When Justin Bieber released his fourth album, “Purpose,” last fall, the rhetoric was two-pronged: He was grown up, having ditched his teen-idol cuteness for serious posturing and club-ready beats, and he was sorry — for a number of transgressions, some personal, some professional, all documented fully by media outlets seemingly engaged in a love-hate relationship with his existence.
Tuesday night’s stop on the “Purpose” tour dealt, both overtly and through imagery, with the trials of fame: a well-worn topic, but one the now 22-year-old idol has cause to take on. One interstitial clip showed a black-clad Bieber being groped by veiled women; detailed Instagram documentation by amateur paparazzi of his barefoot walk around Boston Common on Monday provided a handy (if slightly unnerving) real-life analog.
The lighter side of Bieber’s fame, however, provided much of the momentum in a showcase for “Purpose” that briefly nodded to his past. Purists might tut that Bieber sometimes let prerecorded vocals take over while he stalked the stage or high-fived fans – but then, he wasn’t there to put on a master class in singing. Tracks like the gossamer “What Do You Mean?” showcase his voice’s wounded sweetness, and any nuances added when he did take over the mike were drowned by the crowd’s lusty screams.
The audience was more than ready to bask in his glow, to snap selfies while he ran through an update of his winsome pop breakthrough “Baby,” to marvel at his trampoline antics during the crushed-out “Company,” to cry out adoringly as he recalled those days when he just couldn’t get out of bed. When he broke out the title track of “Purpose” – which crests from acoustic rumination into full-on power balladry before the listener can determine whether Bieber is singing about fans or a more divine entity – it felt almost like church.
Sour at times, he seemed most at ease during a brief set for which he was armed with a guitar: a throwback to the days when he was just a kid from the Toronto suburbs, posting covers to YouTube. Perched on a crushed-velvet couch, he plucked out the opening chords of Justin Timberlake’s vindictive “Cry Me a River” to the audience’s delight. The similarly spiteful “Love Yourself,” which spent two weeks atop the Hot 100 this winter, rounded out the mini-set, its cutting lyrics landing a bit more harshly than had the Timberlake track.
Still, the night motored along, Bieber evidently in decent spirits and giving copious thanks to those attending in good faith. “Sorry,” the airy chart-topper that helped set the redemptive tone for “Purpose,” closed the show. As video screens drove home the song’s title and central message, Bieber re-emerged, shirtless, only to be drenched by rain.
Sure, the imagery was a bit too on the nose – he’ll wash those misdeeds right out of the bandana atop his head! But it fit: not just with the song’s washed-out vibe, but also with the slippery path laid out for Bieber, as for the other post-teen-idols that came before him.
With Post Malone and Moxie Raia. At TD Garden, May 10 (repeats May 11)
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.