Are you a Belieber? It’s okay if you are. No, really. Friends, Romans, countrymen… we’re getting to a point now where Justin Bieber – once the most hated figure in pop culture – is coming back into fashion. At least, this is what we’re being lead to beliebe.
He’s been behind two of the year’s biggest hits, Where Are Ü Now with Jack Ü and his own What Do You Mean? His latest album, Purpose, is less than a week old and already looks to hit the top of the charts worldwide. With videos made for every track on the album, the promotional campaign is being marketed as “Purpose: The Movement” – and his en-masse social media following is treating it as such. You would think, then, that it’s finally okay to be a fan – that it’s something that you can say out loud and not feel ashamed about or chastised for, regardless of your age demographic.
There is, however, an equal and opposite reaction to the supposed “movement” of Purpose. For every share of WAÜN and WDYM upon their release, they were – more often than not – followed with a remark along the lines of “I still don’t like him,” “don’t judge me” or “I’m angry at Skrillex and Diplo for making me like a Justin Bieber song.” Critical reception for Purpose, too, has already been quite mixed; with many critics not quite sure what to do with a hugely-anticipated album from one of their former punching bags.
Furthermore, with all of the effort that has gone into creating videos for each song on Purpose – least of all the remarkable choreography in Sorry – it’s been merely dismissed as “doing a Beyoncé” (in spite of the fact it should really be called “doing a Weird Al,” considering he pre-dates both of them with a clip for every song on 2011’s Alpocalypse – but that’s, as he might say, really not important to the story).
We’re still uncomfortable with liking Justin Bieber, regardless of what he does next. There’s reasoning behind it, certainly; and some of it might even be understandable – that is, if we didn’t already apply so many double standards. He was a child star, sure – but so were two of the biggest names in pop right now, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.
He’s associating himself with cool people and riding on their credibility, sure – but so is (another former child star) Miley Cyrus every time she’s hanging out with The Flaming Lips or Ariel Pink.
He’s got a track record of being difficult and of behaving poorly, sure – but so does basically every star in the history of popular music. Even the more clean-cut of pop-stars have made mistakes, acted recklessly or at least have skeletons rattling around in their proverbial closets. We seem to be able to constantly forgive all of these things and each considerable shortcomings of our popstars – except when it comes to Justin Bieber.
Why, exactly, are we still managing to put asterixes next to any degree of praise for him at a time when he’s supposedly cool again? And what exactly does he have to do in order to worm his way into the good books of those perpetrating such notions?
Pertaining to the first question, it’s worth considering that the backlash against Bieber has been a huge part of his career. For every adoring fan that shrieks at Beatlemania levels when they’re even in the same room as the idea of him, there have been a slew of furious keyboard warriors that have shouldered a then-teenage boy with the sole responsibility of supposedly ruining modern music. It’s anyone’s guess as to how exactly it was all his fault – especially considering there have been far worse culprits before and after his initial meteoric rise – but them were the breaks as far as he was concerned.
Let’s not forget this wasn’t your usual “pop isn’t real music” waffle – there was literally a petition sent to the White House to have him deported. There was a period where a pop singer was public enemy #1 – and it simply doesn’t measure up.
The second question still looms, and there’s no easy answers here. Maybe Bieber will never be truly, properly accepted the way one would hope. There is, however, at least an indication that people are coming around to the idea. Back in September, writer kc orcutt echoed a similar sentiment when she called for people to “stop apologising for actually liking Justin Bieber.” In her piece, she questions: “Why do we feel the need to even ‘sorry not sorry’ our excitement about Justin’s new music? I personally never would’ve thought that my favorite song at the moment would be a Justin Bieber song, but it is. I no longer feel a need to find reasons to justify it. The game is different now.”
This isn’t even a call for everyone to like him – Lord knows not everyone did when he first turned up, and that’s not about to change any time soon. Rather, it’s a message to those willing to only give partial credit: “I like this song, but…” This is about giving credit where credit is due – Bieber is a constantly-improving and considerable talent in the immediate spectrum of global pop music. It’s up to you to ensure he is no longer a dirty word.
The next time you feel like lobbing a soft-ball insult his way, think if you would do the same to another poptimist-approved star. If you see the similarities running a little too close for comfort, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your stance. There is worth in this music. There is joy to behold.
There is, indeed – to nab the buzzword of the moment for full effect – purpose to where Bieber is headed. Besides everything else, after all he has been through, he’s still just 21. There is no imaginable way that you had your shit together the way he does when you were that age. Let’s lift the asterix and start appreciating these songs for what they are.
David James Young is an Australian writer and podcaster. He is a regular contributor to Music Feeds and has identified as a Belieber for nearly six years. Due to an ongoing wish to maintain sanity, he will not be reading nor responding to comments posted here or on Facebook. If you are genuinely interested in discussing the matter with him, however, please send an email to [email protected]