Culture

What Do You Mean (When You Say Lip-Syncing Is Not Enough For You)?

Justin Bieber’s lacklustre performance in Mumbai has put off not only his detractors but also his fans. Was it worth it?

Justin Bieber’s May 10 concert in Mumbai. Credit: Twitter

Is the point of a concert to simply see your favourite musician in the flesh or to experience their music performed live? Justin Bieber’s Indian fans and the Biebs himself seem to be landing on different sides of this issue. Which is a pity, since most of them paid big money (up to Rs 75,000, according to some reports) to see him perform in Mumbai a couple of nights ago.

If you’ve spent any time on the internet since then, you already know that the Biebs failed to impress. Partly because his sweat-soaked, empty-walleted audience did not appreciate the spectacle of him wiping his face with a towel…as his studio-recorded voice belted out a song of his. Did they really pay all that money and spend all day in a sweat-soaked mass of people, buying overpriced food and drinks to see the Biebs lip-sync? Turns out yes.

People who don’t like live music can list out a number of reasons for their preference: lip-syncing is usually high on this list, along with the fact that concerts are usually crowded spaces where you get jostled from all sides and if you’re short (like yours truly) then you don’t really get to see the performer live anyway (at least not without an uncomfortable crick in your neck the next morning.)

Those who live for concerts, though, will tell you that there’s a thrill to being in a space with lots of people who are there to enjoy the same music you do, swaying with a crowd, seeing the spectacle of your favourite artists dancing and singing, and also keeping your ears open for improvisations or tweaked versions of the songs that you know and love.

But seeing Biebs in a white tee, sneakers and shorts just kind of low-key existing on stage and walking around didn’t exactly match up to the promised excitement of live music. Trying to copy the steps to ‘Sorry’ in my living room with my friends definitely sounds more fun than being at this concert. Though I’ll admit that snapping and tweeting my living room dance party definitely wouldn’t get me the cool-kid cred that being at the concert would have.

And really, who among us was spared from receiving any snaps, videos, tweets, Instagrams and Facebook posts from the concert? At the time, the concert did look fun – but that’s social media’s dirty secret. Most people weren’t going to get there and say ‘I spent all this money so I could share a mediocre experience with Bieber and 45,000 other people.’

And maybe that’s exactly what performers like Bieber (who looked unenthused for most of his set) count on. The mere excitement of seeing him, having our peers know we could afford to be there and creating ‘on-brand’ memories for our social media accounts.

If that’s the case – whether we admit it to ourselves or not – then it doesn’t really matter if he sings or lip-syncs. At that point, the Biebs is selling himself or his presence, not his music. And it’s easy to argue that that’s just the nature of modern celebrity.

Queen Bey has also lip-synced in the past, but her performances involve amazing visuals and dance routines that are downright thrilling to watch. The same usually applies to Indian celebrities who lip-sync – there’s still a performance to go with it, not just the honour of being in an artist’s presence.

Vijay Nair, who heads OML, hit the nail on the head in a Twitter thread about what makes a performance (and why Bieber’s concert decidedly didn’t qualify)

But people were left unimpressed by Bieber’s lack of effort. His presence didn’t seem to be enough for them. And at that price, why would it? All India Bakchod’s Ashish Shakya captured the mediocrity with characteristic hilarity in a Facebook post titled ‘An Uncle Reports From The Justin Bieber Show’.

Posted by Ashish Shakya on Thursday, 11 May 2017

This is especially true now that being a celebrity involves opening up your private life for constant public consumption. If I just want to look at Bieber, I’ll open up his Instagram or twitter or just Google his name to see what he’s been up to. All from my comfy couch in an air-conditioned room and with a better view than I could ever hope to get at an actual concert.

So is being in Bieber’s physical presence worth the price tag? Bieber certainly seems to think so.