Justin Bieber: Why adults are scared of him. And why they should go see his movie

justin-bieber-movie_320.jpg   Image Credit: Paramount PicturesWhen I was growing up, in the era of Donny Osmond and The Partridge Family, teen idols, with their dimples and blow-dried ’70s-shag haircuts, their strategically unbuttoned hippie polyester shirts, were often the objects of ridicule, but no one ever bothered to get too hot and bothered about them (except, of course, for the 14-year-old girls who consumed every morsel of their favorite stars’ chipmunk-cheeked lives in Tiger Beat magazine). Teen idols, it was understood, served a basic cultural function, which was to gently tease out the consumer-minded romantic/erotic appetites of girls who were still virgins. As pinups, they were cuddly and safe; as pop stars, they were processed and synthetic. They were products, and therefore, in the end, disposable.

From the outset, however, their saving grace is that their images were sometimes attached to really, really catchy music. On paper, the Monkees, a group essentially concocted by Bob Rafelson and Don Kirshner, davy-jonesImage Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Imagesshould have been a scandal: an entirely synthetic knockoff of the Beatles, delivered in a hip-schlock TV sitcom (fast motion! attitude! shaggy bowl haircuts!) that cannibalized the counterculture cheekiness of the Richard Lester Beatles movies. (And what kind of a name was Peter Tork, anyway?) Yet as everyone knows, the Monkees, led by the dandified Manchester Brit sweetness of heartthrob/mascot Davy Jones (pictured left), had some truly great songs, even if they weren’t all that involved in performing them. (To go on tour, Mickey Dolenz had to learn how to play the drums, or at least how to fake it.) They made songs aimed squarely at kids, yet songs that many adults liked and even loved. And in that way, they became the prototype for virtually all the teen pop that followed.

Just to stoke your memories, I’ve compiled a random, personalized, not-very-complete list of packaged teen and kiddie pop that is actually good:

“Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. They were cartoons, for God’s sake. But who could resist this studio-musician confection (“You are my candy girl…”), which became the biggest hit single of 1969. So much for the revolution.

“Wait Til Tomorrow” by the Banana Splits. Yes, the Banana Splits. In the late ’60s, they were the beginning of the end of Saturday morning TV — four guys in furry animal costumes who made the Monkees look like the Sex Pistols. Yet they, too, had songs, and this one is a beaut: If it had been done by the Lovin’ Spoonful, it would now be thought of as a classic. Check out this clip from the show, which haunted me when I was 10 years old:

The Jackson Five. No one disputes their greatness, but back in 1970, they weren’t just the hot new Motown superstars. They were teen pop, buffed and packaged and mega-marketed to kids, especially Michael the whirling, dancing soprano cherub. And, of course, they were the model for the marketing of the Osmond Brothers (who, let’s just say it, really did suck).

“I’ll Meet You Halfway” by the Partridge Family. David Cassidy was the original poster boy for guy-cute-enough-to-be-a-girl adorableness, but he could really sing, especially on this tangy slice of melancholy devotion.

New Edition. The prototype for all the boy bands that followed, Maurice Starr’s original crew of bubblegum R&B boppers, powered by the vocals of Ralph Tresvant and Bobby Brown, had two won’t-leave-your-head songs that helped to set the upbeat pulse of the 1980s: “Candy Girl” and “Cool It Now.”

New Kids on the Block. The other prototype for all the boy bands that followed (and still my wife’s all-time favorite group), even if Maurice Starr’s sequel to New Edition was like a case of the Osmonds getting bigger than the Jacksons. This time, though, the Caucasian knockoffs had flair, personality, moves, and blue-eyed-soul hooks, especially on the Bee Gees-esque “Please Don’t Go Girl” and the Joan Jett-esque “Hangin Tough.” (Their reunion album, by the way, is awesome, especially “Summertime.”)

“I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys. The most perfect teen pop song of the last 25 years. Pure, luscious, enveloping, incandescent.

Which leads me to…

Justin Bieber. The flavor of the moment. The mop-topped moppet. The wholesome androgynous teen rock-star angel. And…the new king of the world?

