It reads in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” This is a line of argument that is hard to put past a smitten tween-age girl. To her, the latest pop icon is the greatest, absolute and most undeniably awesome singer/performer that has ever been, never to be surpassed until, shockingly, they are. To condense this concept down a little, let us just say that Justin Timberlake begat Zac Efron (sort of), which begat the Jonas Brothers (kinda), which begat Robert Pattinson (maybe, RPattz, maybe), which leaves it to Bieber.
Read the last Popdose on the new Music on Film book series, featuring 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Grease.'
To anyone old enough to drive, that would be Justin Bieber, pop sensation and protégé of former pop sensation (and now after a decade in the biz, something of a “legacy” artist I suppose) Usher. He of the floppy hair, purple hoodie and the hymns of “Baby, baby, baby, oh,” and a throng of young girls at the cusp of their womanhood at his back.
I was shocked to find, in conversation with my Popdose colleagues, that Bieber was still relevant, having thought he slipped off that upper tier by now. Hadn’t Taylor Lautner not pulled off his shirt recently and distracted them?
Apparently not. To my chagrin, I was informed that the Biebs was still as potent as ever. This was further proven when, on a shopping excursion to buy a pair of jeans (do you have any sizes in extra-extra-extra relaxed, please?) I realized that the men’s department was directly adjacent to the girls' department. Two of them, who couldn’t have been past the seventh grade, were in deep discussion over the part Saint Justin played in their lives…and they were filthy.
I’m not a prude. At least I keep telling myself I’m not, but these girls went into detail about what they would do to and with the Bieb-dawg if they ever got a handle on him, and I felt like I was 90 years old and ready to hit the toiletries department, fetching bars of soap with which to wash their mouths out. Something was coming out of them and, doggone it, it weren’t no hallelujahs.
And therein lies the main conundrum of the book Belieber: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Yes, he comes off as a pretty good kid with a dream that, thanks to his famous mentor, has come true tenfold. In assertions that the kid won’t forget where he came from, a veneer of sincerity is shellacked pretty heavily on the text; so heavily that it is hard to believe (or beliebe, I suppose) that he won’t follow through. And yet that’s exactly what this kind of book intends to do.
There is an arc of superstardom that is seldom deviated from, and the books that follow along mark the territory clearly. At the start of success, that first ravenous hit of the spotlight, you have books like these that sanctify the subject to a ridiculous degree. The adult who reads it may get cramps in the face from all the eye-rolling, but the book is not meant for adults, and probably not for male adults either. These are written to confirm all the adolescent dreams of the tween girls who would (ahem) make Bieber see God if he would (ahem, ahem).
Then the money hits hard and the star doesn’t seem quite as attentive as he used to. He has found his fortune and a hot young thing or two to hang on his arm and jealousy settles in. He might be just the same as ever, but is perceived as having betrayed his expectant harem, and the books about the “real star, the untold story” begin to surface. They abandon him, his career begins to flag. He grows dark, or turns into a spoiled brat, or tries his hand at “serious art, not that crap I used to do.” Either way, he has gotten on their bad side and the books about him will reflect that.
Then, often, he’ll hit the skids and then find redemption. Then comes the autobiography of how “I hit rock bottom, climbed out and saw the light, and will you please love me again?” The larger part of pop culture may show some love and respect for the candor, but the teenage girl grows up, she gets a boyfriend and no longer needs the de facto dreamboat idol as proxy mate to guide her.
Now, I have not speculated on where I think Bieber is headed, but have spelled out the nature of fandom itself since such began. This is where Paul McCartney meets Linda Eastman or John met Yoko. This is where David Cassidy got fed up with the teeny-bopper stuff and wanted to be a rocker. This is the day Bruce Springsteen got hitched and the girls, clutching their copies of Born in the U.S.A., cried on the stoop of Thompson Junior High, Middletown, N.J.
There is nothing new under the sun.
Belieber is just another in a long line of such tomes and, in the end, it is up to him, not the weeping girls, or the snarky critics, or Usher himself, to decide what direction he follows. Does he become even more famous and respected (a la the Beatles and Springsteen, although it could be said they were pretty respected at that stage of their arc anyway) or does he drift out of presumed relevance like Cassidy, Bobby Goldsboro or any number of later examples? I’m sure you have one or a million in mind. Does he try out something new like Timberlake and parlay that into something like a role in a David Fincher film? Who can say, and wasn’t Bieber shot to death on an episode of CSI already? That boy is on his way.
In the end, what one old man—and slightly uptight book reviewer—says about the Bieb doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to his crazy target audience. If he prays to God, or his fans pray to him, or whatever, has little bearing outside of pin-up posters in middle-school lockers, and there is a great likelihood that when they graduate from that class, they will graduate from him in turn, and so it was and ever shall be.
By the way, Joe Jonas is releasing a solo album soon. I just saw the cover and it has a big ol’ Parental Advisory sticker on it. Watch out, Bieber! The kid gloves and promise rings are OFF.
Dw. Dunphy is a writer/musician/artist hailing from Red Bank, N.J. He is an editor for the pop culture website Popdose as well as regular contributor.