At four o’clock in the morning, the screams begin again. The sound ricochets off the pavement of 49th Street, rounding the corner to Rockefeller Plaza, where four and a half hours from now, the 16-year-old pop sensation Justin Bieber will perform on the Today show. Though only roughly a thousand fans can be packed, sardinelike, into the plaza, 12,000 have been gathering for the past two days.
Vigilant cops pace the line with billy clubs and bafflement. A CD signing in a Long Island mall this past November caused such a riot that 35 officers from the Nassau County and Garden City Police Departments had to be called in and five minors and a police officer were injured, leading to the arrest of Justin’s manager for “reckless endangerment and criminal nuisance.” In April, an event in Sydney was canceled when several girls were injured in a teenybopper stampede.
Becca Jude and Sinead Byrne have been in line for twelve hours. When they arrived, they spread out their blankets and pillows on the sidewalk and got to work, carefully applying puff paint to T-shirts to spell out, in the purple color that’s become the flag of Biebermania, WE ♥ JUSTIN BIEBER. IT’S NOT AN OBSESSION, IT’S DEDICATION!
They’ve also made a poster, carefully calculated to draw Justin’s attention. WE SKIPPED PROM TO SEE U JUSTIN!! it proclaims. The extremity of this decision, its profound consequences in the teenage mind, immediately garner them the admiration of other fans.
Even more impressive to the assembled are Emily Collyns and Juliet Basraoui, who share that they have actually met Justin at a live taping of The View and, more to the point, that this moment was immortalized online in a clip where you can see Justin singing directly to them for five whole seconds.
“Those girls were just, like, ‘I think I saw you in that video, and I think I hated you,’ ” Juliet tells Emily excitedly. “I always wanted to be hated by Justin Bieber fans!”
Like so, hierarchies are established. Nearby, Ceejay VanDyke, Francesca Giammona, and Brianna Kelly brag that they were there for the riot at the Long Island mall.
“They didn’t have gates, they only had CAUTION tape people could rip through,” Francesca explains to a rapt audience. “So the line turned into a big bubble because all the girls came forward.”
Ceejay cuts in: “Like a hundred girls at least—”
“Stampeded!” Francesca exclaims.
“Just started running.”
“So now there’s no CAUTION tape, and there’s just girls, like, flooding the whole parking garage. And there was little girls, like, standing on cars, like, screaming, crying. There was moms, like, screaming in our faces. Girls were suffocating. Some girl got her arm broken.”
“A mob scene.”
“Policemen were, like, pulling girls by the back of the shirt, like, pulling and throwing.”
“I mean, pushing and shoving.”
“It was so scary!”
Over the course of the night, pizza was ordered (delivered directly to the line and consumed along with a copious amount of Twizzlers and Starbursts); thigh exercises were performed; “Baby,” one of Justin’s most beloved tunes, was played on a ukulele, spurring an impromptu sing-along; homework was contemplated, then jettisoned. There was a deep and embittered discussion of whether bringing along crutches can secure you a place at the front of the line. There was chanting (“When I say ‘Justin,’ you say ‘Bieber!’ ” “Justin!” “Bieber!” “Justin!” Bieber!”). There was crying. There were screams over Justin and screams over roach sightings and screams for passing cars that sounded their horns in response to screamed requests to “honk for Justin Bieber!”
By 4:30, the sky has started to brighten and the lights on the stage are being tested and you can hear what sounds like a drum. By five o’clock, the crowd inches forward toward the Plaza. Hairbrushes emerge from backpacks. Makeup is applied.
“I might pass out,” says Becca, fanning her freckled face with her hands, “and I’m not even near him.”
“You know what I think of?” a girl next to her asks, wide-eyed. “We’re sharing the same oxygen as Justin Bieber.”
On the morning of the concert, Justin Bieber wakes up while it is still dark outside, dresses quickly, then rides with his team to Rockefeller Center to make a 6:15 a.m. call. In the greenroom of the network studio, he does a vocal warm-up. After some brief news about the Gulf oil spill is aired, he’s led to a chair for an interview with Matt Lauer, who asks him if there’s a downside to his intense fame (“I get to travel the world and, you know, live my dream, but, like, there’s definitely downsides”) and then escorts him to the plaza, where the screams crescendo to a deafening decibel. Though the crowd swells forward forcefully, the concert goes on without incident. Justin lopes around the stage in summer whites, hip-hop style, working his way through a short playlist of his most recent hits—“Baby” as well as “Somebody to Love,” “One Time,” and “Never Say Never”—songs that are effervescent, vernacular, and romantic without a hint of overt sexuality. Tonight—after filming a segment for a 20/20 tribute to Michael Jackson and posing in a photo shoot with the editor-in-chief of Seventeen—he will perform two of these songs again for the Macy’s Fourth of July special, which is being shot one month early because on the real Fourth of July, Justin will be away, on his first headlining tour. That is why, right now, he is in a van heading for Queensbridge Park in Long Island City, still groggy from the quick catnap that was the only downtime he’s had all day.