In many ways, Justin Bieber is a summation of all the teen pop that has come before him. His haircut, so simple and floppy yet…unique, really does make him look like one of the Beatles transfigured. (They, of course, were teen pop, too — at least, back in the shrieking-squealing Beatlemania days, when the most popular member of the group was the cuddlebug Ringo.) Bieber’s voice, which can swoop and soar, evokes the early days of Michael Jackson. His choreographed yet casual suburban-funk dance moves bring back the smooth-glide junior-Motown-in-high-tops panache of Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. And his almost eerie professionalism — the effortless pep, the born-to-do-it comfortableness on stage — grows right out of the era of Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, who seem to have a kind of squeaky-clean people-pleasing exhibitionism built into their DNA. These are kids who sing into their wrap-around head mics as if they’d been born wearing them.

Yet Justin Bieber, for a number of the qualities I’ve just cited above, seems to tee a great many people off. Maybe that’s because unlike with, say, the Monkees, you can’t really successfully mock him. He’s too polished and self-aware. And so a lot of adults who should know better react against him by getting annoyed, or even angry, at what they think he represents. And we all know what that is. According to this view, Justin Bieber represents the conversion of pop music into prefab, cloying, stage-managed product. He’s perceived as symbolizing the victory of the corporation, the machine that wants to turn pop into something packaged and controlled that it then jams down our throats (while indie bands, jamming away in basements, remain off the radar). He is seen as the frosty-whip tip of the iceberg of what is, in essence, a conspiracy theory: the lobotomizing of pop.

A lot of people, in other words, hate Justin Bieber because they’re scared of him. Scared of the power that teen pop now wields in our world. But I’m here to tell you that they’ve got it backwards. Justin Bieber isn’t just a product; he’s a genuine, talented, true-blue appealing star. They have pinned their fear and loathing on the wrong phenomenon.

justin-timberlakeImage Credit: Kevin Mazur/WIreImage.comTo me, the really bad joke of hating teen pop in 2011 is that the forces that so many say they’re wary of — the forces of processed music, of corporate control, of the blandification of pop culture — already define so much of the music that is eagerly (and unangrily) consumed by adults. Take, as just one example, the ripely ironic figure of Justin Timberlake, who I think is outrageously gifted, so please don’t take any of this as me bashing him. Because he started out as a member of ‘N Sync, Timberlake, in pursuing the path of a solo career, had to prove his cred as a star musician. His singing and dancing were clearly stellar — the dazzling tremelo, the thrusting-on-air insouciance of his moves. I liked his early singles, especially “Rock Your Body” and “Cry Me a River.”

But Timberlake, hooked on the cred factor, plunged into industrial dance pop, and for him, it was like plugging into a matrix: His songs no longer had any real form or melody, any seductive Top 40 beauty. A lot of people in the music press ate this up (it proved that he wasn’t just a pretty boy spinning out pretty tunes), but to what end? Justin Timberlake, a dazzlingly talented musician, became an aggressively marketed and (to me) rather uninteresting recording artist. He was no more in control of those joyless, busy, overproduced tracks than your average teen pop star was, yet because he was sexy and cool (and, as it turns out, a born actor), he was granted the full “integrity” of his image as a self-created pop star.

To me, he’s got nothing on the other Justin, who commands a crowd, and a musical hook, the way that Timberlake once promised to. Yes, Bieber’s songs are pitched like candy to the young, but in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, when he sings “One Less Lonely Girl” or the contempo doo-wop of “Baby” or the lovely, lilting “U Smile,” the high-school sentiments don’t come off as pandering. He makes them into an expression of what he’s feeling. That’s why he’s a genuine, self-revelatory pop star in a way that Miley Cyrus, with her calculated sexy-innocent postures and frozen-pizza Avril Lavigne licks, is not. She’s a product (not that there’s anything so wrong with that), because she has no mystery. Whereas Justin Bieber, wielding that grin of his like a sunbeam, isn’t just happy and wholesome. He’s compellingly blissed out — on his connection to the music, and to the audience. That’s why, I predict, he’s a star not just of the moment but of the future, and why anyone who cares about pop — regardless of what age they are — should go see his movie.

So who has gone to see it this weekend? And what did you think? If you’re an adult (a parent, or maybe even not), did the Bieb surprise you? Or do you dislike/resent/find yourself annoyed by him? And what about his fans? What, if anything, do you think it is about Justin Bieber that can carry him past the teen idol stage?

