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Justin Bieber: A Case Study in Growing Up Cosseted and Feral
July 6, 2014 1:04 AM   Subscribe


 
Bieber is fascinating, and I have't quite figured out what the implications of his complete crisis of fame is--but he has everything, the tension between net and analog cultures, the problems with homosociality, implications of race, a kind of loss of faith, the decadent failures of zombie capitalism, sorting out the failures of transition--like a lilo who succeeded
posted by PinkMoose at 1:10 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Wait. Billionaire?
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 2:22 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I would be surprised if he personally could lay his hands on more than a couple hundred grand, and likely will be in debt soon as Michael Jackson was at the time of his death.
posted by colie at 2:47 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


It is weird that I only know about Justin Beiber through parody videos?
posted by SPrintF at 2:51 AM on July 6


I never understand why we expect manufactured teen pop stars to behave like regular teenagers. It's like expecting Taco Bell to taste like real food when it's not made like real food. If you don't get an authentic adolescence, you don't act like an authentic adolescent. It'll be a few years yet before I blame anybody but the manufacturers.

Yes, of course the manufactured pop stars were all teenagers. It's like why the fast food chains don't use locally-raised organic produce--it's too variable. But despite all that process control, sometimes what you end up with is a Big Mac, and sometimes it's an Arch Deluxe, and sometimes it's a KFC Double Down, and mostly it doesn't actually resemble the promotional photographs by the time it's interacting with the real world.
posted by Sequence at 3:00 AM on July 6 [26 favorites]


Thanks, Sequence. Now I'm hungry.
posted by SPrintF at 3:06 AM on July 6 [18 favorites]


The article posits that we don't expect them to act like regular teeenagers, we expect them to crash and burn, as part of some sort of collective ritual.
This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism. You can call it whatever you want—the collective ethos of a nation of Puritans trying to assuage sexual ­anxiety; a secular society combating a fear of death by torturing a cast of teenage voodoo dolls; or, at the least, a coded language communicating parental discomfort with our own children’s growing up—but you can’t deny that it’s a totally bizarre obsession, one that could happen only in the youth-obsessed, fame-hungry, prudish and pornish land of America.
posted by cell divide at 3:08 AM on July 6 [17 favorites]


Some people are bringing in Big Beiber Bucks... just not necessarily Justin himself. That's how the Business works.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:35 AM on July 6


This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism.

We have to do this from time to time, or else the Old Gods will rise.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:02 AM on July 6 [41 favorites]


> Some people are bringing in Big Beiber Bucks... just not necessarily Justin himself. That's how the Business works.

The phrase "billionaire popstar" means the popstar is a billionaire. I'm pretty sure the popstar is not a billionaire.
posted by ardgedee at 4:05 AM on July 6


Good catch - he's worth $130 million, with earnings of $80 million this year. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have a net worth of a billion together. I was really surprised because I'd have thought bieber-fever was worth more - One Direction have a much higher amount collectively, and even individually are doing pretty well.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:28 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


But where does the money actually come from? Not much from Twitter, Spotify, and YouTube surely? Unlike One Direction he can't sell out stadiums - in Europe he can't even fill arena-size venues reliably.
posted by colie at 4:33 AM on July 6


>This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism.

We have to do this from time to time, or else the Old Gods will rise.


Warren Ellis, is that you?
posted by monocultured at 4:34 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Unlike One Direction he can't sell out stadiums

And this is, in fact, where most of the money comes from for pop acts; the revenue from viral YouTube videos is trivial by comparison, and the actual music biz is rigged to steal just about everything from the artists. To make the big bucks you have to go on the road and sell lots of tickets, because that's where you actually get a decent cut of the proceeds.
posted by localroger at 4:56 AM on July 6


Old gods and national ritual?
Why is nobody referencing South Park?
posted by zoo at 5:26 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


The money's often to be found in the publishing end of the music business. Big time.
posted by datawrangler at 5:27 AM on July 6


I never understand why we expect manufactured teen pop stars to behave like regular teenagers.

I don't think anyone really expects that. It's more that we'd like them not to be painfully ignorant and insufferably spoiled.
posted by orange swan at 5:32 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Re 'weirdly sympathetic' - The kid and his entire situation are a Hot Fucking Mess, but if you're an even remotely contemplative person you can kind of grasp the messed-up-ness of the machine that made him what he is. I think that's fine. It's okay to sympathise with the weird parts and still emphatically dislike the very obviously shitty parts. Nothing is ever black & white.

Cool guys like Seth Rogen and Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, who have called Bieber a “moron” and a “piece of shit,” may never think Bieber’s a good dude after this year’s antics.

