There was talk at the concession stands. Angry talk, the kind that’s accompanied with hands on hips and pouty young faces wearing too much mascara.
“Can you believe she did that to him?,” said the first girl.
“I know. But you know what? He’s better off without her. He’s got us.”
They both nodded and kept walking, nearly identical in their handmade T-shirts with their words of love scrawled in puffy paint.
Such was the pre-show entertainment at Justin Bieber’s sold-out show at the TD Garden Saturday night, with nearly 15,300 fans in attendance. Earlier in the day news had spread that Selena Gomez, his girlfriend of two years, had dumped him.
But if heartache was on Bieber’s mind, it never seeped into his performance. For exactly one hour and 40 minutes, he kept to the script: sing a song, swivel the hips, wait for the teen screams, check the hair, repeat.
At 18, Bieber has been a global pop star for three years and now he’s at a crossroads, at least artistically. The knee-high kid who first got noticed through his YouTube videos, some of which were projected during the concert to shrieks so loud you worried your ears would be ringing afterward, is now a young man navigating a more grown-up sound.
He’s starting to chafe at the pressure, too. On “She Don’t Like the Lights,” a swipe at the paparazzi who hound him at every turn, the overhead screens showed Bieber fending off henchmen carrying cameras.
Another video montage mashed up snippets of Bieber’s critics abuzz with burning questions. Is he a flash in the pan? (Probably not.) Is his new album, “Believe,” a transition into adulthood? (Definitely.) The video abruptly stopped and then showed Bieber mouthing the words, “I just wanna be me.”
Right now his vision of himself recalls other pop stars whose growing pains led to commercial and creative breakthroughs. The crotch grabs, sparkly gloves, and smooth footwork were classic Michael Jackson, and Justin Timberlake’s sweet falsetto was on full display. Backed by only a guitarist, Bieber even sang an acoustic rendition of Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” which, if we’re overthinking this, was maybe a shot at his ex.
Descending from on high with a giant pair of wings on his back, Bieber kicked off the show with “All Around the World” and devoted most of the night to his new album. His latest songs (especially “Die in Your Arms” and “Catching Feelings”) suit the silky R&B undertones of his maturing voice.
The encore captured Bieber at this particular moment. “Boyfriend” had a seductive groove with vocals made to sound like he’s whispering them in your ear. “If I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go,” he promised, just before barreling into “Baby,” his first big hit. Except after “Boyfriend,” it came off as child’s play when, really, Bieber wants to be taken as a man.