The world doesn’t need another Justin Bieber article.
However, I hope to go down a different path and maybe a few of you will go down with me.
My feelings about Justin Bieber are neutral. I don’t know much about his music, the videos, the tours or anything else. This has allowed me to be objective to the point of being dispassionate. From this distance, he seems okay, just a regular 16 year old from Scranton dealing with overnight fame and wealth as best he can.
Bieber is different, though. For one thing, although there have been many teen idols before him, he is the first solo male teen idol to emerge in a long time. For another, as it’s probably been noted, he is entirely the creation of You Tube. There was no Justin Bieber before this 14 year old posted a video performance on You Tube. No albums, no shows, no articles, no TV appearances. He didn’t exist. The You Tube video was discovered by girls, who told other girls, who…made him into a teen idol.
If I were a manager of a young hopeful, I’d treat You Tube with respect, a valuable medium, and encourage the new talent to post on You Tube, thinking that, if it can happen to Justin Bieber.…
Therein lies the music industry’s and the media’s cynicism. At sixteen, he’s made three albums, published a memoir, been offered TV and film roles, approached to cohost a resurrected Punk’d and, as everybody must have him, made a slew of guest appearances.
This is to suggest that Justin Bieber is happening now. He must be exploited now. This is further to suggest that Bieber doesn’t have a future. That just as quickly as he came out of nowhere, he can go back, replaced by the next Justin. Conceivably, he could be washed up by the time he’s 18.
It’s a real fear. When he is 18, Justin Bieber will be entering the corridor of the identity crisis. He’ll be asking the questions, who am I? What do I want to do? What do I want or expect from life? The identity crisis can strike as late as the early to mid 20s and manifest itself at the extreme by mental breakdown or, even worse, schizophrenia. A celebrated example is Brian Wilson. While he was being hailed in 1966 as a genius, the 22 year old composer and producer for the Beach Boys was falling apart.
There was a tug of war between wanting to progress and resistance from the other Beach Boys. His fragile temperament led him to back away and, as Wilson grew more eccentric, the uncomprehending simply dismissed such behaviour as “Brian being Brian.”
More recently, Alanis Morrisette came through the corridor in a way that showed up the media for being unimaginative. At 16, Morrisette had made two frothy, fluffy, utterly inconsequential pop albums that branded her. Then, she dropped out of sight but when she came back into view some six years later with the confrontational, angry and hugely successful Jagged Little Pill album, there were many voices that could not believe this was the same Morrisette.
Between 16 and 22 you do a lot of growing, reap a lot of experience. Morrisette handled her identity crisis in private, and then funneled her experience into Jagged Little Pill. Did the media really think that the Morrisette of 16 would be the same Morrisette of 22? Did they really think Jagged Little Pill was a suspicious career move?
Morrisette, though, is intelligent. Not as smart is Britney Spears. Spears’ idol status made her one of the most successful teenagers in history, but, being not very bright, she didn’t have the intellectual capacity to deal with her popularity. After making an album that declared her adulthood (that is, she no longer was a virgin), Spears went on to have what appeared a mental breakdown, as embarrassing escapade proceeded to pile up one after another.
Then, a strange thing happened. She embarked on a comeback, and the public, having seen her pathetic for so long, cheered her on as she struggled to her feet. The comeback is not nearly complete, and she hasn’t been gracious about her return, but maybe there is a lesson in this.
For instance, Hillary Duff has handled her career with unexpected maturity, going so far as to title her last album Dignity. You can speculate that Dignity is her response to Spears. Not for her, public exhibitions of a fragile mental state. Not for her, anything that can be made into gossip fodder. The irony of going Duff’s route is that she’s judged boring and summarily dismissed. Where once she was a media darling, it’s hard to find any news on her now.
Duff was supplanted by Miley Cyrus, who is now struggling to come to terms with adulthood. She’s done the predictable by dirtying her clean image. Didn’t Spears, Christina Aguilera, or Janet Jackson already do that to theirs? Sultry videos, steamy singles aren’t really a passage into maturity. They just say, “I’ve fucked.” They alienate the fans who want Cyrus to stay the same, and force the remaining supporters to choose to grow with her or find somebody else. Why not just read a book? Tell the public what you have learned. Yes, these are examples of girls trying to be women, but that might be why watching Justin Bieber going from boy to man will be revealing.