Tell you what does piss me off: this phrasing and positioning and creation of a BS hipness solar system to which you either subscribe wholeheartedly or ridicule full-stop. Who will be cooler than the people cooler than the Black Keys guy and who was SO COOL that they never thought Seth Rogen was cool in the first place? TELL US, VULTURE. I've got this suitcase full of vintage Fonzie dolls that I'm waiting for juuuuust the right moment to unload on eBay.
posted by mintcake! at 5:35 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Merle Haggard is laughing.
posted by spitbull at 5:40 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


The article posits that we don't expect them to act like regular teeenagers, we expect them to crash and burn, as part of some sort of collective ritual.

But I'm not sure that's true, is the thing. This media is not purely demand-driven. We are being sold the crash for entertainment purposes, but how is the crash entertaining if we all expected it in the first place? So initially we were sold the Good Kids. When the Good Kids no longer sell, we get the Bad Kids instead. But what they will sell us never includes "leaving the kids alone to figure things out", that's never an option, we just get to pick between good and bad. Again, fast food, you can get a chicken sandwich instead of a burger, but you cannot get someone to make that thing you have all the ingredients for in the fridge already. They don't make any money off that option, so it's never on the table.

I can go for it as ritual, I just don't think it's ours. We're not the ones making this, and I'm not really convinced that we're asking for it, we're just willing to consume it while it's being provided. We're giving them a few more teenagers every year to make famous and they send back some of them mostly whole and some more badly broken, and they tell us that's what we wanted to see, but is it? Did we get the Double Down because we really badly wanted a sandwich made out of chicken, or did we get it because someone figured out they could sell it to us?
posted by Sequence at 5:43 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Sequence. Now I'm hungry.

But not for Bieber, which of course eventually becomes the problem.

The saddest moment I ever saw Bieber was when he came prancing out as part of that one boxer's entourage (was it Mayeeather?). He was surrounded by serious looking grown men, and he was hopping around like a little boy who needed to pee.

The article is great, though, and helps me (as a person who very much does not follow pop music and celebrity culture) contextualize the fretishization of it all.

(But really, if you have an essentially unlimited budget, wouldn't you at least get the best tattoos money can buy?)
posted by Dip Flash at 5:45 AM on July 6


Good catch - he's worth $130 million, with earnings of $80 million this year.

I'm not sure I'd consider that source very reliable, but earnings numbers like that are often "estimated revenue for the corporate entities for which person X is the public figurehead", not "person X gets this much money". There's usually a lot of people working full-time for a celebrity at this level.
posted by effbot at 5:46 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I never understand why we expect manufactured teen pop stars to behave like regular teenagers.

We don't: we just keep moving the goalposts so the little narcissistic brats deliberately fail. The cheers always come with an underlying bait and switch routine: We love you! You are so talented! You are special! The One! We're not worthy! Do whatever you want...really? You wanted to do that? How awful! You aren't special! You are a freak! And a fraud! With no talent! How repulsive! We hate you! You're nothing! You're not worthy! Okay, who's next?

But, the kicker is they are nothing but a regular teenager who is suddenly expected to do extraordinary things that no one can keep up -- they will burn out trying to keep the charade going -- which is perfectly normal, and then be raked over the coals for being a mere mortal.

This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism.

People build up the gullible for the express purpose of tearing them down and there is no more gullible creature than a teenager -- an undeveloped brain, no experience, no understanding of strategy or nuances, but thinks coasting on mimicry, memorization and the look of not being overly used makes them a street smart liar. It is our current form of amusing ourselves by throwing someone to the lions when a horror movie just won't do the trick.

People are always looking for the next Barbara Payton -- and when the starlet crashes and burns, people can feel that no matter how bad they have it, there are those who have it worse, despite all of their superficial blessings. The gossip is just the perk and diversion from our own problems.

Should the pigeon survive, he can save face by saying he is now a comeback kid, never having to admit he fell the practical joke that lures the suckers in without breaking a sweat...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:05 AM on July 6 [11 favorites]


the kid was selling hundreds of millions of bucks worth of his perfumes, plus he had a line of homewares and acne medication, and sold-out tours, CD sales, whatever he wanted

Homewares? Acne medication?
posted by box at 6:06 AM on July 6


A lot of Bieber's income is from merchandising.
posted by LindsayIrene at 6:07 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I was skimming this over breakfast and mostly nodding over it, finding it a not improperly sympathetic look at the life of a young adult given privilege that can only be poisonous to himself and probably to others, when I hit the part about Taylor Swift as a genius songwriter. I'm sure that Taylor Swift is a very nice person and I think she has a very pleasant voice, but songwriting genius? I mean, really. Really? That...kind of creates a credibility problem for me vis a vis this writer.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:16 AM on July 6 [12 favorites]


So fifteen years ago, even I couldn't avoid the music of Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears but I really don't think that I've ever heard anything by Justin Bieber. It's amazing how segmented culture is now that, without any conscious effort to escape it, one can just never hear music by a major pop star. Yeah, you could right click on his name and search for videos on YouTube but if you never take that active step, You'd never hear it.
posted by octothorpe at 6:17 AM on July 6 [25 favorites]


Octothorpe, I beg to differ. I am so far outside his demographic, but even I can sing "Rabies, rabies, rabies, OOOOH, I got rabies, rabies, rabies, OOOOOH".

