Justin Bieber arrived for his first British tour date last night – not as one might expect, like Jesus on a donkey, but in what appeared to be a large, plastic hamster ball. "It's great to be in Birming-ham," he said, enunciating the last syllable like a butcher. "I love my British fans. There's nothing more I like doing than making you smile."
As well as emulating Michael Jackson's odd catchphrases, Bieber does a good job of reprising the late King of Pop. Like Jacko in his 1992 Dangerous world tour, the 17-year-old appears on stage in sunglasses and a kind of space suit. Two minutes before Bieber comes on, "Smooth Criminal" is piped out to the audience, already whipped up into ear-splitting fervor by a 15-minute countdown on large screens.
Like Justin Timberlake, Bieber emulates Jackson's falsetto, with, first up, "Love Me", his auto-tuned version of The Cardigans' "Love Fool". Just to give you an idea of what you're dealing with: the dancers, who are wearing New York Yankees baseball caps, do those dance moves where they appear to fight each other but everyone can see they are about 20 metres apart. It's like teenage WWF wrestling. Other tracks include "Bigger" and "U Smile", most taken from Bieber's 2009 album. The stage is huge, resembling an oil rig staffed by wealthy young pop stars.
His fans, the true Beliebers, had come in their thousands – glassy-eyed, fish-netted and queuing around the block from 6pm to pay £15 for a programme with barely any text. Some wore bunny ears.
The warm-up act was Willow Smith, who has the self-esteem concomitant with being the 10-year-old daughter of two of Hollywood's most bankable stars (Will Smith and Jada Pinkett). She performs songs like "Whip My Hair" and "21st-Century Girl", is only 10 and wears what appear to be jodphurs with Adidas twin stripes.
The Bieber story is now well told. As a 13-year-old, he busked on the streets of Canada. Later, he became one of the world's first YouTube music sensations. He is now the most Googled man on Earth. Earlier yesterday, it was announced that a lock of his recently-shorn hair had raised £25,000 on eBay. It was sold by US chat-show hostess Ellen Degeneres, who donated the cash to charity. Sadly, that barnet was out of reach of the clawing masses yesterday. One handful of Bieber's blow-dried hairdo could have financed most of those assembled through college.
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