TAMPA — The Kid With the Magic Hair showed up just before 9 — wearing a hat! Would his cotton-candy-jacked loyalists even recognize him? Of course they would, and just as expected, the tectonic plates beneath Tampa Bay shifted and shook from the welcoming screams, a decibel level on par with a swarm of lorikeets nibbling on your cerebellum.
There's loud, and then there's the awesomely awesome noise made inside a sold-out St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday, when Justin Bieber, the hottest, cutest, scrawniest pop star on the planet, hosted a 95-minute eeeeek!-a-thon for 15,818 tweens, teens and, last but not shiest, grownup gals who'd love to pinch his cheeks and make him eat his Wheaties.
The 16-year-old Canadian is very much a 21st-century phenom. He has lived his entire stretch of celebrity on YouTube, the online video warehouse where his amateur performances were discovered by music-biz mucketies (including R&B crooner Usher) a couple of years back. The kid's fame was instant; in 2010, he was the most-watched artist on YouTube, a social-media seducer that allows fans to feel as if they can lurk and love on JB any time, any hour.
The truth is that we know very little about the Biebz, but therein lies the hook — and they are hooked. With all due respect to the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, fellow teen-pop comets who once burned bright, the hosannas hurled at Bieber were the loudest I've ever heard at the Times Forum.
Seriously, there were poodles in Miami who were hiding under the couch from this particular shrieking session.
There are great cultural forces at hand in the molding of Bieber, but let's be honest: It doesn't hurt that the lil' squirt is put-him-in-your-pocket adorable, a baby-baby-baby-faced kid with a vaguely '70s pixie hairdo and a platinum album (My World 2.0) full of safe, flirtatious, teen-pop hits.
Bieber can sing a bit, too, a Tiger Beat coo that flutters and sighs and breaks seventh-grade hearts in all the right places. It should be noted, however, that he wasn't doing a whole lot of that during the show's first two songs, Love Me and Bigger, which featured slick, gliding dance moves that were borrowed directly from the House of MJ, which would be dutifully repaid later with a weak but loving cover of Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'.
If the Biebz was dancing, that probably meant he wasn't "singing," if you catch my drift. And let's say there was a lot of dancing onstage. In fact, everyone in his 10-piece band was busting a move! At one point, I think I saw his personal chef doing the Electric Slide.
But lest I anger his fans — who showed up in homemade "I Heart JB" shirts and waving glittery posters, a sea of young women who couldn't believe their luck at being in the same room as their beloved — I'll allow that Bieber has skills. He pounded the drums for local fans, then took to a white baby grand, too. And he eventually got around to singing for real.
As the show's highlight, he was strapped into a giant metallic heart and lifted high above the crowd, all the while strumming an acoustic guitar and belting out Never Let You Go and Favorite Girl. The place went bonkers, and in a classic moment, Bieber paused, taking it all in like it was NBD (no big deal, yo).
In building the perfect pop star (at least one who can make a planet full of young and old lose their lungs in salute), it's a bonus that said celeb has ice water in his veins. And give Bieber credit: He loves the stage, loves showing off, a schoolyard hunk ruling the jungle gym for the sake of the ladies.
The show closed with Bieber's biggest hit, Baby, which is a fiendishly catchy pop song for sure. Was he actually singing it? Well, in the end, that wasn't the point now, was it? He was here, like all the pop phenoms before him, to be screamed at. And bless those little lorikeets, they gave him an earful.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.