Anyway, I think that's how it goes.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 6:29 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]


> "... songwriting genius? I mean, really. Really? That...kind of creates a credibility problem for me vis a vis this writer."

Seven Grammy Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, eleven Country Music Association Awards and seven Academy of Country Music Awards. Honors from the Nashville Songwriters Association and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

From Rolling Stone: "... a songwriting savant with an intuitive gift for verse-chorus-bridge architecture." From American Songwriter: "... a great songwriter, who writes with an unmatched and almost unnatural acuity ... Even her earliest material is characterized by thoughtful – perhaps meticulous – word choice and deliberate melodic construction, with nary a lazy rhyme or aimless tune to be found."

Neil Young: "... [she is] a great writer". Kris Kristofferson: "... she blows me away. It's amazing to me that someone so young is writing such great songs." Stevie Nicks: "... [she writes] songs that make the whole world sing ... It's women like her who are going to save the music business." Steven Tyler: "... [she is] beyond talented." Ryan Adams: "... every tune of hers is like the one you wait a whole lifetime to write." Shirley Manson: "[she is] exceedingly talented at songwriting ... She drew her own door and walked right through it. We should applaud her balls for bucking the system. That's what artists are supposed to do."

I mean, you might disagree, but the writer is neither alone nor insane for that assessment.
posted by kyrademon at 6:32 AM on July 6 [52 favorites]


Yeah, I mean I...guess? I dunno. She seems mostly notable to me for her, um, great...literalism, which...okay, sure.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:34 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


It probably depends on how you consume your media. With the internet, you have a lot more control over what you see and hear. I've probably never heard more than ten seconds of a Beiber song because I have control over the back button.

Amusingly, I didn't hear "Call Me Maybe" (another apparently unavoidable pop song) until I saw it used on a commercial for a West African cell carrier. It took me until the chorus to realize what it was.

It really is possible to be ignorant of a lot of pop culture. It's not something that makes you better (and sometimes I miss out on really good stuff, e.g. I didn't know who the White Stripes were until my mom told me); it just means that your media habits are such that you don't encounter it that often.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:36 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


kittens for breakfast: I was skimming this over breakfast and mostly nodding over it...

It's amazing you can concentrate at all what with those screaming kittens.
posted by gman at 6:49 AM on July 6 [33 favorites]


For his sake, I hope he survives and comes out the other end OK. I'm not Bieber's demographic and would be hard pushed to identify one of his songs, but his misbehaviour does seem to hit my news stream on a regular basis.
posted by arcticseal at 7:17 AM on July 6


Taylor is a genius songwriter because she knows only 4 chords, has a very limited vocal range, and sings about the same theme in every single song.

To connect with an audience so intensely and make so much from a highly constrained sound palette is the essence of pop genius. She is Bob Dylan rebuilt by Tavi Gevinson.
posted by colie at 7:24 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


So fifteen years ago, even I couldn't avoid the music of Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears but I really don't think that I've ever heard anything by Justin Bieber. It's amazing how segmented culture is now that, without any conscious effort to escape it, one can just never hear music by a major pop star

This, alas, is just an effect of growing old. The same thing happened to me long before Justin Bieber broke on the scene (and I am unaware of ever hearing anything Bieber ever performed). One day it seems to you impossible not to have at least nodding acquaintance with whatever the most popular music of the day is--even if you hate it. Then, suddenly, people are talking about "So-and-so whose music has been absolutely inescapable for the last three years" or "Such-and-such a song which was everybody's jam during the summer of..." and you think "who?"..."what?"

Sigh.
posted by yoink at 7:27 AM on July 6 [9 favorites]


Metafilter: Bob Dylan rebuilt by Tavi Gevinson
posted by localroger at 7:28 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


and you think "who?"..."what?"

