A year ago when my boyfriend started playing “Baby” a lot, I told him Bieber wouldn’t last. The girls I taught then at middle schools in Queens and the Bronx said he was awful, that they preferred Taylor Swift. I figured he was too niche; an Evangelical Christian (When Atlanta-based hip-hop manager Scooter Braun called Justin’s mom Pattie Mallette in 2007, The NY Times quoted her saying, “I prayed, ‘God, you don’t want this Jewish kid to be Justin’s man, do you?”) unfairly benefiting from The-Dream‘s brilliant songwriting and L.A. Reid‘s hard-earned, preternatural will-to-sell. His music was musical theater in-the-style-of Jermaine Dupri, leaned strangely towards Lifehouse and Alanis Morissette maybe. Who was the audience for this?
Then I heard a whole class of second graders singing “One Time” together on the street in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. Later, a baby girl in Chinatown who knew no language at all was singing “Baby” from her mom’s infant sling. When I mentioned Bieber’s name to a ten-year-old in Israel, she looked at me with deeply hopeful eyes and took on the affect of excitement that verges on fear. This winter after nights at the bar, I listened to “Baby” more times, then saw the last late-night screening of Never Say Never during its opening weekend. There’s an essay by art historian Ted Cohen called “High and Low Thinking about High and Low Art” that was written in the ’90s. In it, Cohen says there’s no such thing as high or low, art or pop, but that a thing can become “art” and locate us in our worlds if it,”somehow matters to me how they stand with other people.” Bieber will never be my cult leader, but by last Monday I was suddenly surrounded by him and intently concerned with how he made other people think and feel. I had My World on repeat, was cutting up pictures of Justin to make valentines and reading the Hollywood Reporter. Caramanica was talking about him and Tyler, the Creator, Wavves and (our favorite young feminist) Tavi, too. He’s in the studio with Jeezy. It felt like it made sense to mention Justin in posts about LCD Soundsystem’s retirement, Adele’s prowess, R. Kelly’s vocal endurance, Odd Future’s Fallon performance, and Busy Signal’s new pre-summer jam.
Following this exploration, I’m sort of done with the album and have a lot of questions. Is it bad that the narrative of young adult pop stardom has been so de-animalized, that instead of the once familiar rendering of physically determined fans swarming Backstreet Boys busses, Bieber adherents are depicted either as childlike and hopeful or as internet bullies, intentionally obscured? Why did Never Say Never completely ice out Bieber’s male fans? When will he get caught with a girl’s hand in his pants and how badly will his out-of-control fans react? How and when will the time he’s spent growing up and cutting his hair in the open and strange world of American pop separate him from his devout mother? Will movies continue to use captioned tweets and emoticons as plot devices? How has the importance of Bieber’s pro-life statements changed now that the House wants to take all of Planned Parenthood’s money away?
I won’t see the Director’s Cut already being pushed to theaters, yet. For now, thanks to everyone who was a willing participant in this, (one of) Bieber’s crown moments in time, perhaps a culmination of something for all of us. Tyler’s input was some of the best: