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Justin Bieber: The prince of the pop machine brings spectacle to Philips

Behold...the Biebs! Photo: Robb D. Cohen/

Behold...the Biebs! Photo: Robb D. Cohen/

It’s amusing – and a little sad – when you consider how Beyoncegate has incited so much finger pointing from the Transparency Police about her choice to sing the national anthem to a pre-recorded track (not lip-sync – there is a difference) at Monday’s presidential inauguration.

Those bothered by this incredibly common practice have branded her with a scarlet F (for fake). Yet we live in an era when that practice by our pop stars isn’t only accepted, but expected.

Justin Bieber is a prime example.

The kid is an engaging performer. A nifty dancer. Even a creamy-voiced crooner when he puts his mind to it.

But was he always singing without the aid of backing tracks at Wednesday’s just-about-sold-out Philips Arena concert?

Heck, no. How could he when a) his songs are so super-produced and layered in the studio that it would be impossible to re-create those vocals live, even with a band and backup singers and b) his priority is to present a spectacle, because that’s what his followers demand and what they pay to see.

Bieber’s fan base actually seems to be getting younger as he matures, and these kids couldn’t care less if he hit every note or sang every lyric. They coax their parents into taking them to a Bieber show because he is their swoopy-haired idol and they want to be awed while in his presence.

Bieber works his Elvis look. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/

Bieber works his Elvis look. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/

In that regard, Bieber’s “Believe” tour, which wraps this weekend but returns in the summer (he’s back at Philips Aug. 10), will have thousands of kids scurrying into homeroom today to share their breathless accounts of how Bieber entered the arena attached to a set of wings and dressed in cherubic white; how the flash pots and dizzying array of lasers electrified paint-by-numbers pop songs “All Around the World” and “Never Say Never”; how he and his cadre of dancers slithered across the beautifully constructed stage, filled with staircases and moving video screens, with Usher-like fluidity; how he turned his hand-held camcorder on his abs, inciting a tsunami of squeals so high-pitched that only dogs (and people over 30) could hear them; and how, through the clever use of home videos of itty-bitty Bieber and his own proclamations, Bieber taught them to never give up on their dreams because he never did and look at him now.

They probably won’t talk as much about his momentary segue into “U Smile,” sung acapella, or – the highlight of the show for at least one person – his sweet-toned acoustic version of “Be Alright” performed only with guitarist Dan Kanter, because there was no sizzle there – just straight, simple music.

Hardly worth swapping YouTube videos about, right?

(He’s releasing an acoustic album on Tuesday, where we’ll get to hear him in unadorned form.)

When Bieber – a sometime Atlantan – wasn’t singing purely, he often sounded nasally and tinny (to be fair, he has apparently been sick recently) and the processed vocals on songs such as “Love Me Like You Do” and “Die In Your Arms,” performed like an old-school Motown revue, were impossible to decode if you didn’t have every word memorized (again, talking to the people over 30).

Openers Cody Simpson and Carly Rae Jepson duet on her hit with Owl City, "Good Time." And yes, she sang "Call Me Maybe." Photo: Robb D. Cohen/

Openers Cody Simpson and Carly Rae Jepson duet on her hit with Owl City, "Good Time." And yes, she sang "Call Me Maybe." Photo: Robb D. Cohen/

But we know that Bieber can sing (his voice coach, Atlanta-based Jan Smith, is one of the best). Yet right now, as an almost-19-year-old pretend boyfriend to millions, the business won’t allow him to merely be a singer. He needs Nicki Minaj rapping on a video screen during “Beauty and a Beat” and a hydraulic lift sending him skyward for the dramatic ending to “As Long as You Love Me”…because that’s what fans want.

In one slickly produced video, Bieber looked plaintively into the camera and mouthed, “I just wanna be me.”

Maybe one day, kiddo. But for right now, you’re gonna be whatever the pop machine demands of you.

(Check out our gallery for more photos from Wednesday’s show.)