I did not know who Bruno Mars was until I saw him perform the Superbowl half-time show. I distantly recognized a couple of the songs but when someone is that popular they don't make a habit of telling you who's singing every time they play, and I had somehow completely missed the news that he was a phenomenon.
posted by localroger at 7:30 AM on July 6


On reflection, if Justin Bieber wasn't in the news so much for acting up, I probably wouldn't know who he is, either.
posted by localroger at 7:34 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


This just makes me sad.
posted by kinetic at 7:34 AM on July 6


Okay, I'll give you Neil Young, but to say that Steven Tyler thinks Taylor Swift is a "beyond talented" songwriter is textbook damning-with-faint-praise.

My curiosity having been piqued, though, I searched for some of her lyrics (using Duck Duck Go of course, to keep the search off my permanent record).

Her songs seem very Professionally-Crafted, which is to say...kinda boring.

She's clearly had practice, but she's no Leonard Cohen.
posted by univac at 7:35 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


one persons "weirdly sympathetic" is another persons "intelligent and refreshingly objective."
posted by coaster at 7:35 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


Then, suddenly, people are talking about "So-and-so whose music has been absolutely inescapable for the last three years" or "Such-and-such a song which was everybody's jam during the summer of..." and you think "who?"..."what?"

This is a factor, but I think media is just much more fragmented now than it was fifteen or even ten years ago. A person who was 40 in 2000 would certainly have known who Britney Spears was, but I don't think it would be outlandish to expect that a person who is 30 in 2014 would have no idea who the latest tween sensations are. We still have a monolithic over-culture where you'll find Beyonce and Katy Perry and Kanye, et al, but there are so many more avenues for media now that much of it is specialized and targeted in a way that just didn't used to be true. (That said, you have heard Bieber and Adele and Lorde and tons of other artists you probably don't think you've heard if you've walked into a Kohl's or an Applebee's in the last few years.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:40 AM on July 6


I searched for some of her lyric

I don't know that those who praise Taylor Swift's songwriting are saying that she's crafting Leonard Cohen-like poetry. You can be a "genius" pop-song writer without writing words that stand up on the page outside of the context of the music. Arguably, Cohen is one of a pretty small handful of those who can.

Steven Tyler thinks Taylor Swift is a "beyond talented" songwriter is textbook damning-with-faint-praise.


I just Googled that and he followed it up with "I have to write a song with her."

(Disclaimer: I don't think I've ever knowingly heard a song by Taylor Swift, either; but I was fascinated by the long New Yorker piece I read about her a while back.)
posted by yoink at 7:44 AM on July 6


Taylor's lyrics are patchy and certainly not intellectual, but when they work it's mind blowing. I've heard 20 thousand girls bellow this:

You're on the phone with your girlfriend—she's upset,
She's going off about something that you said
'Cause she doesn't get your humor like I do.
posted by colie at 7:48 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I'd love to read this same article about Miley Cyrus, or better the two in juxtaposition. I think the author did a great job digging beneath the surface story with Bieber, to understand a bit more about the real person there. I'd like to see the same with Cyrus. She's having the same awkward public "I'm an adult now' thing, only where Bieber acts like a jackass and drives drunk, Cyrus goes on stage and does some eyebrow-raising sexy dancing. I get the impression she's way more in control of her maturation, is sort of going through the poses, and most importantly channeling it into her art. It makes me think she has more to offer than Bieber and may have a more interesting adult career.

As Zoo noted above, South Park's episode Britney's New Look S12E02 is the canonical parody of America's obsession with seeing young success explode into misery. There's even a prescient Miley Cyrus bit at the end. It really is a masterful episode.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I thought that "cause she doesn't get your humor like I do" was an avril lavigne song for a looong time.

Also for about the first several months that baby baby ooh song was on the radio I thought it was a girl singing it. No idea it was the beebs.
posted by sio42 at 7:59 AM on July 6


>This is a factor, but I think media is just much more fragmented now than it was fifteen or even ten years ago.

'media' being 'fragmented' may or may not be relevant, but isn't it more interesting to think about whether it's you that's the determining variable here? you're 15 years older. and if justin beiber isn't the monolith, nothing is.
posted by coaster at 8:04 AM on July 6


and who was SO COOL that they never thought Seth Rogen was cool in the first place

*raises hand*

Had to Google the guy, and the only thing I've seen that he was "in" is Shrek the Third.

Wait. Does this mean I'm actually COOL NOW????
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 8:14 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


'media' being 'fragmented' may or may not be relevant, but isn't it more interesting to think about whether it's you that's the determining variable here? you're 15 years older. and if justin beiber isn't the monolith, nothing is.

