UPDATED: Thousands of young, screaming fans of Canadian singer and teen-age idol Justin Bieber descended on downtown Oslo Wednesday, in the hopes of seeing their hero during a short and cleverly hyped visit to the Norwegian capital. Police struggled with crowd control and even threatened to cancel a free “secret” concert using the roof of Oslo’s waterfront Opera House, while Bieber himself appealed for calm and admitted preparations were lacking at best.
By the time it was all over, nearly 20 young fans had been taken to local emergency clinics after suffering injuries or exhaustion and city officials were unhappy that Beiber’s managers and record company hadn’t done a better job of helping the city and police prepare for the onslaught. One local manager involved admitted on national radio Thursday morning that they’d underestimated the fans’ response to Beiber’s first appearance in Norway.
Bieber’s fans had started assembling at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen on Tuesday, when rumors flew that he’d be flying into Oslo for a free concert, aimed at promoting his new album due out later this month.
Then they turned up outside the Grand Hotel on Karl Johans Gate downtown late Tuesday afternoon, to such a degree that police were called out for crowd control. After hours of waiting, many finally got a glimpse of Bieber when he did, in fact, turn up and wave from a balcony, not from the Grand Hotel, but rather the Royal Christiania Hotel across from the central train station.
15,000 on the Opera’s roof
On Wednesday his fans started flocking early around Oslo’s Opera House, after rumours started flying that Bieber would hold a “secret” outdoor concert with spectators watching from the Opera’s large plaza and roof. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Bieber would hold the free concert at 9:20pm from a floating stage adjacent to the Opera that’s also likely to be used during royal 75th birthday celebrations of King Harald and Queen Sonja on Thursday.
Concerns quickly rose not only over the safety of the thousands who massed onto the Opera House roof but that it would be a mess afterwards. An estimated 15,000 Bieber fans descended on the white marble landmark on Oslo’s eastern waterfront, and then faced waiting for hours to hear him, with minimal if any food, water or lavatory services. Thousands more tried to join them, refusing to leave the area around the Opera and chanting “we want in, we want in.”
Police were facing severe challenges with crowd control and even threatened to cancel the concert out of concern for public safety, after several young girls fainted in the crowd. “We’re trying to maintain order here with all these fans, to avoid any accidents,” a police spokesman told NRK.
Traffic was gridlocked in the area, where a major labour rally in connection with ongoing strikes was also being held at the nearby central train station. The strikes, meanwhile, were expected to disrupt garbage collection and already had curtailed police staffing, further adding to the concerns around the Bieber mania.
(Police had their hands full as NRK provided live coverage, now over, from the scene. The story with Bieber’s reaction to the chaos continues below.)
Bieber: ‘Please listen to the police!’
Bieber himself, who reportedly had to evacuate his hotel because of the chaos, appealed to his fans for calm and joined police in criticizing his record company’s preparations for the concert, or lack thereof.
“The concert should have been held somewhere else than on the Opera roof,” Bieber told NRK, citing “clear limitations” on the Opera’s capacity to accommodate the hordes of fans who turned out.
Bieber also admitted that holding such “secret” concerts isn’t a good idea when they spark such massive interest that the situation can become hazardous.
“Norway, please listen to the police,” Bieber appealed via social media. “I don’t want anyone getting hurt. I want everything to go to plan but your safety must come first.”
Police were warning against anyone venturing into the area, as did Bieber’s record company Universal. They called the planned, free performance only a “mini-concert” that would feature just six songs and last around a half-hour. But they also sent out messages that the roof was already filled to capacity as early as 4pm and urged “for your own safety, DON’T head for the Opera roof!”
Things eventually calmed down somewhat and Bieber took the stage shortly after 8:30pm. As the screaming continued, he performed songs including “Baby,” “Be Alright,” “Never gonna let you go” and “Never say never” before he closed with “Boyfriend” and claimed he would “definitely” return to Norway. Just over a half-hour after it finally began, Universal officials declared the concert was over and asked the audience to leave, calmly.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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