BEIRUT: Beirut is an adults-only playground most of the time. Lebanon’s teenagers are conspicuously absent from street corners, generally speaking, deprived of park benches to sit on, or even Internet fast enough to allow them to sit around watching YouTube.When an international pop star comes to town, though, the night is theirs. Around 90 percent of the audience of rapper Wiz Khalifa’s Saturday night concert at the Forum de Beyrouth was 19 or under. The “teen dance floor” was populated with teens and their parents.
This was the place to be, at least for kids who could afford it. Tickets for the evening started at $50, and went up to $150 for the dubiously titled “Golden Cage.” This was typical of the false economy of high-profile events in the country, where you pay three times as much to sit down at the back.
Go see Wiz in Las Vegas in August and you can pay $28 for the pleasure.
Nobody seemed too bothered about this Saturday night. Such wasn’t the case during Wiz’s Dubai gig Friday, when hundreds of teenagers stormed into the venue.
“We cannot afford tickets and so this is what we do,” one fan informed Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper. “Why should we pay Dh400 [$100] for a two-hour concert?”
Saturday evening found Beirut’s teenagers – wristbands on and surprisingly few drinks in hand – waiting for 24-year-old Khalifa to produce his particular brand of pop-rap.
The warm-up DJ played a tune by Odd Future – a group of rappers known for their penchant for unabashed lyrics about rape and violence. I resisted the temptation to tell the 9-year-old girl standing near me to cover her ears.
Depending on how you feel about mixing children and marijuana – Khalifa’s raison d’etre, and the subject of most of his songs – the headliner’s music and aesthetic is child-friendly by comparison.
His music slides into the summery rap genre that can be heard blaring from cars across the country – interesting enough to impress music snobs, but not challenging enough to stand in the way of major radio play.
Wiz has his shtick. He talks about weed – “Who has the best weed? Is it over there?” he points, seemingly unaware, toward the tween dance floor. He talks about Taylor Gang, the name for his crew and fans. He bounces around. Then he leaves.
Saturday night held few challenges to that formula, but that did little to diminish the fun everyone was having.
Khalifa threw in a Lebanese flag, and someone had obviously told him a little about the experience of being a Lebanese teen.
“I heard y’all are dreamers,” he said before one song – information that may have been imparted to him by way of explaining why virtually nobody over the age of 22 would be there.
Given the popularity of the evening, it’s a shame events like Saturday night don’t come to town more often. These kids deserve more than one pop star every six months.
As one of Khalifa’s tunes puts it, “They’re young, and wild, and free.”