Heh, I think thinking about ourselves is the default setting we need to try and move our frame of reference out of, generally. My perception based only on anecdotal information is that we had fewer sensations that had more cultural bandwidth a decade or so ago; I think we have more sensations now, but that they probably reach fewer people; and that those people are probably more seriously interested in them, versus simply being exposed to them. As I also said, though, I think in Bieber's particular case, everyone reading this has heard him, whether they know it or not. I agree, he's the monolith, God help us all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:16 AM on July 6


She's having the same awkward public "I'm an adult now' thing, only where Bieber acts like a jackass and drives drunk, Cyrus goes on stage and does some eyebrow-raising sexy dancing. I get the impression she's way more in control of her maturation

But isn't this the stereotypical difference between boys and girls? Girls are supposed to be more mature at an earlier age. Naturally that's just a generalization, but it seems to hold true in this case. I know I was immature for a long time, until my 40's I believe. I finally settled down though. The difference with me is no one cares what some generic blue collar worker guy does, but the world seems to want to know every time a pop star defecates or farts.
posted by Eekacat at 8:24 AM on July 6


Unlike One Direction he can't sell out stadiums - in Europe he can't even fill arena-size venues reliably.

Yeah but that's really easy to explain: five differently-pretty boys will capture a greater percentage of the target demographic than a single pretty boy. Plus with five performers you get more of a Big Arena Stage Show than with one (unless, obviously, you're Madonna or something).

That said, I think Bieber's star is no longer ascending. We have hit peak Bieber. He can't really go in a different artistic direction because he'd lose a large percentage of the cash registers fanbase, and continuing to do the exact same thing over and over just gets boring after a while, even for obsessed tweens and teens.

I feel sorry for the kid, to be honest. He went from some nothing nice kid with a guitar to SUPERMEGAPOPSTAR more or less overnight. That has got to fuck with your head. (See also: Britney Spears.) When normal teenagers act out in stupid ways, the results can often be somewhat (self)destructive. When a teenager with a bajillion dollars and not a single person around him to say No acts out, the damage--especially the self-damage--is multiplied by a bajillion.

I just hope he gains the maturity soon enough to be able to walk away from it all without the slide into Britney Spears-esque ridiculous public stuntery, or withering into a has-been teen pop star performing for conferences of bored middle managers (e.g. David Cassidy).

I think the best thing he could do for himself, and it probably won't happen, is to take a few years off right now, go to university or vacation solo for a while, and gain some perspective.

I think it's far more likely that he's going to be involved in a serious/deadly car crash or something, and not in the distant future.

Like I said, I feel sorry for him. Obviously I envy the money and the fame and so forth, but I feel pity for him as a person who completely lost the chance to grow up relatively normally.

Come back to Canada for a while, Bieber. Go live with your mum for a year or so. Chill the hell out and let all the public nonsense fade away for a bit until you can find some clarity, and then decide if you want to get back on the rollercoaster. Because from here the only way I can see is down for you.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:35 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Wait. Does this mean I'm actually COOL NOW????

Yes! See, the system works!
posted by mintcake! at 8:44 AM on July 6


The comparison with Swift was interesting, for reasons unrelated to their musical talent. Bieber is the son of two people who were substance abusers and who had him while they were teenagers. While his mom became a Christian, and tried to augment her own behavior with new values, Justin did grow up in relative poverty and dysfunction compared to Taylor Swift. There's intergenerational substance abuse and decadence for Biebers family.

I like both of them personally. Part of the benefit of having two young elementary school age daughters is I get to indulge in their musical tastes. I don't think bieber is popular among the same demographic that he once was, but I do have fondness for him still. He is a guy who seems to have many self destructive genes inside him, and that's not his fault. He also has effectively a myopic view of his life, biased towards present consumption, an adolescent body and libido, women of all ages apparently desperate to have sex with him, and for all practical purposes an infinite budget constraint. Not surprising then to see him acting like almost any kid his age would act in the same exact circumstances. Taylor swift behaves differently but not necessarily bc she has more character per se. So much as she seems just less interested in being insane like that, and has far less of a myopic view about herself and her career's potential.

I take celebrities at their word when they say that fame takes as much as it gives. Its hard to believe it sometimes when you're in a life where income is never able to cover expenses (or so it seems), and your own screw ups seem to destroy everything you care about whereas it seems less impactful when the same things happen to celebrities. But its really a constant refrain that the constant watching and the predatorial tabloid press -- which has become decentralized and exploded with the Internet -- causes celebrities genuine suffering. I also don't need to hate justin bieber. Some people hate justin bieber because they seem to need someone to hate on. But the guy is basically going to die one day just like me; and I have no desire to trash him because he is basically acting like a kid.

