In the 2001 movie A.I., a robot boy named David tries to become a real boy so that his adopted family will love him like they love their terminally ill — and, since it's the future, cryogenically frozen — biological child. Soon, however, doctors find a cure for freezer boy. The real son is handily thawed, and his parents abandon David in the woods so that the reunited family can head home for a hot meal, a warm bed and a cryogenically frozen conscience.
Dystopian future Nancy Grace would be all over these jerks.
In this case, as in many cases, the parents abandon all concern for the outside world so they can focus exclusively on their progeny. A robot boy — even one who turns out to be more human than the parents would care to admit — is a cinch to discard.
We are David's parents. They are us. They are like those parents who get rid of the family dog when the first child is born. David wants to be loved by people who cannot technically give him love. Instead, they obsess over him — and then they forget. That's how it goes. As we become more obsessed with symbols, those symbols, imbued with undue importance, run the risk of becoming devastatingly irrelevant.
And when that symbol, the object of our short-lived obsession, is not a robot but a real boy — who, by many measures, seems to be composed less of flesh and bones than gears and steel — what happens then? What does it mean when a real boy transcends realness?
2. origin, mom
In a 2008 interview on the Christian daily talk show "100 Huntley Street: Full Circle," single mother Pattie Mallette talked about how she came from a broken home, suffered sexual abuse from ages 5 to 10, left home at 15, lived a life of drugs and crime as a teenager, and at 17 tried to commit suicide. At 18 she had Justin.
By the time he was 12, Justin had taught himself piano, drums and guitar, and Mallette began posting videos of him singing and playing hit R&B songs on YouTube. The idea was for friends and family to be able to become an audience to his talent show. Instead, through a stroke of stunning luck that massively capitalized on Justin's admitted gift, Justin Bieber has become a phenomenon.
After getting a little backstory, it's difficult not to see Mallette's only son's enormous current success as something sweet and inspiring. The time line of Justin's early childhood carries all the hallmarks of well-plotted cinema. It's common. It's tragic. It's perfect.
In addition to his mother and Bieber himself, the person most responsible for shaping, maintaining and growing the Justin we see today is Scott "Scooter" Braun, a self-described Atlanta "power player" and former marketing exec for Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label who, before discovering the prepubescent crooner, was most well known for signing "I Love College" rapper Asher Roth.
In 2006, Braun was himself the subject of a CL cover story, one that told of his agile and steady ascent in the Atlanta night life and music scene and featured several photos (provided by Braun) of him accompanied by a who's who of hip-hop's elite.
According to the first paragraph of Scooter Braun's bio on his company Scooter Braun Projects' website: "Scooter Braun was browsing through singers on Youtube one night when he came across a 13-year-old from Canada lusciously singing along to Usher's '____.' (sic) There was no name or contact info on the video and despite, or because of, its raw amateur quality, Braun was hooked. 'My gut was going crazy after seeing him,' Braun recalls from his home in Atlanta. 'I became infatuated.'"
Like countless viral sensations before him, Bieber first found popularity through YouTube. Unlike nearly all of them, Bieber was able to break out of YouTube and become a mainstream success. YouTube is an amazing and powerful tool, but it's also just a tool, no different than a paintbrush or a ball of clay or a movie camera. It can help you build something, but you need to first have a vision of what it is you're building.
YouTube has been so successful a medium for Bieber that now, more three years after he was discovered, one of those early videos has been watched over 22 million times. In it, grainy footage reveals a 14-year-old Biebz covering R&B singer Chris Brown's "With You" while posters of a bug-eyed Bart Simpson and 2Pac circa All Eyez On Me, stare with approval from the bedroom wall behind him. It feels oddly nostalgic and voyeuristic, like discovering a box of old, yellowed Polaroids in your best friend's closet — until you realize that the photos aren't candid snapshots but highly conceptualized montages created with the express purpose to influence the emotions of the viewer.
