After years of growing pains and questionable behavior, Canadian wunderkind Justin Bieber has finally put himself back in line for pop's throne. That in mind, the Purpose World Tour is a kind of redemption journey for the 22-year-old, hoisting him into the center spotlight of a massive, constantly moving arena production.
As Bieber rose up from below his stage in a clear glass box on Sunday at Dallas' American Airlines Center, it was obvious that the fans had never given up on him. The screams from that entrance all the way to the last few songs were absolutely deafening. The stage had all the bells and whistles fit for a big-budget spectacle -- platforms large and small that moved up, down and sideways; laser shows and fog machines; backing dancers in the double digits.
Yet one question kept nagging throughout: Where, exactly, was Bieber?
Physically, of course, the pop star was on stage, engaging in breakneck group choreography, pacing on those moving platforms and going through all the rehearsed moves. But when it came to emotion and energy, he didn't seem that into it.
Understandable; a world tour can be grueling, especially for a performer who's not historically recognized for his steadiness. But go watch Timberlake, Beyoncé, Usher, Gaga -- anyone who is living in Bieber's arena pop lane -- and you'd never know what kind of a night they're having inside. They put everything they've got into performance and aren't satisfied until audiences feel that.
Bieber? He reminded me of a sullen teenager at a family gathering, traipsing around with varying levels of enthusiasm and halfway mumbling into the mike whenever he was forced to speak.
Sure, he didn't miss a dance move, but that also forced him to rely too heavily on recorded vocals during fast songs. Often he'd talk over a canned vocal, not even trying to lip-synch.
The only tunes during which visuals didn't trump vocals were a few slow acoustic numbers including "Love Yourself," which found Bieber sitting on a couch and strumming his acoustic guitar.
As evidenced in those softer moments, the guy's musical talent and versatility put him in a class above most. But he's still not grasping the importance of showmanship. He might have connected more during faster songs by occasionally planting himself in one spot and really singing ... or at least making eye contact with those screaming for him. He had more than enough dancers to complete the picture.
Yeah, choreography at a Bieber show is crucial, especially when he's confidently leading a pack during the hit "What Do You Mean?" or "Been You," one of Purpose's infectious album cuts. Like the singing, though, his moves on Sunday alternated from all-in to barely there.
More photos from Bieber's set:
With the dips in energy, it was unfortunate toward the end of the show when Bieber took a seat on part of his stage and asked his followers, "You guys ever feel like sleeping all day?"
He continued. "That's me every day. I wonder if I took a nap on here, how long you guys would stay."
My answer to that hypothetical was likely different from the fans'.
At another point, Bieber sighed heavily and said, "Life is good." Not so convincing, there, buddy.
Strangely, the Biebs' off night didn't seem to affect his AAC crowd, which seemed intent on having a blast. We felt the floor shake a bit during "Baby," the 2010 smash that got everything rolling for the star.
So Bieber is blessed with a fan base that gives him second, third and more chances to shine. Maybe he'll feel their energy and channel it into his own next time he hits a stage. Otherwise, what's the, ahem, purpose of it all?
Photos of Dallas' Post Malone opening the show:
Hunter Hauk on Twitter: @hausofhunter