Tens of thousands of mumbaikars decided to brave the hours-long sweatfest in the scorching heat on May 10 at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, which typically seats 56,000 people. The arena was packed with hysterical teenagers and exhilarated adults alike. A who’s who of Bollywood—Alia Bhatt, Sonali Bendre, Malaika Arora, Sridevi and others—were also in attendance.
The reason for the mania? Justin Bieber’s first-ever live concert in India.
It’s not every day that global celebrities like the 23-year-old Canadian singer perform in India. For instance, British rock band Coldplay’s maiden India concert took place toward the end of last year, but worldwide sensations like Rihanna, Drake, and others haven’t made it to the country yet. So, when Bieber announced his plans to bring his Purpose World Tour, India was stoked. (The tour commenced in Seattle in March and concludes in Tokyo this September.)
The organizers went all out, shelling out $4 million on arrangements, CNN reported. The gig marked the most expensive concert in India ever. Tickets began at around Rs5,000 ($77) but some of the most ardent (and affluent) Beliebers—what Bieber fans call themselves—dished out as much as Rs75,000 ($1,165) for a single ticket. An auto-rickshaw driver’s son lucked out when organizer White Fox India awarded the priciest ticket to him at no cost.
Before arriving in India, Bieber’s team reportedly delivered an extremely long list of demands. There were specific orders on his upholstery and room decor, dietary requirements, and the refrigerator and washing machine provided. The singer was also meant to get Z+ security—a special protection the government provides to just 36 influential people in the country.
But Bieber’s India stop began as a stark contrast to what his team may have envisioned. He landed at the airport in a simple hoodie and shorts. Instead of special forces, Bollywood star Salman Khan’s bodyguard Shera was seen escorting Bieber. Bieber had also called for a chopper but ended up journeying to the concert venue by road. In the hours leading up to his concert, he even walked into a Starbucks to grab coffee. The “Baby” singer also won hearts by paying a visit to underprivileged kids.
Everything was going smoothly until the concert began and the singer began crooning—well, technically, the problem was that he didn’t croon.
Fans eagerly awaiting Bieber’s biggest smash hits like “Where Are You Now,” ”Sorry,” “Boyfriend,” “Love Yourself” amid other popular tracks, were subject to a botched lip-sync performance for most of the night. Worse, it seemed he didn’t even try to make his act believable. Comedian Ashish Shakya from the popular comedy group All India Bakchod (AIB) described one such moment in a Facebook note, saying, “Bieber was wiping his face with a towel such that the towel covered his entire face, and the vocals just played on unchanged.” (Shakya’s post in its entirety is a recommended read to get a sense of how little Bieber seemed to care about the pretense.) Another comedian from AIB, Rohan Joshi, jokingly called the event “Justin Bieber’s Bombay Dubsmash.”
However, humor was not every downcast fan’s crutch. Many lashed out on Twitter, criticizing Bieber’s deadpan expression and ghar ke kapde (clothes worn at home). Fans who’d traveled from afar—from a different state even—were especially up in arms about the debacle.
“He performed the entire 90-minute set with the kind of enthusiasm you would expect from a robot, save for a couple of moments where he did seem to come alive and throw a magnanimous hello at the audience,” Rolling Stone India wrote.
Maybe the backlash got to the “Sorry” star: Bieber was supposed to stay and sightsee in Agra and Jaipur, take the standard tourist picture in front of the Taj Mahal, and partake in a handful of revelries. But reports suggest that he took off the night of the gig itself.
The performance wasn’t the only buzzkill that night. According to Firstpost, a one-liter bottle of water was marked up nearly five times and was selling for Rs100($1.55). And thanks to the rules, after venturing outside, standing in long queues and buying the water, you weren’t even allowed to take it inside. A Rs5 ($0.08) Vada Pav was selling for Rs95 ($1.48), Indiatimes reported. Standup comedian Atul Khatri also complained about the outrageously priced snacks:
But there’s always a silver lining, right?