"I wanted to build him up more on YouTube first. We supplied more content. I said: 'Justin, sing like there's no one in the room. But let's not use expensive cameras.' We'll give it to kids, let them do the work, so that they feel like it's theirs." — Scooter Braun, New York Times
But it's not. The content, that is. It's not theirs. And since it's not theirs, it's not actually Bieber who they love. They love the Justin Bieber tweets, the Justin Bieber videos, the Justin Bieber dolls, the Justin Bieber hats, the Justin Bieber Christmas ornaments, because they don't actually know Justin Bieber at all. They know preapproved 140-character press releases. They know lo-fi produced videos, edited by adults. This idea that they are responsible for Justin Bieber, that they have played a real part in his creation and who he's become, is nonsense.
5. ability, talent, transformation
It should be noted (somewhere?), that children are not allowed to be paid to work (pesky un-cryogenically frozen moral compass) — unless it is to entertain.
The holiest and noblest of all professions, right? Just think about how many awards God has helped win for entertainers, young and old.
As adults, we patently refuse to consider a world without child entertainers, actors, singers. Who will sell cereal? Who will play the babies in television hospital dramas? Who will fill the pages of Tiger Beat every month? And, if you happen to be a parent of one such star, who else could possibly pay my bills now that I'm a dependent of my dependent? For example:
"Everyone's like, 'Wow, why is she upset, and why is she so miserable about things?' My parents signed me up with Ford [Modeling] at the age of 2. No 2-year-old wants to be working, but I had no choice." — Taylor Momsen (16), UsMagazine.com
Bieber's ascent began in earnest with a carefully orchestrated bidding war between pop superstars Usher and Justin Timberlake, both experienced teen heartthrobs. Upon signing Bieber to their quickly formed joint venture RBMG, Usher and Braun sealed a deal with Island Def Jam CEO L.A. Reid. Then came the co-signs from hip-hop proxies: Wyclef Jean, comedian Nick Cannon, even a doting Diddy — all shot with handhelds — instantly lending the kid the kind of cultural cachet a young Elvis would have killed for. Meanwhile, a loosely constructed Atlanta power team coalesced around him, including vocal coach to the stars Jan Smith, local 95.5 the Beat radio personality-turned-Bieber-bodyguard Kenny Hamilton, "swagger coach"/stylist Ryan Good, and such producers and songwriters as The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, also responsible for penning urban/pop hits for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Rihanna and Beyoncé.
The native Canadian's affinity for all things urban American has become even more pronounced with professional styling: the skinny jeans, the swooshy hair, the Supra Vaider hi-tops in black croc and suede — all combined with what Tina Fey described on "Saturday Night Live" as a smile that's "like watching a baby bunny sniff a tiny flower." The result: an innocent, sexless appeal to match his high-pitched trill. Kid Tested, Mother Approved™.
When Bieber opens his mouth, the most inspiring things spill out. Consider his message to a fan who dared to unfollow him on Twitter due to Bieber's lack of response: "I just write them a simple message like, 'Never give up,' you know? And it changes their life." Then there's his new-millennium wigger appropriation of Southern hip-hop lingo heard in his pronunciation of the word "shawty." He can even do the Dougie.
In 21 months (the gestation period of an elephant), Bieber went from strumming three chords and singing someone else's pop songs in his bedroom to selling a million copies of his coming-of-age EP My World, full of prepubescent dance-pop and R&B-tinged, purity ring love songs. Judging from the 70-plus concerts he's played to crowds as massive as 70,000 at a sold-out Wembley Stadium, not to mention the mayhem his public appearances cause, Bieber's audience is comprised of young girls who LOVE Justin Bieber. Of course, they are children who don't know their love is the product of a multitiered marketing campaign reinforced by their own 24/7 obsession with social media.
When there emerged the seemingly meaningless Bieber acronym "Believe In Everything Because Everything is Reachable," the all-consuming power of Bieber reached a crescendo. It might sound silly, but for Bieber's fans "everything" actually is reachable; Twitter and YouTube have made Bieber more accessible than any tween heartthrob in human history.
