Bieber Capitalism

Our Justin
Our Justin

Spare a thought for poor, exploited, squeaky commodity-man Justin Bieber

As much as the Bemolution tries to brick itself off from the worst bits of mainstream culture, it’s not managed to escape the Biebergeddon entirely unruffled. This is largely down to a wearisome internet cliché. Watch practically any music video on YouTube, especially anything vaguely alternative, and you’ll find one if not several commenters lamenting that while nobody’s heard of their favourite chanteuse, song-smith or rocking teenage combo, Justin Bieber is fanatically adored by millions.

That’s how we came to know of Justin Bieber’s existence – watching angst-riddled web-surfers competing to see how much bile they can rain down on a probably very decent, albeit now emotionally-squashed teenage boy who makes shit modern pop records.

As far as we can be bothered to ascertain, Justin Bieber is a 19 year-old singer-songwriter from Ontario, Canada, who was originally talent-spotted warbling self-penned tunes on his personal YouTube channel. Squabbled over by the likes of Usher and Justin Timberlake, Bieber was eventually handed a cushy record deal, made a debut album and quickly won over hordes of teenage acolytes with his chipmunk-squeaky plastic RnB. Circa 2014, he’s thought to be worth a truly hideous $150m.

Bieber is one of banal pop culture’s most polarising figures. His disciples are scarily devoted to him, allowing him to build one of the biggest internet presences in social media history and amass over fifty million followers on Twitter. Hating him, meanwhile, has become a kind of internet bloodsport – he gave his most passionate detractors a memorable present when he turned in a flat ‘I’m only here because I’m famous’ performance as a generic ne’er do well on American TV’s CSI, ending with him being riddled with bullets by Las Vegas’s finest. Cue dozens of mash-up videos of him being turned into Swiss cheese by everyone from Scarface to the internet’s favourite right-wing loon Chuck Norris.

Bieber’s music, of course, is inexcusably bad. But that goes without saying, and it’s not that much worse that the vast majority of stuff you’ll hear on Top 40 radio. His piss-poor artistic output doesn’t come close to warranting the level of vitriol the poor fella receives.

But now not-so-little Justin’s receiving flak from new fronts. He’s been spattered across the tabloids this month for doing what 97% of teenage boys would do if they went from being Average Joe to multimillionaire pop messiah in the space of half of a decade – blowing their royalty cheques on drugs, booze and fancy cars, then driving the fancy cars too fast under the influence of said drugs and booze. If the trash press was using him to make profound socio-political insights about the damage excessive wealth can do to the excessively wealthy that would be just peachy. But, funnily enough, they’re not. They’re whipping events into a dumb scandal to sell papers.

This is the most tragic thing about Bieber – and the dozens of young and easily manipulated pop starlets that have come before/will come after him. Everyone is using him. Record companies are using him to make money. The gossip rags are using him to make money. Corporate sponsors are using him to make money. It’s mostly about dosh, but not exclusively. Obsessive teenage fans are using him as an idealised fantasy figure, fawning over his perfect PR presentation rather than the real person underneath, lumbering them with grossly unrealistic expectations about real-world romance. And sad, angry, lonely people the world over are using him as a Goldstein-style scapegoat, venting their probably legitimate grievances about their own lives at a mildly irritating teenage boy rather than looking critically at the world around them.

Bieber isn’t famous because he’s musically talented, or a great song-writer. He’s neither of those things. He’s famous because he’s an eminently sellable product. Stupid amounts of money is just the scant compensation he gets for being exploited every day of his life, not to mention developmentally mangled by the micro-scrutiny of the press and the ego-swelling yes-men who tell him he’s God’s gift to entertainment. There’s probably some clever Beiber-as-psychologically-damaging-modern-capitalism metaphor in there somewhere. But we’re not going to try and screw that one together. Because we’re talking about Justin Bieber.