Comments (322 total) Add your comment
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  • Wes

    Well, I like having the first comment at least!

    • Amanda Kiwinerd

      Give me a break, Glieberpoop. His music is horrible and you are a moron.

      • Doug

        Well, that’s a witty response. Good for you.

      • Erin

        What a joke. We’re not scared of him. It’s sad that this child gets so much attention and money, when it hasn’t made a good song.

      • jj

        exactly Erin. i dont fear the Bieber, i am annoyed by him, his fans and his overexposure by the media. i felt the same about miley cyrus.

      • Carlos

        I am sick of hearing and seeing this kid. He’s not talented. I wish he would go away and disappear.

      • No bieber

        Don’t talk c*ap about jb s***** ppl

      • DaniVt

        @ Carlos- you may not like his music (neither do I) but he is talented- he can play numerous instruments well and his singing is all right

    • Dol

      Gotta give the author credit for having the balls to write this article. Had to laugh at the category ‘the beauty or teen pop’.

      • Johnification

        Agreed. Not Hating on the Biebs is pretty risky for a post targeting 20something internet folk. I’ll say that the kid is actually growing on me: decent voice, yeah he’s a product and totally bubblegum, really good sense of humor about himself. Really hard to dislike.

      • Rob

        Ha, ha, this article did not take “balls” to write. EW is one of the most mainstream entertainment magazines. They will get behind anything that is popular.

    • LOL

      It’s not that I hate him. It’s just that I don’t care. I think many people feel like he has been forced upon them.

      • cheese

        This. I really wouldn’t care as much if he wasn’t everywhere!

      • Sue1

        Agree. Don’t hate him or fear him. just sick of him.

      • Morgan

        BINGO. No hate here, just, apathy and boredom. Maybe if he didn’t look and sing like he was 12 there would be more …crossover to people over 19. I’m sure he’s a nice kid; I just have no interest in his music.

      • ks

        Agreed!

      • Anna

        Well I’ll be dipped. LOL, you’ve got a decent comment in you after all.

      • LOL

        Anna, there are several LOLs on here.

      • No bieber

        Um with u I see him everywhere it’s hard enough that he’s my cousin but then I see him everywhere no offense cousin but I barely saw u about five hours ago

      • Zen Bridges

        @ No Bieber, I feel kindasad for you man. but see, even his own cousin see’s him everywhere, i;m sure hes parically greatful,but still the kid is liek a stalker. everywhere you go BOOM image. BOOM Bieber. I For one rather see biebers cousin who probley has WAY MORE talant then him. no offence to your family dude. But can we have a break? for once? Lets see someone hwo truely deserves it! hsi songs have no messages. its jsut crap, agian no offence dude. but the poitn is simple, this si why he creeps me out!

    • Stephanie

      Justin Timberlake sucks, too, with his girly voice and he does the same dance moves over and over. A born actor you must’ve not seen Edison Force and Love Guru.

      • Wow

        Justin Timberlake does not suck. He is awesome!

  • Daddy

    Good.

  • MaxxFisher

    Yes that’s it, fear. You nailed it right on the head. I am scared to death.

    • michelle

      hahahahahahahaha

  • Liz Lemon

    I would go see the movie if the ticket cost a $1. I don’t have a problem with Justin Bieber, but I’m not paying $10 to see his movie. I’m surprised it’s getting such good reviews though.

    • jj

      i would keep my dollar and use it to go buy a beer.

    • Vicy

      Well why don’t u pay the money and see the movie to figure out? The movie really is good.

  • nora

    hi justin i loved your movie you are so cute

    • Jenny

      I can’t believe that people just booed the Biebs at the Knicks’ game at MSG for no reason. That was pretty surprising.

      • Aurora

        He was wearing purple 3D glasses to market his new movie. People started booing when the commentator pointed this out.

    • You tube

      Wat r you a retard or blind well I guess ur too dumb to know

  • angie

    I’m a mom who took her two daughters to see Never Say Never last night. We all loved. We laughed a lot and even cried. I find Justin and his family to just be endearing, simple and happy people who are thankful for their blessings and Justin’s gifts. I left the theater loving that sweet kid and happy my 9 year old has a good pop heart throb to crush on. Justin is a talented boy and I hope his popularity endures.

