Love him or hate him, Justin Bieber has blossomed into the Millennial Generation’s biggest teen sensation. With over 15 million albums sold and a Twitter following that tops 43 million, the 19-year-old pop star has become something of a cultural phenomenon, a pure product of today’s digital age and a manifestation of social media’s life-changing influence.
At the 2013 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, Bieber’s success was all but validated with the coveted Milestone Award, a fan-awarded trophy that celebrates significant chart-topping success and ingenuity. The win was indeed a huge coup for Bieber who, in just five years, had transformed from a virtual unknown to a global superstar.
Strangely though, Bieber wasn’t so enthused. His acceptance speech was more defensive than grateful, directed at either the audible boos from the crowd, or perhaps in a larger sense, the undercurrent of disdain that has followed his career since its beginning. “It really should be about the music,” he told his detractors. A worthy remark for sure, but one that carries little weight coming from Bieber, a star who-in all practical purposes-has become the poster child of the insufferably artificial and commercialized music industry.
In addition, Bieber is harangued for a likely, puberty-induced attitude change; namely, the so-called ‘bad boy’ complex, the belief that ‘misbehaving’ will somehow toughen your image and enhance your sex appeal. In recent months, the Biebs has been involved in a series of incidents that run counter to his once innocent, boy-next-door persona. Whether it’s showing up late to concerts, pissing in a janitor’s mop bucket or grappling with foreign photographers, Bieber is now tabloid gold, showing an extraordinary-albeit contrived-array of angst, egotism and mayhem.
In many ways, it’s not that surprising. Wherever he goes, a massive block of hysterical (and likely insecure) females is there to prop him up, massage his ego and make him feel omnipotent. It’s great job security for sure, but unlikely to last forever. Teen idols do have a reputation of falling by the wayside quite dramatically, even in dismal and tragic ways (who would have thought David Cassidy would look so bad in a DUI mugshot?).
Though Bieber claims he is different, or in his own words, “should be taken seriously,” we can only imagine how long his appeal will last. A recent Public Policy Poll shows that 54% of Americans now have an unfavorable view towards him, this compared to other, more favorable views towards Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake.
Perhaps it is something about Bieber in particular that rubs people the wrong way. Though jealousy of teen idols is nothing new, the resentment towards him is considerably stronger. It’s almost as if people are unwilling to accept his fame, as if his worldwide stardom is a disproportionate reaction to his relatively limited looks, talent and charisma. Even the notion of being discovered on YouTube is held against him, as if this is not an accurate measure of effectively ‘paying your dues’ before scoring a record deal.
In either case, the sweet, likable kid who once showed off his budding musical chops in amateur home videos, is now a glitzy, hair-gelled hooligan, who’s not only lost his innocent charm but become yet another addition to the vomit-inducing, technology-dependent, make-me-a-star maelstrom of celebrity culture.
The ‘YouTube star’ is, in many ways, a new phenomenon in the music world, and one that Bieber has no doubt promulgated. The breakthrough and eventual success of his single “Baby” legitimized the possibilities (and dividends) of YouTube, and proliferated a slew of sub-par artists into the mainstream. While the global scope of the Internet has paid off for all these artists, it has, in effect, remodeled the music world into a sort of de facto communist regime, where opportunity is more evenly spread, but the quality of artist less significant.
If it all seems a bit out-of-whack, perhaps it’s because we’re lacking a true anti-hero, a musical original who’s willing to go against the grain of the industry’s trajectory, right the ship, and yet still resonate with mainstream audiences. Where’s our Bob Dylan? Our David Bowie? Our Kurt Cobain? These artists were known for their non-conformity and their willingness to deliver a timely message, warts and all. They didn’t dress like pop stars. They didn’t sing like pop stars. What they brought was honesty, or rather, an authenticity to a culture that so badly needed it. It may be only a matter of time before such a star arrives; but until then, the question is: do the recent antics of Bieber represent just a rebellious, teenage phase? Or do they signal (to the delight of many) the beginning of his demise?
1) Justin Bieber Statistics: http://www.statisticbrain.com/justin-bieber-statistics/
2) Zap 2 It: http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2013/05/justin-bieber-booed-for-billboards-milestone-award-speech-i-should-be-taken-seriously.html
3) Public Policy Polling: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2013/05/americans-hate-justin-bieber.html