Justin Bieber’s scorched earth leg through Europe continues to leave a trail of wagging fingers and dropped jaws. Hot on the heels of footage of his — gasp — illegal tattooing session in New York comes a new sighting of the shirtless one.
This time, the scene of the ab-crime was Frankfurt. Yesterday, the 19-year-old was seen striding semi-nude from the German city’s Festhalle venue to his tour bus in temperatures that hovered around -3 Celsius.
Reportedly, waiting paparazzi inquired about Mally — Bieber’s recently gifted capuchin monkey — that was quarantined by Munich customs officials after he failed to produce necessary travel documents for the animal at Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss airport last Thursday.
But these latest items are not my real aim here: Namely, placing the embattled pop star’s Believe world tour in some much needed perspective.
Notwithstanding the battery allegations against Bieber in which it’s alleged that he spat at and threatened to kill his Calabasas, California neighbor during a row about the singer’s allegedly reckless driving, the time has surely come for this question to be asked:
Just how wild is this version 2.0 rolling stone in the grand scheme of things?
Would Freddie Mercury’s ghost now feel obliged to pass Bieber the baton, or is the 19-year-old simply the latest obsessive focus of ageist kvetching from the sidelines?
It began September 29, 2012.
Bieber’s Believe tour kicked off in Glendale, Arizona. The Jobing Arena crowd — tweens, teens, and bemused parents — all 19,000 of them screaming as the star descended Icarus style to the stage. Then, just 18, the pop princer performed hard for about the first quarter of the show before disaster struck.
Vomiting mid-way through a song, the Canadian ran off the stage. Returning a while after with an embarrassed apology, he finished out the show, ducking off stage once more before the close.
One might think this unfortunate episode in itself was proof of the singer’s rock n’ roll credentials, despite Gene Simmons’ contemptuous dismissal (he included Lady Gaga) when he remarked: “I puke blood. They’re just ripping me off.”
Noting that Bieber later revealed he was ill because of pre-show milk, perhaps Simmons has a point.
Fast forward, then, past the teen star’s nearly serious fall on the stage during a duet with his first signed artist Carly Rae Jepsen in Saskatchewan, Canada on October 16. Skip, too, past the January 4, 2013, pictures of Bieber smoking pot with his best friend rapper Lil Twist at Newport Beach Hotel in California.
Tellingly, even that evidence of moderately rock star behavior was negated by the singer’s ‘in character’ apology on Saturday Night Live on February 9.
Pushing on to February 23, following a concert at Manchester’s (England) MEN Arena, Bieber was refused entry to the city’s coolest hot spot Sankeys. On what grounds, you ask? Raucous behavior, underage shenanigans? Er, no. It was all down to shuffling.
Sankey’s management took exception to Bieber’s dancing and tweeted: “Yes the rumors are true, we turned Justin Bieber away. He shuffles on stage and we can’t be having that in Sankeys now can we!”
Undefeated, Bieber marched on to Liverpool. Greeted by Beatlesesque mania and performing shirtless at some point at nearly all his UK concerts, the star’s immortalizing moments were still to come.
London. Hassles with security on his 19th birthday weekend of March 1-2 kick-started a storm of misinformed media reports that the teen idol had attempted to strong-arm his underage friends into a nightclub. Later revealed that Jaden Smith wasn’t present, it was chaos inside and Bieber simply didn’t like the lay of the land.
Rolling on to March 4. Opening night at London’s 02 Arena and a stage delay that is disputed as 49 minutes (according to Bieber, the BBC and 02 organizers) and two hours (according to everyone else), sealed the current media mauling. Morphed into a “diva” by ubiquitous narrative and blamed in some quarters on the singer’s (unsubstantiated) willful playing of video games — Brit parental fury was but a precursor for the rage ahead.
To wit: a fainting spell, hospitalization, much social media venting, continued shirtlessness and gas mask walkabouts preceded Bieber’s near perfect ending to his UK triumph.
Running a gauntlet of paparazzi outside a Park Lane hotel, Bieber appeared to shove one paparazzo as he darted behind security to a waiting cruiser. Cue heckling by said pap and an astonishingly ripe response from the heartthrob.
But, just how Fight Club is it when muscly security are there to hold you back, and, inevitably, take the bullet if your bluff is called?
Lisbon — with an en route stop at an Amsterdam coffee shop — generated yet more negative headlines with a canceled concert, but it was the sight of Bieber looking dazed and distinctly shirtless at Lodz airport in Poland that triggered yet another round of “meltdown” headlines.
Paris threatened a scandal after it was falsely reported that Bieber and his tour personnel had been kicked out of Le Meurice hotel due to the singer’s “attitude” and encouragement of fans’ frenzy outside. But that turned out to be smoke and mirrors when it emerged the hotel had actually wanted him to stay.
A quick return to the US on March 26 led to battery allegations and a brief trip to Selena Gomez’s house in the wake of her “cry” stinger on Letterman. Bieber’s Euro odyssey resumed a day later.
The Germans — naturally — stopped Bieber avec Mally in his tracks on March 28, and have since issued him with a four week ‘come get your monkey or else‘ edict. Animal activists also joined the singer’s growing cast of critics, branding him “cruel,” “monstrous,” and “out of control.”
Next, a strange story out of Vienna on March 31 via Austrian Times that Bieber had been banned from trendy nightspot Passage over his bodyguards’ alleged “groping” of female patrons and the destruction of clubbers’ cells and cameras. Perez Hilton (so do with that what you will) has since reported that Bieber and his security were nowhere near the club.
So, where exactly are we on the tour wild-o-meter scale?
With one alleged exception, most if not all Bieber’s tour troubles can be safely filed as youthful escapades.
Stacked against the visionary strangeness of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Fleetwood Mac’s cocaine excesses during the 1976-1977 Rumours sessions, Gun N’ Roses title of “the most dangerous band in the world,” Oasis’ admissions of tour crazy, Green Day, Steven Tyler’s “I snorted half of Peru,” and the Rolling Stones’ orgy addled past — Bieber’s Believe tour doesn’t even compare.
Have we as as a society bitten so deep into the MTV-ization of popular music that we can’t allow our budding artists and possible musical titans of tomorrow the freedom to trip the wild fantastic on, of all things, a tour? Most of the above artists created some of their most inspiring music in their most conflicted periods because of their individualism, passion, and the context of their art.
Justin Bieber is growing and growing up. His tour has delighted thousands of teens and even compelled five Norwegian schools to rejig exam dates. Perhaps, someday this teen phenom will outgrow the corporate packaging of his appeal and build on the gleaming promise of his Believe Acoustic album. But he won’t, no artist can, unless they test their limits — and maybe ours.
Youth will be youth and we should let it.