What’s the matter Biebs?

There’s Justin Bieber trapped in a glass cube. There’s Justin Bieber confined in an MMA-like cage. Were these metaphors for the pop idol as what he calls a “zoo animal”? The megastar under the microscope?

He sure didn’t seem like he was having a good time on Sunday night at sold-out Target Center in Minneapolis.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world,” he said flatly after surveying the 15,000 fans to gauge their ages (between 12 and 50). “It’s a good night, wouldn’t you agree?”

If it’s a good night, could we get a smile Biebs? Just once or twice in 95 minutes. Could we dance with a little verve instead of robotic? Could we not sing with your back to the fans?

Not only was Bieber, 22, expressionless, he seemed hopelessly detached and disconnected from his worshipful fans.

When they gave him a rousing ovation after he played a drum solo on an elevated platform, he didn’t react. When he high-fived four local kids who danced with him on “Children,” he told them they were “outstanding” and “incredible” with no enthusiasm behind those lofty adjectives.

The whole thrust behind his current “Purpose” album — his fourth and best by far — and the Purpose World Tour is to make atonement for the sins chronicled by TMZ during the last few years. Yes, it’s hard to be a mega-rich pop hero when you’re 15 or 19. But he’s been living in the tabloid world for seven years and he still hasn’t figured out who he is.

In Bieber’s last Twin Cities appearance in 2012 at Target Center, swag was his greatest asset. This time, he seems to have lost his swag. There seemed to be no joy in being Justin Bieber on Sunday.

There was an inexorable seriousness on his face and in his body language. When he joined his terrifically agile dancers, he couldn’t match their crisp, soulful movements. He looked like the dude at dance class who’d missed a few sessions and was trying to think of the moves instead of just doing them. He looked especially stiff on a pas de deux on “No Pressure.”

Even though he was lip syncing for parts of the evening, Bieber did summon some vocal passion at times. For a two-song acoustic interlude, he plopped down on a velvet couch and serenaded on “Home to Mama,” showcasing the raspy soulfulness of his voice, and on the irresistible kiss-off “Love Yourself,” whose coda he sang a cappella.

“Life Is Worth Living,” whose message clearly matters to him, felt heartfelt even if he turned his back to the crowd for the final portion. On “Purpose,” he sat down on the runway, getting close to fans, with his eyes closed, but, again, no expression on his face.

At least Bieber scored points for continuing his daredevil ways onstage. A giant trampoline was suspended over the crowd during “Company.” After some dancers frolicked on the tramp, Biebs turned three backward somersaults. Now that’s swag.

Bieber showed his adventurousness on the closing “Sorry,” his signature hit from “Purpose.” Like Beyoncé at the finale of her stadium show in Minneapolis, he stood under a shower in a large pool of water. Did this baptismal moment signal a rebirth or redemption?

“Don’t be afraid to be yourself,” Bieber implored his fans after the music ended.

The joy on their faces said how they felt about an evening with their still-searching idol: Don’t stop beliebin’.

 

 

Jon.bream@startribune.com

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Twitter: @jonbream