Portrait

Among Justin’s Beliebers

Justin Bieber (right) performs in Mumbai
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As his Mumbai concert proved, there is no permanent cure for Bieber fever

STUDYING THE JUSTIN Bieber fan craze that began to sweep the globe some years ago, some researchers from the University of Ottawa once came up with a mathematical model that showed the obsession over Bieber, or the more appropriate clinical term being Bieber fever, was like a contagious disease. Like other diseases, you could recover from the Bieber fever too—the prescribed antidote being a cocktail of remedies that result from eventual boredom and negative media coverage, but, the researchers claimed, your body never really builds any antibodies despite having once been exposed to its pathogen. You can get struck all over again.

And so it was. The Bieber fever spread rapidly all of last week in Mumbai, emptying the city of all its pre-teen demography. The lingering after-effects of the fever, parents fear, will continue in the days to come. The fever drove several adolescents into a paroxysm of exhilaration. They shrieked at the sight of him, crumbled into a pool of tears, and worried parents had to accompany them to the concert. The audience shelled out money from upwards of Rs 5,000 to around Rs 77,000, some of which, thankfully, came with the option of paying off in monthly instalments. The fever made people travel all the way from the posh neighbourhoods of south Mumbai, Bandra and Juhu, in private choppers, party buses (where stand-up comics and karaoke shows kept them preoccupied), and even (gasp) local trains, to discover that an entirely new neighbourhood of Navi Mumbai exists. At the venue, one newspaper kept a count and it reported at least 50 people fainting.

Before Bieber came his list of demands, which the PR team gladly leaked—10 luxury sedans, a Rolls Royce, a dressing room draped with white curtains, a ping-pong table, a backstage jacuzzi, a private jet and chopper, among other things. Bollywood celebrities quarrelled amongst each other over who was fit to perform the opening act. Singer Kailash Kher worried aloud that the visitors would think Sonakshi Sinha, who was initially supposed to sing at the concert, was a big singer in India. Sinha put up a spirited defence calling herself a multi-tasker.

The fever reached a crescendo just before Bieber's arrival. Several adolescents had been spending sleepless nights outside the airport. When he finally landed, in a pink hoodie in the middle of the night, with large burly men carrying his skateboards (nobody seemed to have told Bieber about the unlikelihood of deploying them here), some shrieking fans gave him chase, speeding beyond permissible limits and breaking traffic signals. When Bieber’s driver asked what they were trying to achieve, according to one report, one girl shouted back, “Ask Justin.”

For all this hoopla, Bieber appeared unamused. He has several things on his mind. He is in the middle of a multi-continental tour-journey that will earn him millions of dollars, trying to find his 'purpose', also the name of the tour and his last album. He is transforming from pop cherub to heartthrob. His child voice has long cracked. And his misdemeanours are many—from urinating in a restaurant kitchen bucket to abandoning a pet monkey in Germany. And according to people who decode the meanings of his songs, the latest album, Purpose, with songs like Sorry, What Do You Mean and Where Are You Now, and this tour is his public apology.

After Bieber reached his hotel, he apparently expressed an unlisted desire to party or play snooker, but had to settle instead for a city tour at 3 am. The next morning, he followed the time-honoured tradition of visiting celebrities by spending time at a slum. And then, perhaps moved by this encounter, wearing just gym shorts and a T-shirt, he ditched his private chopper to travel to the concert by road.