Last night, Justin Bieber delivered a performance that showed why he is now a Grammy winner. The re-ascended prince of pop kicked off another career moment with a welcome rendition of his worldwide smash “Love Yourself.”
Dressed like a real musician instead of the get-up he was presumably forced to wear during his Believe tour and playing acoustic guitar, the 21-year-old stepped into a solo spotlight on stage and soared vocally in parts on the acoustic kiss-off to an ex (and no, it’s not about Selena Gomez) which he co-wrote with Ed Sheeran.
Up until the last two or three slightly off-notes, the Canadian’s voice was strong and centered. Of course, there’s room for growth. But it’s worth noting that, for the most part, conversations about Bieber these days are about his music. And at the Staples Center for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, he was a compelling figure onstage even if not the most accomplished. Yet.
Stardom is an elusive thing. It’s not enough just to sing. There are many better vocalists than the Selena Gomezs and Becky Gs of the day. But, are those vocal technicians necessarily stars? Probably not. And that’s what Bieber has. He has that something that makes people want to keep looking, keep drinking in his physicality, his presence. It’s why fans and the media narrative are obsessed with him.
Because of that quality, there was a route back for the heartthrob following his Jacob’s Ladder ride through 2013 to the fall of 2014. By that time (as Justin and others have previously said in interviews), the singer was reaching out to pastors and his team to help him turn his life around.
Now he has. Along the way, Bieber collaborated with Jack Ü’s Skrillex and Diplo, and songwriter Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd. Together, they created the addictive brilliance that is the Grammy-winning “Where Are Ü Now.” Those big canyon drops, bittersweet lyrics, and Bieber positioned in an entirely different emotional and sonic setting to his previous material, captured the imagination of the public, fans, and the music press.
Fast forward to nearly 450 million Spotify streams, a Billboard No. 8 peak by the summer of 2015, by the time the Canadian’s critically acclaimed, record-breaking Purpose album was released last November — the once written-off superstar’s return from music exile was complete.
Sure, there was a blip just last month when the Biebs felt the need to partially disrobe among Mayan ruins, but it seems a lack of signage (and youth) was the problem. In short, the world is still turning. The pop icon is back and seems very happy about it.
After his nearly intense “Love Yourself” performance, Justin threw his guitar down on the stage and ran across the stage to join Diplo and Skrillex for a blistering, wall-of-sound version of “Where Are Ü Now.” It was a dynamic, fun performance, and a million miles away from the metallic beauty of the original.
Based on the Grammys crowd’s response, they loved it. Last night, any hurt Bieber may still have had after losing out as the Best New Artist to jazz singer Esperanza Spalding and Best Pop Vocal Album to Lady Gaga in 2011 was likely shredded on that stage amid the sounds of Skrillex doing the same.
It’s been an interesting and tough journey for the boy from Stratford, Ontario. From rocketing to teen idolhood by 2009, a late adolescence crisis during 2013-14, being blackmailed by TMZ, targeted by tabloids, enduring a lack of privacy, and probable past substance issues, Bieber has come full circle to relative balance, success, and more respect than ever before. And, he did it the hard way.
Time will tell if Bieber’s new golden gramophone will be the first of many, as he said he hoped while posing backstage for formal photos with his award.
Later, during a celebratory party at The Nice Guy hot spot in West Hollywood with Usher, manager Scooter Braun, and pals, the trio expressed their joy and pride over Bieber’s admittance to the Grammy club. Does anyone blame them?
From where he was, to where he is now, if this wild-at-heart young man continues to focus on his health, faith, talents, and making music no-one can resist, the Bieber renaissance has no fixed horizon. Just possibilities.
[Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images]