It didn't really surprise me when the other day I saw that Johnny Manziel was at his house party. Down in texas where I live, outside of A&M anyway, Manziel was the Justin bieber around here -- the guy people loved to hate, and who seemed to genuinely despise even more whenever he did anything well. But ultimately manziel and bieber are kids. And they're acting like kids. Manziel and bieber act like how I wanted to act when I was their age, only I had 0.01 percent the odds of getting with women compared to them. I shudder to think what I would've done had there been absolutely no constraints -- no economic constraints, no constraints on my talent and opportunity, no social constraints. It's when that is the case that I think you see who people are at their core genetics, their core preferences. And some of that can be repugnant to people but you don't have to let it be. Guy is probably to reach age 30, and he will like the rest of us have so many regrets. Only his probably will hurt in ways we can't fathom bc unlike you or me, who had less to lose in high school and college, he will have lost the golden handcuffs of superstardom. And that's got to be weird bc on the one hand, there's a tremendous feeling that comes from facing constraints whatever they are. But he hopefully can be free of all the negative outward things. Life's so freaking hard for everyone. No one is really doing much better than any of us existentially. They just do better economically and with regards to talent and chances. But they all die, have friends who did, fall in love and experience crushing rejections. I liked this article. Thanks.
posted by scunning at 8:50 AM on July 6 [11 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks. The "kinky national ritual" as a sort of collective puritanical mythos (complete with hints of a redemption story there at the end of OP) -- it's a mainstream cousin of the born again narratives of various pop-Christian figures, I think.

One of the things OP didn't mention was how people (at least on the internet) attack Bieber's masculinity, either in the schoolyard name calling way ("Justine Beaver") or outright misgendering him (calling him "she", "her", etc.). I don't really follow him that closely, but when he's on my radar it's not hard to read whatever latest misdeed in that context. Especially if he's hanging out with Lil Wayne, who is pretty much the emperor of cartoon masculinity re: hyperaggression/hypersexuality.

The Wayne connection is also interesting in light of the early on and deliberate casting of Michael Jackson as a role model / goal for Bieber. Yeah, that's one pop star model, but I wonder if Wayne isn't sort of unintentionally an alternative. He's is also a child star made good, albeit in a very different vein, who also came from a not-great background into sudden riches and who also seems pretty self destructive. But unlike Jackson and Bieber, he (far as I know) escaped the elements of fame they seem(ed) unable to handle. And although he doesn't have the same secure masculinity as someone like TI (or even Justin Timberlake), people don't really call him a girl.
posted by postcommunism at 8:56 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism.

Except that some people walk away from Omelas.
posted by Legomancer at 8:59 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


faux-Clinton-and–Abe Lincoln–fellating

This is like 99% off topic but I'm fascinated by the hyphenation in this phrase.

posted by nebulawindphone at 9:06 AM on July 6 [9 favorites]


So..what is it he's done again? He peed in a mop bucket and told off a portrait of Bill Clinton? He spat off a balcony onto fans? He egged a house and smokes lots of pot? He told a racist joke when he was 15?

I mean this doesn't even sound like money and fame has anything to do with it. Other than having fans to spit on, this sounds like normal, stupid teen stuff. The kid's a damned fool and he'll grow up eventually
posted by Hoopo at 9:22 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I have to join in the head-scratching at the framing of this as "weirdly sympathetic." I think all she's doing is remembering that there's a human being in there, good and bad, which is pretty much what separates good celebrity profilers from hacks. I mean, if you want a one-dimensional thrashing of Justin Bieber from a POV that says there's no humanity there and is only an image that everyone should rage against, it's not like that hasn't been done. There's not much point in writing a piece that says that. (Keep in mind that while this is online at Vulture, it's a feature in New York Magazine, so they likely wouldn't have bothered if the point was to roll somebody out of bed to LOL at dummies.)
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:37 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Yeah but that's really easy to explain: five differently-pretty boys will capture a greater percentage of the target demographic than a single pretty boy.

Michael Jackson did pretty well after splitting from a boy band as did Timberlake. And having attended 1D stadium shows with my daughter, they have basically zero fancy stage show and don't dance.

What they do have is the cheeky we-don't-really-care gang mentality that is so appealing, like the Beatles. It's an intuitive sense of humour and fun that Bieber, adorned with wannabe tattoos and non-ironic baseball caps, does not even realise could exist in humanity.

Another thing Bieber lags behind in is fan fiction, which is huge for 1D. 1D have an army of fans who call themselves 'Shippers', which is short for 'Relationshipper'. Shippers write stories about how any two of the 1D boys are secretly in a deeply loving sexual relationship with each other, but the band and the industry cannot allow this to be known (most common is Louis and Harry). It's an ingenious way for very young girls to practice having feelings about love and sex. Bieber doesn't seem to provide a platform for this kind of complexity...?

He basically looks very, very old fashioned compared to the 1D invasion (they are playing more than 35 football stadiums in the US during August-October).
posted by colie at 9:40 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


Huh, okay.. the footage (very little) I've seen of 1D shows a bunch of Big Stage Performance-y stuff, but I bow to your experience.

