How much does it cost to be a Justin Bieber superfan? Sometimes, nothing but an iron will.
Justin Bieber is a Beatle with a Twitter handle. His fans are already stuff of legend and Internet meme. This morning in New York, his most devout followers displayed the dedication of the most diehard occupiers, lining up to see him perform for free.
I arrived at 6:45 a.m. to a soggy madhouse, also known as the Today Show's no-tickets-required Justin Bieber concert. It was just misting, mercifully, but it had been raining steadily off and on for almost 24 hours. Some fans had been there for two days in the pouring rain. Matt Lauer reported that by 4:30 a.m., the line was six blocks long. The crowd was equal parts screaming girls and ecstatic moms. (The founder of the group Moms4Bieber was the very first in line... on Monday.) There were girls whimpering in disappointment outside the police-guarded barricade; there were girls shaking in anticipation inside of it. There was pushing, yelling, snapping, shrieking.
Without a monetary barrier to entry, Bieber fever reaches new levels. A few unlucky girls who were no match for Bieber's devotees were pissed about their crack-of-dawn confrontation. "The moms were screaming at us, telling us not to be rude and that they'd been there since 1 a.m.," says 13-year-old Rachel, whose early departure from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn at 4 a.m. was apparently not early enough. "[His concerts] are always sold out. This was my only chance."
Unsurprisingly, it is not cheap to be a Justin Bieber superfan. Tickets range from $80 to $450, depending on how close you are, and even if a kid (or her parent) has the cash, the tickets often sell out instantly, even on second-string sites like eBay. Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun, sometimes shows up at the 11th hour to bestow free tickets onto unsuspecting girls. But the chances of being one of them? Slim to none.
Today, nothing but an iron will buys you entry. "I always try to get tickets, but I'm never fast enough on the computer," says Hailey, 12. She figured she'd have better luck being an early bird at the Today Show concert. She arrived from Connecticut at 3:30 a.m. to score a sweet view of her first Bieber concert—on the far front-right, next to the press pen.
The actual show was over after four songs and a surprise Usher appearance. Bieber grinned, winked, and belted his way through a melismatic mini-set. He said "thank you" more than I could count. He also offered a lot of fist-bumps.
Twenty minutes later, we were escorted out of the plaza. A 24-year-old intern, who had been serenely standing next to me, confessed she, too, was a serious Bieber fan. "My friends think I'm weird. I know I'll meet him one day. Sorry, Selena Gomez, you're gonna have to be my sister wife." I laughed nervously. She was only slightly joking.
Hailey tugged at my jacket shortly after the concert was over.
"Did you see that? He threw a guitar pick at me," says Hailey, clad in the various party favors provided by the Today Show: a sparkly rubber ring, an elf hat, an earwarmer. "He even talked to me, right after he sung 'Mistletoe.' He threw the pick and said, 'It's by your shoe.'"
A few feet away, Annika, 14, rolled up her poster proclaiming "All I Want For Christmas Is JB." She had showed up even earlier than Hailey. Her mom, who told her about the concert a couple weeks ago, drove her and her best friend to New York last night from Virginia. She assures me her teachers weren't mad. "I missed a math test and two quizzes," Annika says, "but my teachers knew I was going. I talk about Bieber a lot. I have a Bieber folder. I say stuff like 'Oh my Bieber' and 'Holy Bieber' and 'What the Bieber' all the time."
She's been "obsessed" for two years, but since the shows are "so expensive, I could never go before." What's her favorite thing about the Biebs? "All the money he makes off his perfume goes to charity. I'm wearing it right now." She was.
A free Justin Bieber concert fits the pop star's everydude persona. It's democratic, it's big-hearted, it's buoyed by the fans. Waiving the show's entrance fee was a live-performance version of his habitual hashtag, #stillkidrauhl, an homage to his original YouTube alias. Indeed, his Today Show appearance recalled Bieber's home video roots: free, interactive, crowdsourced. Kidrauhl, but live.
Of course, JB's got a Christmas album to promote. And a soundtrack and merchandise and a DVD, too. And he's performing not in his kitchen but on the friggin' Today Show, with Usher in his arms and his swagger coach in the wings. And... well nevermind. Let's let the moms, er, kids have their fun, on the one day their undying devotion, not their bank accounts, will pave the way to Bieber heaven.
Photo courtesy of The Today Show