Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bieber looks to King of Pop for inspiration

Tries to push his career beyond the teen heartthrob phase

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By any financial calculation, Justin Bieber never has to toil a day in his life again. But instead of coasting, he’s hammering it harder than ever.

"It's the Canadian hockey player in him," says his manager, Scooter Braun. "The kid is super-competitive. If he even smells that things are slowing down, he becomes a workaholic."

Bieber was well aware of the stakes as he was grinding through 10-hour daily rehearsals in Los Angeles for his sold-out Believe tour, which hits the MTS Centre tonight.

Now 18, the YouTube-made teen sensation has grown into a young adult eager to show his musical chops to older fans and prove his staying power as a pop fixture.

Phase 1 of that mission was releasing Believe last June, a more mature collection of tunes featuring Nicki Minaj and Drake. Phase 2 is his just-released second book, Just Getting Started (HarperCollins, $21.99), which addresses fame and personal matters such as the paternity suit filed and dropped in 2011.

And Phase 3 is a 70-plus-date North America arena tour that wraps up in January, then hits Europe in February. Bieber's guiding force? No less a luminary than the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

"I've been watching (videos) of his concert tours over and over. He's my inspiration," Bieber told USA Today. "When my team gets together, we're always asking, 'What would Michael do?'"

In fact, one of Bieber's favourite segments in the new 90-minute show is a medley of his pre-Believe hits, partly inspired by the Jackson 5 medley seen in the late pop star's rehearsal documentary, This Is It. And much like Jackson had to make the leap from Ben to Don't Stop Til You Get Enough, Bieber knows he must now transcend Baby.

"I don't want to be just another teen heartthrob. I know some people are waiting for me to fail, thinking, 'Oh, his time's up.' Well, I like being the underdog, and this tour is my chance to take things to the next level," he says. "I've never put in more hours preparing, because I want (the tour) to be perfect. I want it to be an event."

Adds Braun: "When I was younger, (Justin) Timberlake and Usher and (Britney) Spears were the shows you had to see. Justin wants to be that guy for his generation. He wants to be one of the greatest entertainers ever."

That lofty goal prompted Bieber and company to enlist the services of Jon M. Chu, the filmmaker behind Bieber's successful bio-doc Never Say Never, the Step Up franchise and the forthcoming G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Although Chu has never directed a stage show, the Believe tour promises to be a Hollywood-worthy extravaganza that ups the ante considerably from both Bieber's last tour (which featured just a few dancers and relied on Bieber's squeal appeal) and last spring's global promotional tour for his Believe album (which went heavy on stripped-down acoustic numbers).

By contrast, the Believe tour triples the number of dancers to more than a dozen, boasts feature-film-quality video segments shot by veterans of Chu's hits, and features a triple-level stage with wind machines, cranes and runways that has Braun joking "the only thing I'm worried about on this tour is Justin's cardio."

Other spectacle aces are also lending a hand, including lighting technician Chris Kuroda, known for his innovative work with jam band Phish, and magician David Blaine, who is contributing a few illusions. And just to make sure no one gets bored waiting for the Biebs, Believe's scheduled warmup acts are hits-list regulars Carly Rae Jepsen and Cody Simpson, with British boy band the Wanted joining on overseas dates.

"The show starts before the show even starts," says Chu. "We had a cinematic score composed for when people take their seats, and there are other (pre-show) elements I can't talk about. When people walk in, we want them to feel like they're about to take a ride at Disneyland. They will let go of their everyday cares."

Chu says he and Bieber initially discussed going with an adult vibe for the show, "something serious, edgy and dark, but we quickly decided that sounded boring. It had to be fun, a journey. We're taking Justin's songs, and making them visual."

By all accounts, the tour could prove an inflection point in Bieber's improbable career, one that saw him vault from busking on the streets of Stratford, Ont., to touring arenas.

"Business is over the top for Bieber, which means he can spend money on making this tour his best ever," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, which tracks the concert business.

"Justin's in that Miley Cyrus moment, back when she was just white-hot. But he's got his work cut out for him," he says. "The eight-year-old girl in the crowd is just happy to see (Bieber) onstage, but older concert-goers are more jaded and know what a good show looks like. So he'll have to deliver."

Bieber's desire to be "the new Michael, or at least the heir to Usher, isn't unrealistic, but he needs to capitalize on this now, because fame can be fleeting," says Ian Drew, senior music editor at Us Weekly. "The key is to build a bridge between the pop sensation and the musician he is. We saw he had talent in Never Say Never, so that needs to come through."

AEG Live president and CEO Randy Phillips is bullish on his company's association with Bieber.

"I've learned never to bet against Justin," says Phillips. "He's doing a great job growing up, of transitioning from a pop idol to a mature young adult. The new album set that tone, and this tour is a ratification of that growth. In a world of created stars and creative stars, Justin is the latter."

Leaving nothing to chance, Bieber has been spending hours working on dance moves, guitar picking and his aerobic fitness to ensure that this tour generates a new, older crew of Beliebers.

"I love it when I hear, 'I didn't used to like JB,' because that means I'm getting through to new people," says Bieber. He adds that it didn't bother him to win nothing at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, noting that it just got his competitive juices flowing.

"Our group's whole attitude is, if we lose, we have to work harder," he says. "So I'm with a personal trainer every day. I'm rehearsing every day. I want people to see this tour and go, 'Wow, that was something I didn't expect.'"

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2012 E8


Updated on Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 1:07 PM CDT: Adds plans for upcoming coverage.

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