwalk around the crowd. For missing guest collaborators, he projected images of their faces to massive back screens: Big Sean ("No Pressure"), Travi$ Scott ("No Sense") and Halsey, whose oozing love song "The Feeling" not only received trapeze artists flipping in unison, but also a crotch grab from Bieber, right as the crowd sang "I'm in love with the feeling." Nice.
He did drop in a few golden oldies, like the mature R&B cut "Boyfriend" and the dubstep-aping "As Long As You Love Me," but this was all about Purpose. For "Love Yourself," he pulled up a tufted couch and performed solo on his acoustic guitar — complete with Bieber himself singing the lyrics. For new single "Company," he hopped up on a floating stage with his crew to reveal that it doubled as a trampoline. Of course, he couldn't resist, channelling his inner floppy-haired teenager to do some back flips. Unfortunately for him, yet fortunately for the crowd, he "couldn't catch a vibe at all" during his depleted drum solo, and for his EDM banger "Children," he brought out local kids to get in on the fun, a rare, real moment for him on the night.
Despite a bombastic opening, "What Do You Mean?" lacked a spark, so much so he didn't even really bother singing it at all, opting to dance through it instead. He followed with his career-making "Baby," and for the first time, it felt like he was giving everything he had to the Beliebers, and in return they broke noise records and the eardrums of everyone in the place. Alas, there was no Luda verse, but from this point on, a switch was flipped.
For the set-closing "Purpose," Bieber took a seat on the stage and ran through his Purposeful mantra of "I believe that everybody has a purpose." He then proceeded to finally prove that when he wants to, he can sing his ass off. The band proved their chops too, upgrading the minimal piano accompaniment into a scorching power ballad for its coda.
He wisely saved "Sorry" for the encore, picking up his slack by performing the banger under a rain cloud that showered down on him. It was definitely a high note to go out on, and it was heightened by a surrounding pool for his dancers to frolic in.
Justin Bieber had all of the fixings to make his homecoming an event: the stage, the visuals, the choreography, the band and the crowd were all working in full effect. It's just a shame that as his artistic legitimacy grows stronger, his commitment to proving it live seemingly wanes. On this night, a guy who turned heads with his voice wanted to dance rather than sing, so maybe he's still growing, both as an artist and a man.
Pick up the deluxe vinyl edition of Purpose on vinyl here.