Let's be honest: The music was the least important thing about Justin Bieber's concert at Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park on Thursday. It was all about "OMIGOD IT'S JUSTIN BIEBER IN THE FLESH!"
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After enduring traffic jams that put half of Tel Aviv in gridlock, thousands of teenage girls gathered to scream at the top of their lungs, wave signs around, and beg their moms for a poster or a tee shirt featuring the object of their affection. And the moms? They seemed pretty happy to oblige. They probably went through the same thing with David Cassidy or George Michael - only those teen idols never visited Israel.
Adi, 10 and her sister Shira, 8, were on their way to the "golden circle," the section closest to the stage, and could hardly contain their excitement as they ran towards the front.
"My favorite song is 'Love Me,' because it has the nicest words," Shira said, but only giggled when asked if she understood what the English lyrics to the song, which sample The Cardigans' nineties hit "Love Fool," mean. Her father treated the girls two weeks before Shira's eighth birthday with NIS 500 tickets. He made sure to clarify that his girls are "intelligent, not the kind that scream," despite the fact that they seemed to be pulling his arms out of their sockets en route to the front.
The songs that could be heard over the shrieking were fun, catchy pop confections. Snobs love to roll their eyes at the "Beliebers," but they forget that the Beatles had hysterical female fans, too. Not that Lennon and McCartney would have written "baby, baby, baby ohhhh" - Bieber's biggest hit - but there's no denying that the 17-year-old is talented. He plays guitar, piano and percussion and has the perfect voice for puppy-love songs, with the potential to follow in the footsteps of pop's reigning Justin (Timberlake, of course) and go from teen stardom to a singing force to be reckoned with. That is, if he doesn't crash and burn like many pop idols before him.
Security at the concert was beefed up, presumably to keep the masses from trampling each other in an attempt to get closer to the floppy-haired Canadian singer, and as Bieber flirted with the crowd, it seemed like there would be a stampede of love-struck teens.
Judging from Bieber's Twitter account, though, the security may have
been meant mostly to keep the ravenous press at bay. Once the
17-year-old pop star arrived in the Holy Land on Monday, the paparazzi
were never far behind, leading Bieber to tweet to his nearly nine
million followers: "You would think people would have some respect in
holy places. All I wanted was to walk where Jesus did here in Israel."
On an excursion in Tel Aviv, he ran over a paparazzo's toe with a rented
moped (the moment was documented by fans and can be viewed on YouTube,
of course) before heading to McDonald's and taking pictures with fans.
"Omigod, I want to beat them up," said Alicia, 15, when she and her
friend Elena were asked about the paparazzi. "I really want to hear the
song 'Pray,' but I heard he won't sing it because he couldn't pray where
he wanted to." Alicia heard wrong - Bieber ended with "Pray," a song
that he said takes on special meaning when he sings it in Israel.
Bieber also lamented via Twitter that he was being "pulled into
politics," after a rumor was spread that he canceled a meeting with
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because children from towns near the
Gaza border planned to attend. Press from around the world reported on
the "Bieber-Bibi Summit" that, according to official sources, was never
on the agenda.
Despite facing teen stardom's downside, Bieber showed no signs of
exasperation on stage in Tel Aviv. Presumably after saying the Shema
with his Jewish manager Scooter Braun, like he does before every show,
Bieber walked on stage in his trademark white jeans, white jacket and
purple hoodie to sing "Bigger." When he asked the audience "What's up
Israel?" the shrieks may have caused permanent damage to this reporter's
"I would do anything to make you smile," Bieber said, before performing
"U Smile," and Noam, 12, burst out in tears, yelling "Justiiiiiiin" at
the teen who was so far he could only be seen on a large screen above
the stage. "I love him so much," she responded when asked why she's
crying. Her mother, Cheli, shrugged her shoulders and said "kids are
crazy!" The fact that the man with the million-dollar hair brought a
different girl on stage during "One Less Lonely Girl" and even gave her
roses did not bring the crestfallen Noam any comfort. Nearby, two
teenage boys with matching Bieber haircuts (long, swooping bangs, for
those who are unfamiliar) held hands and kissed.
The pop idol also used his platform for a good cause, showing a video to
discourage texting while driving, even though most of his fans are
years away from getting a license. During his encore, he brought up his
manager Scooter's grandmother, saying she's a Holocaust survivor who
lives in Israel, and serenaded her with "Baby."
Altogether, Bieber gave a good show, engaging the audience and showing
an impressive amount of energy throughout. He played a lengthy drum solo
and strummed his guitar along a few of his ballads. Of course, girls
swooned after every note. In the years since his first single has
released, his voice has changed - an occupational hazard of being a
teenage boy - but his vocal performance has gotten richer.
Bieber's major weak point is his dancing, which leaves much to be
desired. During a spot-on cover of "Wanna Be Starting Something" mashed
with "Walk This Way," it was apparent that choreographers attempted
teach Justin to copy the dance moves of his hero, Michael Jackson, but
the boy wonder's moonwalk came off as a bit wooden. He also should
probably avoid rapping, despite the fact that he's collaborated with
hip-hop luminaries like Ludacris and Kanye West. He comes off more like
Vanilla Ice than Eminem. It's a good thing he can cover up his
shortcomings with enough charm to drive 25,000 tweens to distraction.