SANTIAGO, Chile — The screams started early, like around 1 PM, a full eight hours before Justin Bieber took the stage at the Estadio Nacional on Saturday night. Actually, they started well before that, like on Friday morning, when the first throngs of True Beliebers began setting up camp on the street outside, passing the hours chanting, singing (“Baby” was a particular favorite), and, of course, screaming. Always screaming.
If you’ve ever attended a Bieber concert, you know what I’m talking about. His fans, young and overwhelmingly female, seem incapable of containing their excitement, and as such emit a particular high-pitched squeal, one that is near constant (though it tends to flare up every so often, like whenever a car with tinted windows drives by, or when Justin bobs his shoulders just so). But on Saturday night in Chile, things seemed to have been taken to another level — by my estimation and according to several folks in his inner circle — because not only were the screams incredibly loud, and constant, but there was a general level of insanity that bordered on, well, insane.
Make no mistake about it, Chile was ready for some Justin Bieber. His face was shown on national news every hour on the hour, his fans shut down the W Hotel (thanks to a report that he was staying there on Friday night, despite the fact he didn’t arrive in the country until Saturday), and 55,000 packed inside the Estadio to catch his show … with several thousand more listening from the streets. Vendors hawked JB headbands and glossy photos, homemade hats and bootleg T-shirts. There were phalanxes of police, angry-looking German Shepherds, trucks festooned with riot-gear finery, and so many security guards milling about that you might’ve thought Barack Obama was in town. It was a very big thing.
The show itself was almost secondary. After all, Bieber’s been performing the same set for nearly two years now (and, as he told me during our interview, he can’t wait to put this particular setlist to bed permanently,) so, again, if you’ve managed to see him live at any venue anywhere recently, you saw the same performance I did. It all started with a hype-man DJ, who played records while a giant countdown clock ticked away the minutes until he took the stage. When that clock hit zero, JB emerged with his army of dancers, did a few well-rehearsed moves while crooning “Love Me” and “Bigger.” He really didn’t have to sing, of course, since the audience shouted every single word right back at him.
He danced his way through “Bigger,” vamped for the crowd during “You Smile,” and slowed things down for an acoustic set, removing his sunglasses and cracking a cocky grin much to the delight of his fans (the scream level at this point reached jet-engine levels of loudness). He serenaded each and every girl in the crowd during “Somebody To Love” and “One Less Lonely Girl,” paused mid-strut to make a heart gesture with his hands (again, jet-engine loud), and worked a little Michael Jackson into the proceedings. Girls wept, held handmade signs aloft, blew him kisses and squealed with delight. It was, for one night at least, like all of their pre-teen dreams were coming true … Justin Bieber in their country, singing to them, taking his jacket off and winking.
And on some level, that enthusiasm had to be due to the fact that, after nearly two years of working it, Bieber was set to put his My World tour to bed at the end of the week (though, always on message, he was already planning ahead to his next jaunt, asking the Santiago crowd “Who’s gonna come next time?” … you can probably guess how they responded). There was a feeling, both backstage and in the house, that this was the closing of one rather huge chapter of JB’s career, and everyone was privileged to be a part of it.
His encore featured a couple new wrinkles, first his remix of Drake’s “Trust Issues” and then, of course, his brand-new holiday single “Mistletoe.” (MTV is premiering the video Tuesday, which is the reason we were down here.), and though those moments were recent additions to the set, they were greeted with the same squeals as every other number. Like I said, Chile was ready for some Justin Bieber.
And then, he closed things out with — what else? — “Baby,” thanked the crowd and departed into a waiting car, which presumably whisked him away to the airport, and on to the next stop of his South American tour. His Chilean fans didn’t leave quite as quickly, milling about in the parks surrounding the Estadio singing and chanting and hugging one another, and, you guessed it, screaming with delight. Like I said, the show was almost secondary … merely the apex of a very hectic 48 hours. Justin Bieber may have blown into (and out of) the country with the quickness of a summer storm, but in the time he was here, he managed to fulfill teenage dreams and create memories that will last for years to come. He forced the police to put on the riot gear, brought the city to a near standstill and single-handedly created several niche markets, at least for headbands and screen-printed, glittery T-shirts. And in those ways, I suppose his Santiago show wasn’t much different from the hundreds of other shows he’s played over the past 24 months … in every other way, boy was it different. Or at least crazier. And louder.