Think of the loudest, most ear-blistering jackhammer, jetliner, or fire alarm you’ve ever heard. Now imagine you’re standing in an on-fire, under-construction airplane hangar. That’ll at least get you somewhere in the ballpark of how loud 10,000 tweens and teens can sound when they see Justin Bieber pop his head onstage.
The impossibly popular “Baby” superstar shimmied, shook, and swagged his way through seven songs at last night’s Jingle Ball at the Patriot Center, Hot 99.5’s holiday concert with a lineup plucked straight from your 12-year-old’s dreams. He joined the delightfully trashy Ke$ha, a rejuvenated Enrique Iglesias (thank the lord he played “Hero”), a couple of recent British exports (Cher Lloyd, Ed Sheeran), a 16-year-old, personality-less Bieber-clone from San Antonio named Austin Mahone (“I grew up listening to Bieber,” he said backstage), and rap’s least intimidating emcee (Flo Rida). Oh, yeah, and Psy, the South Korean pop star responsible for the most popular YouTube video of all time, who dropped in to perform some deep cuts (just kidding—he played “Gangnam Style”).
Biebs’s energy was upstaged by Ke$ha, whose couple of F-bombs, handjob references, and zombie slave backup dancers proved once and for all she really just doesn’t give a [insert expletive] (there were plenty of priceless shocked looks on nearby parents’ faces); and his showmanship was outdone by the veteran Enrique, who may have performed the only song not written in the past two years. Of course, none of that mattered. Though all the performers got crazed receptions for the duration of the almost-four-hour show, Bieber was the star the crowds were there to see.
Watching the Beliebers and the Biebs himself last night, it was hard not to think about the Simpsons episode when, with the help of N’Sync (and a little fan brainwashing), Bart and his friends turn into the hottest new boy band on the block. Biebs’s cartoonish slinking all over the stage, his ridiculous all-black getup, his poor attempts at stage banter (“I’ve been all around the world, now I’m taking you with me”; “What’s up, DC” no fewer than four times in the first two songs) all seemed like a caricature of what Matt Groening or the Trey Parker/Matt Stone crew would dream up for him. But it was happening. In real life.
Backstage, media handlers told assembled press that Bieber arrives when he wants and does what he wants. As a guy who probably lives the least normal life on the planet, it makes sense for him to be wary of the media. It’s difficult to describe how the 18-year-old walked down the red carpet: backward, mostly, and with an odd semblance of both caring more than anything and not caring at all. But for the screaming fans, his presence alone was more than enough.
Some random observations:
• Ed Sheeran, a singer-songwriter from England whose hit song, “The A-Team” (which you may have thought was sung by Gavin DeGraw and/or a clone of Gavin DeGraw) has been all over radio for a while now, is pretty cool. His favorite thing to do in DC is “head to the 9:30 Club for one of those massive cupcakes.” Respect, kid.
• PSY, fresh off that whole “kill Americans” controversy, didn’t take questions backstage. He did say performing for President Obama on Sunday was “an honor.” The crowd didn’t seem to care, and everyone Gangnam Styled the hell out of that song. It’s tempting to wonder how much he got paid to fly in for a five-minute performance.
• One of Ke$ha’s skull-face-painted dancers was chilling in the front row for “Gangnam Style” but didn’t do the dance.
• The screams were already in full effect outside the center two hours before the show started, when nothing was happening; a dozen people who couldn’t get tickets to the show were already standing near Bieber’s trailer before the concert was over, presumably waiting to catch a glimpse.
• Shout-out to the teenager in the front row wearing the “Bieber, Bitch” T-shirt.
• There’s no nice way to say this: Ke$ha is out to corrupt your children, and there’s nothing you can do about it.