    • maria jose alvarado

      u are the best i can not believe that u made ur own movie i love

    • Jodi

      I agree with Angie,” I find Justin and his family to just be endearing, simple and happy people who are thankful for their blessings and Justin’s gifts. I left the theater loving that sweet kid and happy my 9 year old has a good pop heart throb to crush on. Justin is a talented boy and I hope his popularity endures.”

      • Zen Bridges

        As everyone is entitled to their own oppions. I took my familey to see, that bieber kid. i wasn;t in anyway affected. I just laughed. I’m sorry but it was a bad film. I think since i’ve been in the Same situation before. the story is the same, and hoenstly he doesn;t have that much talant. he’s not some god you people are making him into. But then agian you would do aything to make your children happy.

    • arielle

      Yup…until he starts snorting cocaine and ending honing rehab like every other teen star. What precious little bubblegum pop star will they fawn after then?

      • arielle

        Ending up in*

      • Mole

        Which he surely will with mobs of folks making snarly comments like this about him 24/7. Who wouldn’t buckle under this kind of abuse?

      • iprobablyhateyou

        He’s already given oral to Demi Lovato and is banging Selena Gomez. He’ll be in rehab in two years. Tick tock.

    • judy

      People don’t like Justin because they are jealous, he is cute as a bug and I love his music. The music kids listen to now is loud and dirty. The dirtier the better. It’s so refreshing to see there still might be hope for our childrens music that has a G and not an R rating! I can’t wait to see the movie and when it comes out on DVD I will buy it. You go Justin!

      • kurt

        Oh Yea Baby baby baby …great music for morons….dirt was always in Music..sex, drugs…slender, hate..the problem is the way Justin is a product of a Marketing Machine…it shows in his shallow music..baby baby baby…..and his hand on Selenas A$$

      • Zen Bridges

        Jude your entitled to your oppion,but in reality i think half of them are jelious, and its human nautre. he;s not cute thoguth he creeps me ot becuase he looks creepy. I don;t trust an image, like taylor Swift, and lidsany Lohan, I don’t trust him. Songs are forgetable, badly done, hes an image, so stop trating him like a GOD! not all music is about sex drug rock in roll,theres also christian main stream bands. its not always abotu the dirtier the better judy, I Don’t think you know what your talking about. Music like Queen, Ozzy Osborne, Even Micheal Jackson had messages, talked abotu their lives, what was going on in the world. songs like “baby” are just babble about random crap. Perosnally I don;t care for rap. But say if its a good rap song about possitive images, whats going on in the world. All in All Bieber is a force down our throats and thus to me creepy kid. He’s like a stalker or a twilight vampire. Always there forcing you to be around him.

  • confidential

    This is a stupid post on a simple subject. There is no reason for this movie to be in theaters and there isn’t fear of Justin Beiber rather a solid disinterest. I am around preteens all day and non of them are insanley fanatic about Justin Beiber but everywhere you turn he is being pushed in your face like he’s Justin Timberlake 2.0. Calm down media.. he’s a talented kid but there is no reason for a Beiberfication of America.

    • Jon

      Funny that you should say you’re around preteens and they’re not into him. I’m NOT around preteens a lot, but I was around one yesterday and she was talking about MARRYING him. Which really made me laugh. She spoke of their respective ages and how it lined up for when she was 18.

      • confidential

        You’re right. Of course there are kids that like him (or even want to marry him) but my point is Beiber is being pushed by adults more than kids really give a crap. This new generation of music sensations feel more driven by record companies and media outlets than the audience they are supposed to be servicing.

      • Mom of Bieber Fans

        @confidential: You have it backwards, Bieber Fever was driven by the kids who do give a crap, not corporate or adults. His music wasn’t even played on radio until his radio appearances started causing riots and police action. His loyal, passionate and very young female audience…all of whom are connected online more than we were at that age…drove his popularity. Not Disney (as in Miley and Jonas Bros), not media outlets.

