There is a well-known quote, often attributed to Sun Tzu in The Art of War, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Much more recently, in a tweet retweeted 32,115 times, Justin Bieber said to Cody Simpson, “I got your back, bro.”
Bieber’s darlingness diminishes daily; before our eyes he morphs into a Vanilla Ice, without that man’s fashion sense. He abandons a monkey – what would he do with our daughters?
But we can rebuild Bieber – sweeter, bigger, faster, stronger, younger, blonder. We’ll call him Cody Simpson, the golden Australian who is managed by the same Scooter Braun who looks after the careers of Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen. Simpson arrived at Toronto’s Massey Hall in the middle of a flood, but the kid wasn’t worried. He lives on an island, and is a surfer to boot.
Waves? Why, he means to be the next one himself.
Bieber’s tweet was in support of Simpson’s upcoming second album, Surfer’s Paradise. The Down Under pop singer’s sold-out scream fest here was one of his remaining concerts before he joins up with Bieber’s indefatigable Believe tour as a supporting act. He’ll be back in that showdown capacity for a pair of appearances at Air Canada Centre (on July 25 and 26) and Ottawa’s Scotiabank Centre (July 23).
The first thing one notices when perusing the Australian’s audience at Massey is the tight demographic: The crowd is monolithically doe-eyed girlies, aged 13 to 16, with a few chaperone parents thrown in. Bieber’s audience skews much younger, even though he himself is 19, three years older than Simpson. Bieber, a bizarrely boyish man whose tattoos fail to age him upward, is a Baby singer to babies. He wears muscle shirts, but only as wishful thinking.
Simpson, on the other hand, is strikingly broad shouldered. An immodest but understandable flexer and poser, he wears sleeveless apparel exclusively.
Both he and Bieber were YouTube child sensations, and while Simpson sells nowhere near the amount of seats or music as the onetime swoop-haired Stratford, Ont., street-singer, he positions himself for a longer and steadier (if more modest) career.
At times, like Bieber, he engages in energetic and emotive boy-band pop, complete with rigid choreography. But where Bieber perilously veers toward a more stylized and trend-conscious brand of urban R&B, the safer Simpson often strums an acoustic guitar (and once even a ukulele).
Also in the way of Bieber, Simpson invites a girl on stage to sit and be serenaded. At Massey, the poised teen, self-outfitted in white wings and halo, enjoyed the personal attention of Simpson’s syrupy non-charting single from 2011, Angel. She watched her hero with a mix of approval and bemusement, at one point nonchalantly knocking forward a tuft of his hair, presumably just because she preferred it that way. Simpson was casually charismatic, in comparison to the awkward stage interactions I’ve seen from Bieber.
Another crowd favourite was Pretty Brown Eyes, the lead single from Surfer’s Paradise (which should not be confused with the debut 2012 album Paradise). The song is sweet, and one didn’t get the sense that those in the audience with blue or green eyes felt slighted in any way.
By playing the surf card, Simpson looks past Bieber to the likes of singer-songwriters Jack Johnson and, perhaps, John Mayer. The new tracks are beachy, not blockbuster. While Bieber reads The Art of Swag, the time-on-his-side Simpson playfully kicks sand in his face and tries a different way of turning from teen dream to adult artist. Bieber watches closely, as well he should.