Pop

Justin Bieber’s Vegas Weekender Festival Showcased A Pop Star’s Reinvention

Justin Bieber has been riding high lately. Coming off the release of two back-to-back albums, last year’s Changes and this year’s Justice, released just a few months apart, the former child star is establishing himself as a pop force in a grown-up context. Though they’re drowning in new music, if there’s one thing Bieber fans want right now, it’s more live performances. Since the cancellation of his Purpose tour four years ago — due to mental health concerns — Justin has changed his lifestyle a lot, and he’s mostly stayed off stage in the process. But even without most of the live performances behind that album, Purpose marked a shift for Bieber’s sound, from collaborations with Jack Ü, Travis Scott, and Halsey, to a positive reevaluation from critics. This was no longer the troubled teen from the post-Believe years; off the strength of this album, Justin had a chance to transcend his past and become a real pop icon.

Things were dramatically shifting in his personal life, too. After he began dating Hailey Baldwin, and eventually got married, it seemed like Justin’s overall perspective on life improved drastically. As seen in the new Michael Ratner-directed documentary, Justin Bieber: Our World, the couple are very close, take walks together every morning, and seem to mutually understand the pressures they both face as celebrities who grew up in the public eye.

The bulk of Justin’s last two albums contain songs that are dedicated to, inspired by, or celebrate all that is Hailey, and even if not all of them hit, the ones that do have joined the upper echelon of his catalog. Though Changes and Justice weren’t widely celebrated as capital A albums, each yielded a handful of songs that quickly became fan favorites. So, now with three “adult” albums in his discography, a Bieber setlist in 2021 is stacked — arguably much more so than on the long-lost Purpose tour — and that’s exactly what motivated fans to come out and see him in droves this past weekend.

Danny Mahoney

The Justin Bieber & Friends Weekender might’ve once been stereotyped as an event for young girls and hysterical, hormonal teens. Instead, last weekend’s shows were packed with young people, yes, but also adults, both men and women, eager to see one of the best pop stars of the moment. Friends texted me regret or jealousy that they couldn’t be at the show, and even other passerby’s in Vegas inquired about entry into the show — but no dice, it was long sold-out.

The Justin Bieber Weekender event was presented by Pollen, a destination-based music event company that offers travel arrangements and group payments as part of their service, effectively positioning themselves as a tech company. An artist like Justin Bieber is a no-brainer for these kinds of mini-festivals, which don’t require the commitment of a residency but still offer the air of exclusivity that a full-blown music festival provides. And, because of his recent lack of tour dates, it’s a subtle flex for both super fans and casual fans to catch him performing live.

With Bieber as the anchor, last Thursday night kicked off with an exclusive screening of the above-mentioned new doc, Justin Bieber: Our World, where a surprise IRL appearance from some of the show’s dancers and news about a potential baby Bieber had the crowd roaring with approval. Kehlani also performed a club set late that night (as in, 3 AM), and one of Justin’s most notable collaborators of late, The Kid Laroi — who is one half of his No. 1 hit single “Stay” — held down a raucous day party on Friday afternoon.

Other DJs and frequent Vegas fixtures like Dillon Francis, Marshmello, and Carnage filled out late-night slots throughout the weekend, including Marshmello taking the late shift on Saturday night after Bieber himself performed around 1 AM. But with all the performers curated by Bieber, and other special events like a full-on skate park at the off-strip entertainment haven, Area15, the weekend was more than just fans waiting around for Justin to hit the stage.

Like any successful event, music wasn’t the only thing on the schedule during the weekend. Up and comer/Bieber protege Eddie Benjamin performed while the skaters did their thing, and even if skating wasn’t appealing, the immersive experiences inside Area15 offered plenty to do in the meantime. Or, fans could use the time for snacks, digging into Korean chicken wings, corn dogs, double-stack burgers, or barbecue at The Beast restaurant by Todd English inside of Area15.

For those staying on-site at Encore by Wynn, a brand new coastal Mexican restaurant, Casa Playa, offered a more elevated dining experience. With good margaritas spiked with ancho reyes verde and cucumber, a whole of slew appetizers like queso fundido, black truffle tostadas, and blue shrimp ceviche, the only thing that topped the starters were massive mains. A shareable platter of carne asada, lobster, chorizo, and short rib was the perfect pre-concert food, and even The Chainsmokers, who’d performed at the hotel earlier in the day, sat down for dinner in a nearby private room.

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Though Our World emphasizes how much time and effort went into Bieber’s 2020 NYE show, for most fans, a virtual show just doesn’t have the same appeal as an in-person event. And as one of a handful of shows Bieber has performed in 2021, Saturday night’s set was a glimpse at what an upcoming tour from the pop star will hold: All three Jack Ü hits from his Purpose era — “Where Are Ü Now,” “What Do You Mean,” and “Sorry” remain his current all-time bangers — the still-climbing remix of WizKid’s “Essence” featuring breakout star Tems, a couple song from his Journals era (“Confident” featuring and “All That Matters”), and a mix of the best cuts from his last two albums. Nothing at all from his pre-Purpose output is included in the present setlist aside from the two Journals songs, which is probably a wise move despite how much “Baby” would honestly go off if he ever wanted to throw it back in.

Strangely, he also opted not to perform “Stay” at all, suggesting The Kid Laroi didn’t have time to stick around for a guest appearance during Bieber’s set. He also opted not to include the feel-good wedding anthem “Holy,” or the Ariana Grande-featuring “Stuck With You,” and their lack felt like an oversight. But given a longer set time during a stadium tour, it seems likely both tracks (and potentially other more recent collaborations) would all make their way in.

As for stage presence, Justin wasn’t quite as sharp as he was for the NYE set, but snuck in some choreo here and there when it made sense, and had a strong camaraderie with his band that was incredibly fun to watch. In the future, it would be cool to see these events orchestrate some crossover between the rest of the lineup and the main artist performance, to help mimic festival appeal. But for a star who, just a few years ago, couldn’t even bear to perform, his weekend in Vegas felt like the beginning of an excellent reinvention. Keep the changes coming, Justin, we feel the shift.

Uproxx was hosted by Pollen for this story. However, they did not review or approve this story. You can read our press trip/hosting policy here.

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