Baby Beiber’s growth pangs

It’s not a surprise that when you place the world in the hands of a boy,he drops it. But going rogue may be only way to save the pop star’s career.

Written by New York Times | Published: December 29, 2013 4:50:07 am

Jon Caramanica

Of all the videos Justin Bieber has been featured in this year,none is likely to leave as deep an impact as the one that surfaced last month of him sleeping comfortably — vulnerably — on a couch in Brazil. That video was recorded by a woman,described in news reports variously as a porn star,a prostitute or a mere party guest,who blows him a kiss at the end of the clip and who went on to tell the press that she and Bieber had shared a night of sex.

Maybe it’s true,maybe it’s not,but whichever the case,the video reinforced the idea of Bieber as a loose cannon. And 2013 has been filled with similar events: Bieber spotted leaving a Brazilian brothel under a bedsheet,Bieber painting maybe racist and definitely clunky graffiti in various countries,Bieber seeming to spit on fans in Toronto,Bieber urinating into a bucket and desecrating a photo of Bill Clinton,Bieber writing goofy things in the visitor book at Anne Frank’s house,Bieber walking shirtless around London,Bieber lunging at paparazzi,Bieber rumoured to be partly responsible for the split of Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom,Bieber tweeting he is retiring,or maybe not.

It should come as no surprise that when you place the world in the hands of a boy,he drops it. A tattooed man-child of 19,Bieber has been exalted so greatly,and in such a short period,that it’s surprising that he doesn’t shatter into pieces.

Being a teenage pop star is no cakewalk. There are screaming fans,and there are the unmanageable notions of purity that have to be preserved while serving up adolescent simulacra of sexuality.

Then transitioning into adult fame is even tougher. All the things you had to perfect must be jettisoned in search of an audience that is less young,less female. So taking a scythe to his old image is perhaps the only savvy career move available to Bieber. Going rogue may be the only way to save his career.

At some point this has to begin making its way into his creative output,and that may be what’s happening now. Soon,Bieber will release both a digital album,Journals,which collects his recent iTunes-exclusive singles packaged with a few unheard songs,and Justin Bieber’s Believe,his second theatrical film release.

The trailer for Believe shows flashes of a film that aims for more complication than the 2011 film,Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,from 2011. There are quick cuts of tabloid headlines,a shot of Bieber in tears,and a scene where the film’s director,Jon M Chu,asks him,“Are you aware you could be the next train wreck?”

Any young fans shielded from Bieber’s rough edges by protective parents may be in for a shock.

They may find slightly more comfort in Journals,which began life as a weekly song release on iTunes. These songs are less polished and hazier than most of Bieber’s hits,and some are excellent. He is capable of a lovely,affecting falsetto. He’s reframing himself as a naturalistic R&B singer.

In an article in The Hollywood Reporter last month,Bieber revealed that he received regular counseling from Will Smith and Drake,among others. (The article also suggested that Eminem was available to counsel Bieber,although that assertion was removed after publication.)

His biggest competition is still that other Justin,Timberlake,and maybe no one else. To thrive as an adult,Timberlake disappeared and re-emerged fully formed. Bieber doesn’t have that option,though. Relentlessly scrutinised,relentlessly documented,his molting has to take place in public.

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