On Thursday night, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Associated Students (AS) Program Board offered an advance screening of the celebrity documentary “Justin Bieber: Our World” which is now available on Amazon Prime. As a Gaucho-only event, UCSB students were able to gain exclusive access to the documentary in Isla Vista (I.V.) Theater. Workers from the local Amazon Locker took pictures of attendees with the movie poster and passed out LED foam sticks, exciting surprises that added to the spectacle of the event.
As someone who knows a few of Justin Bieber’s hits, I was excited to see what this movie would reveal about the pop sensation, but I am sad to say this was not the film to make me a “Belieber.” The momentum of the show begins to drastically slow down after the title screen.
Though the film started out strong with a few vlog entries about his influencer status and intentions for the upcoming 2021 year, these scenes felt more like a trailer than part of the documentary itself, since some of these scenes were recycled later in the film.
The documentary claims to show the process behind the production of his 2021 New Year’s Eve livestream concert on the roof of The Beverly Hilton Hotel. However, a majority of the film is made up of song performances, rather than about Bieber and his team. It jumped back and forth between the recorded livestream concert and the countdown of days to the event, leaving the documentary with a disjointed timeline and little direction or focus.
The footage itself also seemed to be barely planned, as if Bieber forgot he was supposed to be vlogging the entire process and editors hardly knew what to do with the footage they were given. Overall, the scenes that did not come directly from the concert seemed more like b-roll and home videos stitched together than a film about the effort and talent that went into producing the concert.
With the scenes appearing so disjointed, I was left trying to piece together information to figure out how they hosted the concert, the main event of the movie. Many of the obstacles shown — losing rehearsal days to COVID-19, the literal weight of the concert, and the troubles of live streaming the show — were eventually overcome by the cast and crew with little to no mention of the solutions. This made the countdown feel useless since it failed to build up suspense to the concert, which we already saw parts of earlier in the film.
Something I expected from this documentary was a sense of wonder and closeness with the musician and his team. The major themes they tried to communicate were growth, leadership, loyalty, and gratitude, but much of the legwork to show these ideas were from Bieber’s music rather than stories that were shared from his family, cast, and crew. The documentary relied too much on the fact that Bieber’s music can speak for itself and could have done more with interviews to support the messages of his music.
Since there was a variety of Bieber’s music in the movie, some commentary on Bieber’s growth as a musician would have also been interesting to include. The concert included some of his old hits like “Baby” and “Yummy,” as well as his more mature and emotive work like “Holy” and “Monster.” The music set fit the narrative of Bieber’s transformation from a boy into a man, but there could have been more in-depth commentary from his family and colleagues on the topic.
Of course, there were a few incredible visual moments both from the concert and from the editing that gave me a “wow” factor. From the lighting and pyrotechnics to the drones arranging lights in the sky, the concert itself had its fair share of spectacle. And cinematically, there were a couple transitions from rehearsal footage to the stage performance that felt seamless and exciting. One standout moment to me was the symbolic image of Bieber’s silhouette singing “Lonely” in front of balconies of fans.
Since a majority of the film was the song performances and the countdown to the concert felt so unrelated to the songs that followed, I wasn’t a fan of the film as a documentary. Yet as a concert experience, it had its redeeming factors. There were clearly Bieber fans in the UCSB crowd who were singing along to their favorite songs being performed and swaying their LED foam sticks to the beat. And for people who are fans of live performances, this was a great way to hear more acoustic versions of some of his songs and maybe listen to a few songs they hadn’t heard on the radio before. The film may not have given me a shared sense of world with Bieber, but I did get to hear some new music that I decided to add to my music library.