Fighting for a piece of the Bieb
by Sarah Wool, editor; illustration by Max Robillard, staff artist
I was hunched over a textbook when I heard that jovial sixteen-year-old voice for the first time. It wafted through my half-open windows; it was airy with a hint of rasp—think Lindsay Lohan after a good stay in rehab. “Damn, that girl’s voice is catchy!” I thought to myself. Turns out I wasn’t the only one sent into a groove by the sweet cadence of her song. Days later, I was flipping through radio stations when I heard the melody again!
The voice sang unto me with perfect pitch: “And I was like / Baby, baby, baby oh / Like baby, baby, baby no / Like baby, baby, baby oh / I thought you’d always be mine.” These lyrics suggested several conclusions. First, this girl has a near-perfect understanding of the flurried emotions surrounding the demise of my last relationship. It had indeed left me inarticulate and confused! Second, she is sophisticated enough to recognize the power of simplicity. Those pithy, reductionist lyrics demonstrated a clear mastery of artistic minimalism. Third, her word choice made me think she’d probably written this song herself, meaning that she is down-to-earth and likeable. And then came another voice on the radio: “That was Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris with ‘Baby.’” Awestruck, I realized that the voice that had grabbed my heart wasn’t a girl’s at all—it was the voice of a prepubescent boy waiting for his balls to drop.
But Justin doesn’t need a deep voice or a five o’clock shadow to win the hearts of preteen fangirls everywhere, because these girls have an insatiable appetite for his uncanny understanding of their feelings. What he lacks in height, weight, and romantic experience he makes up for in boyish charm and imaginative lyrics about what a serious relationship might entail. In “U Smile,” for example, he demonstrates a heroic devotion to love: “If you need me / I’ll come running / From a thousand miles away.” If you’re wondering why Justin is so serious about this special lady, it’s because she gives him a contagious case of smiles. Justin explains, “When you smile, I smile (oh whoa) / You smile, I smile / Hey.” Indeed. In “Baby,” we see that even at a tender age Justin has already contemplated marriage and amassed a great store of material wealth: “I’ll buy you anything / I’ll buy you any ring,” he promises. Still, by the end of the song his baby leaves him and he laments, “Now I’m all gone.” Love ain’t easy.
Maybe these romantic troubles stem from Justin’s tendency towards overzealousness. In “One Less Lonely Girl,” his lyrics teeter between sweet and stalker-esque: “Don’t need these other pretty faces like I need you / And when you’re mine in this world / There’s gonna be one less lonely girl / (I’m coming for you) One less lonely girl…” It is unclear whether Bieber is going to kidnap, murder, or date this “lonely girl” with whom he is so taken. And herein lies the power of the Bieber fever: his words are so meaningless, indeed so timeless, that a listener may interpret them howsoever he or she desires. Such lyrics fuel the Bieber machine, and in the hearts of his fans he can do no wrong. (The fans can, of course, do wrong towards each other. When former fan Sydney Dalton made a video of herself ripping up her Justin Bieber posters, she was harassed by an irate army of Bieber fans who violently threatened her and nicknamed her “Slutney.”)
Olivia Diventi, a fifteen-year-old who once touched Justin Bieber’s hand at a Maryland state fair and is now a renowned Bieber expert, says she loves Justin Bieber because he’s cute and funny and his songs are upbeat. When he touched her hand, she says, “he kind of looked at us, but kind of not, and then he kept running.” He also had band-aids on his fingers, which, according to Diventi, either means that he has warts or that he is trying to emulate Michael Jackson. (Most likely warts, though.) Justin lip-synched a few songs, but Diventi concludes that this was the only way that he could save his voice. For Diventi, there is only one reason why someone could dislike Justin Bieber: envy. She explains, “boys don’t like him because they are jealous and Justin Bieber has lots of money and they don’t.”
Teenage girls aren’t the only ones sticking up for the Bieb. Twenty-one-year-old Colorado College senior Sarah-Beth Erb explains, “I’m just a cougar for the Biebs. I go along with the Bieber fever. He has a good voice and I listen to him without all the pop stuff—just him singing with acoustic guitar.” When I asked what she would say to all the Bieber haters, Erb responded, “Come on; it’s a lot easier to like him than hate him. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. But poor little Biebs—so much hate.” Sophomore Alison Suzukamo has also been struck by the arrow of Bieber love. “I even went to a concert,” she says. “No shame. And Sean Kingston and Iyaz were there.” In fact, Justin Bieber is used to collaborating with big names. Usher, Ludacris, Justin Timberlake, Christina Milian, Tina Fey, Kim Kardashian, Raekwon, and Kanye West have all shown interest in managing or working with him.
So why is Bieber so damn popular? I’ll tell you why! It’s because he gives a face to our American Dream, to our notion that any old nobody can pull himself up by his bootstraps if he works hard enough. My liberal arts education has taught me that this is a crock, but Bieber offers up a baby-faced anomaly of a success story. And who cares if he is actually Canadian! His young single mother raised him alone in Ontario, but he would not spend his life as a bottom feeder. His mom posted online videos of him singing and he quickly became an internet sensation. Eventually an acclaimed American music manager stumbled on one of Bieber’s contagious warbles. Bieber hightailed it to Atlanta and got signed. Soon his popularity exploded. But mockery followed close behind when Justin found himself being nicknamed “the singing fetus” in an ABC Nightline interview. Matters were made worse when another interview with a New Zealand teen gossip show revealed that he did not know the word “German.”
Can his shimmer last, or is it doomed to wear off? His voice has begun to crack during live performances, and there are floating allegations that he stole his shaggy coif from the lesbian community. Junior Ginés Sánchez, however, knows that Justin has what it takes to last in the music industry: “He is secretly a genius. Apart from his multifaceted ability to play and sing music, he is pretty charming.” Perhaps he can be reworked into a more sophisticated star. Or puberty could end his career as we know it, relegating him to an icy street in Ontario where he will sell hot dogs with a heart-melting smile and a side of nostalgia. Only time will tell.