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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

When pop goes the star

What our response to Justin Bieber’s ‘meltdown’ says about us

Written by New York Times | Published: April 7, 2013 3:56:26 am


Justin Bieber has had it rough of late. His neighbour has accused him of battery,the 19-year-old Canadian superstar has endured a public breakup with girlfriend Selena Gomez,he was photographed supposedly revelling with codeine-spiked cough syrup and marijuana,and was snubbed by the Grammys. He retaliated with a live-stream Internet performance that hit technical snags.

He also walked bare-chested through airport security,fainted onstage and cancelled another concert,was kicked out of a London nightclub on his birthday for bringing in 14-year-old Jaden Smith and nearly came to sailor-mouthed blows with one of the British paparazzi. Most recently,his pet monkey was held at German airport.

And then,in what is now de rigueur,he issued a strident defence of his behaviour and an attack on the press via Instagram,in which he also took a potshot at Lindsay Lohan. He later apologised and removed the post.

Well,big deal. This concerns a tiny subset of the population: child performers and those who read about them in supermarket tabloids.

Maybe not. The response to Bieber’s crackup says much about our culture’s discomfort with changing notions of childhood. In her book The Cultural Significance of the Child Star,Jane O’Connor argues that the demonisation of young celebrities stems from their contradictory relationship to both innocence and sexuality. Think of Britney Spears as a midriff-baring Catholic schoolgirl in the video for Baby One More Time,released when she was 16,and the excoriation she faced once she tried,shakily,to become a woman.

Highly paid,hard-working underage performers disrupt our sense of childhood as a period of all play and no work,liberated from adult responsibility. We cast child performers as doe-eyed angels,worshipping their idealised but,in fact,carefully constructed “goodness”. Of course,like other teenagers,child stars eventually rebel: they take drugs,dress provocatively,shave their golden locks.

One reason Bieber has captivated our attention,beyond his talent and charisma,is that he is the paragon of the millennial celebrity. Born in 1994,he has hardly known a world without broadband Internet,smartphones,social media and digital imagery. He has exploited—and been exploited by—these tools to great effect,currently ruling the Twitter roost with more than 36 million followers.

And because Bieber is so ambitious and enterprising,he can be considered an emblem of the future-oriented Generation Y striver. Instead of regimented piano lessons,soccer practice and SAT classes,he has committed himself to the largely self-directed,cultivation of singing,dancing and interview skills since he was 12.

Every moment from cradle to diploma is captured now by a camera; teenagers are always findable with a cellphone; and previously sprawling entries in locked-away diaries are truncated and tweeted to scores of followers.

When we laugh at Bieber’s “meltdown”—one that many of us would have suffered much sooner in our teenage years had the press hounded us,had we put in 16-hour workdays,had millions of dollars rested on our shoulders—we are doing more than merely relishing the downfall of a formerly squeaky-clean (Tiger Woods) moral crusader (Eliot Spitzer) who has a few irksome personality traits (Anthony Weiner). We are channeling our cultural anxiety over the ways we have corrupted and effaced childhood.


A fan base of ‘Beliebers’ and 36 million followers on Twitter make him the third-most powerful celebrity in the world. He acquires one new follower every other second.

His change of hairstyle in 2010,and the consequent alterations to Bieber products,led to it being called ‘the most expensive musical haircut of all time’.

Five schools in Norway on April 3 rescheduled their midterm exams to allow students to attend upcoming Bieber concerts in capital Oslo on April 16 and 17.

Bieber’s next project reportedly is making a Neverland-style zoo like his idol,the late Michael Jackson.

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