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

By Melissa Ruggieri, The Music Scene

25 comments Add your comment

Who Cares?

January 24th, 2013
7:38 am

“Do Justin Bieber fans care if he lip-sync? NO!”

I think you mean “lip-syncs”, right?


January 24th, 2013
7:41 am

Can the ajc at least pretend to care about proper grammar?


January 24th, 2013
7:46 am

For this generation, in music & all things, it’s not about talent or skill, but about presentation & slick. So, no, they don’t care if he lip-syncs or if Nicki Manija (whatever) can sing, and so on. Yep, I’m 49.

Senor Coughee

January 24th, 2013
8:05 am

Seriously? Justin Beiber’s a dude?


January 24th, 2013
8:15 am

Seriously? You compare ‘faking’ the National Anthem at an inauguration to ‘faking’ at a Justin Bieber concert? You really think it is the same thing? I really miss Americans.

Black Sabbath

January 24th, 2013
8:38 am

Auto-tuned hack fit for toddlers. May be performance, but it aint music. And that’s why Bieber and Spongebob blow each other.


January 24th, 2013
8:40 am

Sub-par “talent” for a generation with sub-par goals, sub-par dreams, and sub-par expectations.

January 24th, 2013
8:55 am

I wonder if he will do anything special in Miami to end the tour?

Bob from Accounttems

January 24th, 2013
9:09 am

I’d like Melissa to explain the difference between lip synching and “backing vocals”. To my knowledge, there is no difference and she simply bought into the music industry’s PR nonsense. Does Ashlee Simpson and SNL ring any bells?


January 24th, 2013
9:19 am

First of all you I read the ajc online newspaper occasionally and
To begin, the ajc is using our comments as food for their ratings and juicy topics.
Also, you have to understand that is not and has never been a problem with LIP SYNCING.
Here is the problem, “If you Lip Sync and you can’t sing.” There is the problem right there.
Do you remember the Millie Vanilli issue? Well Millie Vanilli can’t sand they were accused of stealing someone else’s voice. Now that’s the problem.
Also, many ignorant people don’t understand is that when you perform for the president it’s an honor and you must follow the requirements?
You must attend the rehearsal; if you don’t you must submit a prerecorded track of your real voice and song.
If this was true, Beyoncé used her own voice she did not steal anyone else’s voice.
Also, ignorant people don’t understand the severe cold weather in DC, acoustic problems, sound check problems, and music engineering problems.
Personally I don’t believe that Beyoncé lip sync.
I believe that someone started a jealousy rumor and it spread like a wild fire.


January 24th, 2013
9:40 am

I attended the concert last night (for the first time as an OLD person at 40) with my 7 year old child and friends. He’s not really MY kind of music, but I have to admit he put on a great show that was positive and upbeat. A good clean show for his fans (mostly tweens and teens). This article is extremely unfair, and I can’t even imagine the hours spent on perfecting the dance routines, backup vocals, etc. Maybe he didn’t sing the ENTIRE time, but when he did, it was really great for a live performance. Try finding ONE song on the radio not laced with profanity or inappropriate subject matter for kids…almost IMPOSSIBLE. At least the Biebs material was pretty clean and still cool. I’m impressed…hard to say…but it was GREAT!


January 24th, 2013
9:59 am

I have to agree with Dawn…I had dreaded going to the concert personally but my daughter and her friends were SO excited. I had to eat my words after it was over and told them that it was a GREAT concert. He made it a fun experience for all those kids…and it was very entertaining. I am sure he did lip-sync on the majority…but who cares as long as those kids have fun!! Right?


January 24th, 2013
10:09 am

This is so stupid…if Kelly Clarkston was lip-synching, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but because its Beyonce, the world is about to end. Everybody shut the heck up and get a life. If President Obama and his family didn’t mind, then who else should? After all, it was HIS inauguration, not yours, shesh..

