I am not a fan of Justin Bieber. Let’s chalk it up to age and cynicism, but his music never engaged my ears and his narcissistic personality was off-putting, to say the least. Sometimes, my Bieber bashing backfired, like the time I ended up going to see the Bieber documentary Never Say Never on a dare that went too far – oh, and did I mention it was in 3D? But you know what, I am not supposed to be a Bieber fan. I’m a grown woman, a part-time music critic, and a person who walked away from the boy band bonanza of the early aughts without a crush on Justin Timberlake. While I’m practically immune to catchy hooks and the cheesy charm of pop’s sophomoric lyrics, it’s impossible to ignore that Bieber has become a global phenomenon, especially of late. As much as I would like to pretend that his insane popularity is the result of teenage hormones, there’s something that tells me there’s more to Bieber Fever than meets the eye.
A few days ago, I had my friend Staley over, and we were trading music videos back and forth like we always did, freaking out over Missy Elliott’s ‘WTF’ and admiring Janet Jackson’s timeless visage before Staley decided to drop a bomb on me. “Have you seen the new Justin Bieber video?” she asked. I laughed because I thought she was joking, but her face said otherwise. “No, seriously we’re watching it. It’s actually amazing.” Amid my thunderous protest, Staley’s reputation for impeccable pop culture taste won the better of the situation, and before I knew it I was hooked. The video for Bieber’s new single ‘Sorry’ is absolutely phenomenal, mostly because Bieber is not in it, and more to the fact: it stars a range of New Zealand dancers with a huge range of body types wearing seriously cool (not trashy) streetwear, and sarcastically mouthing “sorry” to the camera as if to suggest they were mocking Bieber’s overwrought, emotive lyrics. It was brilliant. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you a second to catch up on the video magic:
The beautiful girls in this video run counter to the body types we’re used to seeing in pop culture, and that in itself marks a sign of progress. And the song isn’t half bad either. I’m still a far cry from a Bieber fan, but I do have new respect for him after viewing it. It seems like I’m not alone, as Bieber has been picking up steam from major news outlets that used to decry his fame. While he has a lot to be “sorry” for, behaviorally at least, there’s no need for him to apologize any longer for his status in the music world. He’s at the top of his game, with a new release called ‘Purpose’ that signals a huge step forward for him sonically. Like Queen Bey, he dropped the 18-track album overnight and practically #broketheinternet. What’s surprising about the release, besides the fact that it came out of nowhere, is his repositioned sound. While he’s not quite a man and no longer a boy, Bieber rid himself of the teen pop sound in favor of something more mature and evolved, but that doesn’t always work out in his favor. Bieber shines when trading in R&B for piano ballads like on the track “Life Is Worth Living”, while an attempt at social awareness called “Children” should probably have been left on the cutting room floor. His collaborative work with Skrillex might have something to do with that, but his more serious side could be contributed to the painful year he has had balancing extreme fame with extreme depression, loneliness, public bouts of illegal behavior, and histrionic fits of rage.
It’s lonely at the top.
While it’s easy to make fun of the Biebs – poor little rich boy, being famous is so hard – I do feel a tug of compassion when I picture his chubby little tween face as he earnestly looks into the camera promising love for “one less lonely girl”, or the sweetness he displayed in early interviews when talking about his mom, or his sincere passion for playing drums (kid was actually really talented, a child prodigy, in fact). It’s moments like these that humanize him, but then again, I am startled at my own terminology. How can you humanize a human? That seems awfully redundant. He is human – one struggling to make peace with a world that wants to eat him alive and he’s not obviously had trouble handling his emotions in regard to fame and fortune. In the brief moments I’ve rubbed elbows with famous people, I’ve noticed a common thread: they really want to be treated like everyone else. Factor in the arrested psychological development that goes hand in hand with becoming mega-famous when you’re still a child, and you have a recipe that adds up to toxic arrogance, self-flagellation, and cries for attention with a paradoxical need to be seen as fallible. Essentially, Bieber is following a familiar path that is carved by stars before him – Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Michael Jackson. Fortunately, Bieber at least seems to possess enough self-awareness to admit his fault, and he’s talked openly in interviews about his depression, and his fear that he would eventually succumb to the same pitfalls as Amy Winehouse. He might be a self-involved superstar, but he’s playing the mea culpa card at just the right moment in his career. This might just be the secret behind Bieber’s penitent comeback.
“Is it too late now to say sorry?” Never.