On Sunday night, I engaged in what anthropologists term “participant observation.” I found my subjects in a place where they congregate. I ate the food they ate (popcorn). I wore their attire (jeans). And most importantly, I listened to their music. On Sunday night, I saw Justin Bieber in concert with my husband, my five-year-old son, my ten-year-old cousin and my aunt. Fieldnotes (with a bit of embellishment!) below…
- The stadium’s population was comprised almost solely of girls. Rather than the tween girls who we expected to see, many of these fans appeared to be 5-9 year olds. Accompanying these little kids were not just moms, but many dads (who, we should note, did not adorn the “native” attire – purple and pink shirts, inscribed with local mantras like “Believe,” proclamations like “I love Justin,” and, the somewhat more direct invocation, “Make me your one less lonely girl”).
- Between Carly Rae Jepson (of “Call Me Maybe” fame), the researcher experiences déjà vu. Her first concert, in 1985 was the Victory Tour, and she felt like she was there. Not only did Justin Beiber don a number of Michael Jackson-inspired outfits, but he also warmed up the crowd by playing all nine tracks on Thriller. Researcher asks 10-year-old cousin, “Do you know who this is?” The answer: “no.” Researcher wonders if Beibers’ cultural canon is reflective of, or way over the heads of his young fans. Still, moms and dads seem to appreciate it.
- Despite being in the actual presence of the boy wonder, the crowd shrieked loudest when he took a break! During these brief interludes, everyday pictures of the pop prince (including broadcasts of the YouTube videos that catapulted him to fame), filled the screen. Suddenly, the larger than life figure (who, it might be worthy to note, looks years younger than 18 when he’s on that big stage!) seems relatable once again. This seems to be the Justin that resonated with them. The sounds of a real kid’s voice, and a glimpse at his home videos seemed slightly more spectacular than the lasers and light show that illuminated the stage. Overhead: Dad of five-year-old boy asks, “Isn’t this just footage from the movie?”
- Ritualistic turning back of time occurred during the morning of the concert, allowing for more sunlight in the morning, but prompting eyes to droop about four songs into the 8 pm est concert. (Right around the sixth song, five-year old boy opts to fall asleep wearing noise-blocking earphones. Does not seem to be concerned that he’s missing the “one time” he will see his favorite singer.)
- Overheard: adult female to girl of ~10 years of age, “We used to use cigarette lighters to light up the audience, because we didn’t have cell phones.” Laughter, seemingly in disbelief…Researcher unclear if this is due to inability to believe that cell phones didn’t always exist or that cigarette lighters were appropriate to bring into a concert venue.
- Throughout the concert, singer assures audience of over 20,000 that he wrote the “next song just for them.” While this seems highly improbable to the adults in attendance, the many screaming girls seem to believe.
Our thoughts and well-wishes go out to our friends affected by Hurricane Sandy. We know that many kids and families have faced challenges in the past week, and even kids who aren’t directly affected might be experiencing feelings of uncertainty about the storm and its aftermath. We recommend the following resources related to talking to kids about natural disasters: