Who’s a Belieber these days anyway? Early on in Bieber’s career, the face of a Belieber was your typical teenybopper, complete with an issue of Tiger Beat tucked in her backpack and a serious thing for goofy haircuts. However, I am not that, and I’ve been vibing to JB’s Purpose all week. Does that make me a Belieber, or just an average millennial who loves a good body roll and a Diplo beat? To find out, I went to see the Canadian superstar at his short but punchy set at Rockefeller Center for the Today show early this morning. Surely, some of the people who camped out all night to see him on a crisp November morning would help me out in defining what a Belieber is in 2015. Unsurprisingly, Bieber’s fans — like his music — have evolved quite a bit in the past couple of years. His core fans have grown up. Preteen girls are in the minority, by far. Along the way, new types of fans have started popping up. Here are some of them.
First there are the closeted Beliebers. “I got converted because my friend is a closeted Belieber,” says a 25-year-old who didn’t want to give her name because she’s obviously still a closeted Belieber herself. “She would probably never go to something like this and be outed, even though she loves Justin Bieber, but secretly she wants to be here. But like, if you look around, we’re entirely too old to be here.” (I know, right?)
Unless, of course, you’re a chaperone. I ask a 60-something-year-old woman standing alone if she’s a Belieber. “No, I brought my granddaughter and her friend,” she says curtly, adding that she appreciates that he’s “better behaved now than he was. He had to change, or he wasn’t going to have the following that he needed.”
The 16-year-old granddaughter, Megan, agrees: “He’s absolutely changing as an artist in a good way. I think he changed in a bad way at one point and then realized that he had all of this [points to the crowd]. He says in his songs all the time that we’re the ones who brought him back, like on ‘Life Is Worth Living.’”
A guy in a Barbour jacket over a suit walks by on his way to work. “Who’s playing?” he asks before rolling his eyes and walking away as soon as the words Justin Bieber come out of the security guard’s mouth.
Didn’t bother Chanel and Regina, both 18, both Bei-lifers. I sidle up to them to see if their faith might rub off on me. “I started during Believe, before Journals,” says Chanel, who looks visibly disturbed by my age and how tired I look before 9 a.m. “He’s definitely changing and getting older, but I’m getting older too,” Regina adds. “I’ve noticed a lot of his new music is appealing to a broader group of people. I feel like he’s maturing and saying I’m sorry for as much as he has done.”
But do you forgive him? “Of course. We all make mistakes,” they say in unison. True Beliebers, it turns out, were never really mad at him for getting arrested, or the whole monkey debacle, or peeing into a bucket at a restaurant and dissing Clinton that one time, or any of the many other things that made America take delight when Comedy Central roasted him. “I can’t say that I was mad at him, but I can say that I was kind of disappointed in certain things that he was doing — certain things that could have been avoided. But he’s trying. I can see that he’s actually trying to do better and staying out of trouble.”
Bieber welcomes Big Sean to the stage, who tries to get the crowd to wave their hands back and forth during his verse on “No Pressure.” Very few seem interested in taking his lead. I spot a group of 20-year-old college students who look bored and smell like last night’s bender. Beliebers or interlopers?
“I like Justin Bieber,” says one of the girls. “I wasn’t a huge fan at the start, but I like his new stuff and I figured, I’m not going to pay to go to his concert in the future, so why not go to a free concert?”
The biggest surprise in the audience was all the bros. If at one point they were afraid to be seen at a Justin Bieber concert, that’s not the case anymore. “His target audience used to be like 7-year-old girls, and now it’s the general population, like 20-year-olds,” says one of the dudes among the potentially hung-over college students. “His last four songs have been great. Before I think he was sort of homophobic and people were scared of him. The songs he’s been coming out with recently aren’t just targeted toward women.”
“I’m not that big of a fan,” says a 23-year-old Englishman, “but all of my male friends in London are obsessed with the album. It was embarrassing at one point to be a fan, obviously, because grown men don’t want to go to a concert with 13-year-old girls standing next to them, but now it’s anyone. When you have good music, anyone will be interested.”
Bieber invites Halsey to the stage for “The Feeling,” and I spot one of the most interesting fans yet: a 20-something Orthodox Jewish guy wearing a hat and tzitzit. He says he’s only been a fan for about a year, and “discovered” Bieber online, though he wasn’t super aware of the Biebs’s misbehaving since he doesn’t use social media (smart guy). “It’s my first time seeing him live, so I’m a little nervous, but I just thought, why not? I can be a fan just like anybody else is a fan.”