Bob from Accounttems

January 24th, 2013
10:17 am

@CeeCee – Kelly Clarkson didn’t have any issues with the cold, sound, whatever. So I get this right – anyone who dares to criticize Bey or suggest she’s anything but the second coming is ignorant? You’re what is called an “apologist”. If you can’t perform, then don’t. There’s too much talent out there searching for a shot that phonies, if they are, should be recognized as such and step aside. Those that can, do. Those that can’t, lip sync.


January 24th, 2013
10:33 am

He is a cute little girl isn’t he.


January 24th, 2013
10:45 am

Does anyone else remember all the “hoorah” about Frank Sinatra when he first started (Bing Crosby & Frank S.?) Time marches on?


January 24th, 2013
12:09 pm

Enter your comments here

Melissa Ruggieri

January 24th, 2013
12:24 pm

Who Cares? – I have no idea which sentence you are referring to…there is not, nor was there ever, a sentence in the story that said, “Do Justin Bieber fans care if he lip-sync?”


Melissa Ruggieri

January 24th, 2013
12:37 pm

Hi Bob – Here is the difference: When an artist sings to a track, he/she is still singing, but is doing so with the aid of pre-recorded vocals also being played (which is likely what Justin was doing sometimes). When an artist lip-syncs, he/she is simply moving his/her lips to mouth the words of the song (hence, “syncing”) and no sound is being emitted.

I don’t know which Beyonce was doing, but if she WAS singing to a pre-recorded track, she was hearing the pre-recorded vocals in her ear, and she probably couldn’t hear where the track was at that point, which might be why she ripped out her earpiece. If she was lip-syncing, she was not singing at all.

Hope that clarifies the difference.

I haven’t bought into any PR hype, as you suggest, but instead am basing my information on the knowledge that comes from writing about, playing and studying music for 20 years.


Kourtney Kardashian

January 24th, 2013
12:39 pm

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ I would rather listen to Kim complain about everything


January 24th, 2013
1:00 pm

This article is exremely unfair. It was a great show and even if at times HE wasn’t literally singing at the exact moment, the person singing was JB, just in a studio. Who cares? I have attended a lot of concerts in the last 10 years with my daughter from Hannah Montana – Carrie Underwood – Taylor Swift – Keith Urban – Kelly Clarkston and the last JB concert – and they all lip-sync occassionally. It’s the show and the performer that is key – we know the music and the voice and can handle listening to it sporadically from the studio version. We all know “live” – think music shows sometimes – is awful. The sound bouncing off the floor to an arena is not always pitch-perfect.
Bottom line: The show was great! Good job JB! See ya in August!

C from Marietta

January 24th, 2013
2:02 pm

Justin Bieber stinks. Style but no Substance. Music industry in this country has been sholving this crap down our throats for years! I would be pissed if I shelled out that kind of money to hear a recording. Beyonce, Nikki M., Justin Beiber, etc… They ALL blow! It is just digitally produced crap.
It really has set in my mind, that Americans are STUPID!

Bob from Accounttems

January 24th, 2013
2:13 pm

@Melissa – thanks for the clarification, however I have seen more than once lip syncing being called “singing to backing tracks” (e.g. Ashlee Simpson). I see that backing tracks can take different forms, all the way up to having the main singer pre-recorded. As a matter of physics, a dancing performer can’t sing very well which is why I could understand JB using them. But if I’m paying $100 to see a performer live, I don’t want to hear his voice pre-recorded. That said, JB at least can sing. Britney, not so much.


January 24th, 2013
5:01 pm

I attended the concert last night with my daughters. I can assure you the crowd was not just little girls, but many older fans as well…from teens and college students to grown adults who came with friends and had no children along at all. Justin Bieber is a first rate performer who will be around for years to come. His show was first class…his many talents are astounding. We saw his show 2 years ago and loved it too. You can really tell how much Justin has matured over the years…he certainly is gorgeous and really knows how to work the crowd. We look forward to seeing him again soon! WE LOVE YOU JUSTIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


January 24th, 2013
6:54 pm

wow cody is what a man looks like. bibs better take note….prob has tho