Interesting point on the old fashioned idea, since 1D is nothing new (except for the shippers); see also NKOTB, Backstreet Boys, N*SYNC, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:43 AM on July 6


Well, no 1D are not like watching Leonard Cohen, but regarding their lack of 'stage show', they don't have any backing dancers at all - unlike Katy Perry/Miley/Bieber type shows, and they don't have thematic costume changes or even a big stage set, all of which even Taylor Swift has. They basically jump around grinning faux-amateurishly.
posted by colie at 9:49 AM on July 6


Taylor is a genius songwriter because she knows only 4 chords, has a very limited vocal range, and sings about the same theme in every single song.

Well, it's one chord more than the Ramones.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:03 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]




Taylor is a genius songwriter

People! Don't forget, Taylor Swift led to this.
posted by Gorgik at 10:25 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


As a classical musician and mother of a seven year old girl, I'm gonna speak up for Swift's songwriting genius here. "We Are Never Getting Back Together" is the kind of song you hear once as somebody's car drives past and sing for the rest of the day. The way she walks it back and forth from a personal, individual, conversational style, including a literal spoken conversation at one point, to a foot stomping crowd-shouting anthem, is really inspired. I will often find myself singing just the "and you (Ooh ooh ooh ooh), you called me up again last night" part randomly. I don't love all her subject material, and her lyrics aren't deep poetry, but her "omg mom I love this song turn it up turn it up!" factor is huge.
posted by KathrynT at 10:26 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


> 1D is nothing new (except for the shippers)

No, no, the shipping is traditional. (Though like an aging yuppie looking for a hookup, I am unable to find Backstreet Boys or NSYNC slash as easily as I once could.)
posted by postcommunism at 10:38 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


If you like to examine pop from a songwriting/music theory point of view, 'We are never ever getting back together' and other recent Taylor songs were co-written by Max Martin, who also wrote and produced a staggering amount of the biggest hits for the Backstreet Boys, N-SYNC, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera. He has been the Mozart of pop for the last 20 years or so.
posted by colie at 10:44 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Postcommunism, thanks for the 'shipping info, I didn't realise it was so well established.

I still think that the internet/social media has accelerated everything to the point at which the boundary between truth and fiction for 'shippers must feel way more slippery than ever before. If you were settling down to read some photocopied fan fiction 'shipping material 20 years ago, it must have felt very different to today's experience of scrolling through hundreds of fresh tweets, blogs and and pap photos that your equally obsessed friends claim will expose Harry and Louis' love and thus free us all somehow from our ecstatically painful state of loving unattainable objects.
posted by colie at 10:54 AM on July 6


It isn't too different from ritual child sacrifice to Moloch four thousand years ago.
posted by bukvich at 11:25 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Except for the part where Bieber gets to live to adulthood instead of being burned alive.
posted by thelonius at 11:46 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Bieber will get to live to adulthood in Earth years, but not in any kind of mental sense.
posted by colie at 11:49 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Faint of Butt: "This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism.

We have to do this from time to time, or else the Old Gods will rise.
"

Wanna know what's sad? There are people that believe this bullshit (not the old gods, but "illuminati mind control of pop stars). It really makes me wish I wasn't even considered part of the same species as people who can truly believe shit like that.
posted by symbioid at 12:05 PM on July 6


I'm a hardcore country nut and spent several years making my living as a country musician and songwriter. I don't much like Taylor Swift's stuff, but it isn't written to appeal to 50 year old Merle Haggard acolytes either. And I can say with no irony that, yes, she is a songwriting genius and a damn good performer whose talent is evident to any fellow musician.

She reminds me in many ways, as an artist, of Dolly Parton, actually, albeit (like every country star of her generation, other than the similarly talented Shania Twain) minus the impoverished rural upbringing.
posted by spitbull at 1:30 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I never understand why we expect manufactured teen pop stars to behave like regular teenagers.
...
I don't think anyone really expects that. It's more that we'd like them not to be painfully ignorant and insufferably spoiled.



But when I looked it up...

teen pop star (def.) painfully ignorant and insufferably spoiled...
posted by BlueHorse at 1:51 PM on July 6


I don't much like Taylor Swift's stuff, but it isn't written to appeal to 50 year old Merle Haggard acolytes either

More a Johnny Cash man myself, but you're damn skippy- in fact, I don't hear any Country Signifiers in her stuff at all. (Maybe her earlier records are different?)

Haven't listened to a lot of her songs, but We Are Never Ever Etc.- minus the sound, which would have been impossible at the time- would have it in just fine on the 'rock' radio 30 years ago, right next to Blondie, Journey, the Go Go's, Michael Jackson, and Pat Benetar, not to mention Neil Young, Aerosmith and Stevie Nicks (per the above testimonials).