    • Steph

      Thank you! I can’t seem to look ANYWHERE without seeing him! It can be overbearing. Every station, every channel, every bookshelf. I also didn’t see the point of it being in 3D.

    • dan

      yah dude, i’m sure you’re an all seeing all knowing expert on what kids like

    • Baby Badger

      I too am around preteens ALL day as a middle school teacher and all they talked about yesterday was going to the movie this weekend…

      • brandinb

        I work at a school that is K-8 and kids of all ages are obsessed with the Biebs at my school.

    • Liz Lemon

      Considering the boy’s music videos have over 150 million hits each on youtube, I wouldn’t say disinterest is the right word.

  • confidential

    Sorry.. “NONE of them”

  • Amber

    I enjoyed this article. I don’t think I’ll go see the movie this weekend. If I had a tweenie girl to go watch it with I would go though. One of the most enjoyable things in life is to go to a movie and watch tweenie girls screaming their heads off. I love that experience. Your thoughts do make me want to take a listen at Beiber. I haven’t actually listened to anything he has done. Now, I’m intrigued.

    • humbug

      is this a joke? you must’ve been one of those annoying stupid shrieking girls, i suppose, to be amused by such a thing. i have never understood fanatics and never will.

    • Vicy

      You should def. go see it!!! Give the movie a chance!! and you’ll love Justin like we do!

  • sara

    Scared of him? I am more than a little scared of adults fawning over an over-hyped 16 year old who looks 12. Beiber, however, I could care less about. His PR team has done an excellent job of manipulating adults into thinking they have a right to be obsessing over a child.

    • shh it’s a secret

      pedobears approves this comment

      • LOL

        ^^^ Comment of the day.

  • craig

    this writer just loves sh**ty pop music

    • Amanda Kiwinerd

      This writer loves “up his own ass” pseudo-pop psychology he thinks makes him sound profound. But he’s a frakin retard.

      • Mother Nature

        Cosigned.

      • the floacist

        Care to explain why?

  • Titan

    there is a BIG difference between being “scare” and being “annoyed”

    • Dominic

      Or ‘scared’ and ‘creeped out by being forcefully sold a gender-neutral looking child like he was a bottle of cola’. Or ‘she’, my jury is still out on that fact…

  • Steve Jacob

    Wait until this summer, when Greyson Chance has his record out, being plugged to death by “Ellen”. Saw him (with daughter) open for Miranda Cosgrove. He signed autographs afterward, and was almost a riot.

    • water

      Haha, yeah. We will have to go through article just like this article about Greyson Chance.

      However, GC has real talent and at 13 outperforms many other artists much older than him (like Katy Perry, who can’t sing live to save her life.) I’m guessing though that GC’s best will be years from now, when he enters his 20s.

      • Dani

        The difference Greyson Chance is a decent singer.

      • Lizzie

        And an AMAZING pianist!!

      • Zen Bridges

        GC is good whats funny is that stupid lady GaGa yesterday i listen to his CD it wasn;t covers of GAGA but his song s are good, better then the biebs.
        @ Lizzie Yes he is a fantastic Pianist, i’m happy for him. See he isn;t an image and were not forced to see him 24/7. thats a difference between he two. and when Grayson hits puberty He is gonna sound even better I think. Thr kid is quite humbble and grounded. See Bieber is a fake to me. But GC is geniune. i’m good about judge of charater.

  • Jodi

    Angie said it best..This kid is awesome.. he is a true talent…very grounded and humble!

  • Kaitlyn McNiel

    OMB (oh my bieber) i am your biggest fan justin.i was screaming and crying when i watched your movie.i loveeeeeeeee you so much, you are all over bedroom wall and i am even doing a social studies fair project on you. YOUR #1 FAN HERE i looooovvvvvveeeee you JUSTIN!!!!!

    • Tom

      Ummm….

      • neo

        bieber sucks..

    • humbug

      and, see, this is the problem. someone needs to teach this eight year old that this is not a website where you write celebrities and they read them and write you back. maybe you should be learning REAL things in school, Kaitlyn, instead of doing projects on the bieber. you know, a little science, history, some common sense…

      • Jen

        No. You’re a problem. Instead of hating on girls who you don’t even know, go do something productive with your life. At least Bieber can make people happy.

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