I wouldn't have said I liked contemporary country, but that song is pretty badass, really- seems like Lefsetz is right when he says, as he often does, that Country is the new Rock. Maybe because of Mutt Lange?
posted by hap_hazard at 2:19 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Taylor songs were co-written by Max Martin, who also wrote and produced a staggering amount of the biggest hits for the Backstreet Boys, N-SYNC, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera. He has been the Mozart of pop for the last 20 years or so.

Finally our long national Diane Warren nightmare is over!

She's having the same awkward public "I'm an adult now' thing, only where Bieber acts like a jackass and drives drunk, Cyrus goes on stage and does some eyebrow-raising sexy dancing.

Interestingly, I have a friend (40-something, male, generally aware of pop culture) who--while not expressing any particular opinion about Bieber--explicitly scorns Cyrus because she's so blatant about it being an act.

I find it more interesting that, it now being close to a year from that ridiculous performance at the MTV awards, she has pretty much sailed through all the jeering and is sitting quite pretty while Robin Thicke--a grown-ass man, not a Bieber--is in the midst of one crisis after another.
posted by psoas at 2:54 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism. You can call it whatever you want—the collective ethos of a nation of Puritans trying to assuage sexual ­anxiety; a secular society combating a fear of death by torturing a cast of teenage voodoo dolls; or, at the least, a coded language communicating parental discomfort with our own children’s growing up

I'm really sorry I read this article after the Cabin In The Woods thread finished up.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:44 PM on July 6


These sort of threads make me smile as they are always full of people claiming to have never, ever, ever heard any music from the artist being referred to.

It's right up there with the "I don't have a TV" trope.

Eventually we will get to the "Now, I know what a guitar looks like but I'm quite sure I have never heard the sounds that they make" level.
posted by davey_darling at 9:48 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I read the OP because, while I'm not the target audience for Bieber's music, it sounded like his story, especially being at the crossroads where he is, would make for a pretty interesting read.

It wasn't, strangely enough. I've come to a point where stories of uncut, full-bodied fame just don't do anything for me. Fame, and the trials and challenges it brings, just aren't interesting anymore, and not even in a sardonic "oh waaah, poor baby, you're famous and don't know what to do with it" way.

It could be that I've read a fair amount lately on the 2008 economic crash and the Wall Street Conquistadors who caused it and, reading about them, you also don't get even a sense of disgust at the naked greed and obscene wealth, but an eye-rolling sigh at the banality of it all.

I guess what I'm saying is, "You did all this work and came all this way to drive expensive cars fast? Really? That's it?"
posted by Legomancer at 5:25 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


These sort of threads make me smile as they are always full of people claiming to have never, ever, ever heard any music from the artist being referred to.

I just thought that it was interesting that you could be very familiar with the whole soap opera of a performer's life and hear constantly about what he's doing without ever actually running into his music.
posted by octothorpe at 6:27 AM on July 7


These sort of threads make me smile as they are always full of people claiming to have never, ever, ever heard any music from the artist being referred to.

It's right up there with the "I don't have a TV" trope.


No, you're really misreading the point. It's "holy shit I'm old and out of touch" not "my tastes are too rarefied to bother with this plebeian pablum." There's no sense of achievement associated with it.
posted by yoink at 6:42 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


Trying to separate the Joffrey-boy from it, Bieber's actual music has always been very poor in terms of how his team never seem to raise their aim above simply aping whatever has been selling recently, which they layer upon a foundation of the kind of Michael-Jackson-by-numbers slop that Timberlake also serves up, with guest rappers flown in to substitute for imagination, texture or 'edge'.

(Timberlake however is able to add wit and intelligence, apparently intuitively, to his sub-Jacko meanderings, which are of course the two qualities Bieber has zero understanding of.)
posted by colie at 7:00 AM on July 7


That's because Timberlake, unlike Bieber, literally grew up in show business. From the Mouseketeers to N*SYNC, etc.

Bieber went from nothing to megafamous in about a week. The fact that he has zero understanding of those things is a lack of experience, not a personal failing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:49 AM on July 7


MetaFilter: my tastes are too rarefied to bother with this plebeian pablum.

See also: your favorite band sucks, get off my lawn, etc.,
posted by ostranenie at 8:44 PM on July 7


Finally our long national Diane Warren nightmare is over!

Yep. Max Martin is also the writer of 'Problem' by Ariana Grande/Iggy Azalea. 25 years ago he was in a Swedish heavy metal band. A stone cold pop genius.
posted by colie at 10:47 AM on July 8


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