Any love of Bieber is also an unwitting love of his team of agents, managers, coaches, stylists and record label executives — but it's mostly a love of the shared experience of idol worship, the ability for fans to instantaneously bond over their collective Bieber fetishism. One of the latest markings of that communal obsession: Choose-your-own-adventure erotic Bieber stories spamming the Twitter accounts of relatively innocent Beliebers everywhere. Gift him your virginity on the sands of a moonlit Hawaiian beach or hold out for naughty hospital sex; the choices are infinite.
Bieber is playing the 21,000-seat Philips Arena in December. Does this boggle your mind? Remember though, there are parents who are chaperoning pretty much every fan. People are spending money because they have to. Imagine if everyone at the sold-out Sufjan Stevens show at the Tabernacle had to be chaperoned by a parent. Now you need a venue twice the size. And unless Justin rips a breast pocket off one of his male dancers exposing a Chinese-throwing-star pierced nip, you're probably not going to encounter many negative reviews of the show. Conclusion: kids rake it in.
There's pretty much nothing parents can do to defend against the beguiling charm of a 16-year-old boy with a Christian pedigree and an alter-rapper-ego named Shawty Mane. If Bieber is not complicit in his own commercialization, he is at least partly to blame for being so damn cute. Despite concerns that his voice is changing — the true test for any boy idol singing sensation, and the most likely reason why his latest release My World Acoustic is a retread of old material rather than new music — Bieber's only displays of hormonal aggression have been limited to recent tweets featuring the loaded hashtags #sexy, #rebel, #badass, and the one his fans have since translated to mean a "fine-ass girl," #honeyjawns. As of now, Bieber is safe.
There is a new trailer for a Bieber movie Never Say Never. The movie is in 3D, because of course it is. In it, Bieber goes from pixelated YouTube footage of a tiny bedroom to sweeping HD pans of him dancing around in sold-out arenas, while a voice tells you that he did this all on his own. So, wait, what now? How did that how happen? He's a child, right? Are we missing a scene?
If you're unsure about the extent to which Justin Bieber the boy is responsible for Justin Bieber the phenomenon, and therefore are left questioning how much of Justin Bieber actually is Justin Bieber, look no further than the handful of times Braun is featured in Never Say Never's trailer.
Of course, it's hard to know what to make of Braun when you see him say directly into a camera with straight face: "He's doing this all on his own" — especially when you realize he spends his time trolling YouTube for guitar-strumming children and is nicknamed Scooter. I guess they edited out the part where he says, "Just like Fugazi." But seriously (straight face), Braun, your website just said you ... oh, what's the use?
6. worth, brand, products
Justin Bieber Co. is a fast-growing brand — a living, breathing expanding business that employs people, allows them to have health insurance, and gives them a certain number of vacation days a year.
At last count, @justinbieber had 6,131,665 followers and produces enough traffic to occupy 3 percent of Twitter's servers. He earns a guaranteed $300,000 per concert plus 70 percent of the gross box office, according to the Smoking Gun. In June, Forbes named him one of the 11 most successful teen entrepreneurs. There actually exists a Justin Bieber nail polish.
A brand is the personality that identifies a product. A brand is a promise. And in this case, a brand is a boy.
As it states in the new issue of Mayo Clinic weekly, the clear and present danger of Bieber Fever is that it will soon have one of the highest rates of dependence amongst its users. Like heroin.
See, in the simpler times, before the virtual insanity glasses and retina display vitamins, it used to be you really had to WORK for your pop culture addictions.
In the olden days of teen heartthrobs like Leif Garrett, you had TV, radio, maybe a monthly magazine to feed your obsession. But with kids today, it's like the eye of Sauron delivering a steady content-drip fed through TwitterTubes, FacePhones and a never-ending stream of social-media potluck. And it's all coming at you fast and furious. The challenge now is how to avoid celebrity pop culture addiction potholes.
You can literally stay plugged in and absorbing content form your favorite celebrity brand creation every single minute of the day. Say you're in line at the magazine stand to pick up the new e-issue of the Bieber Beat podcast magazine. At that very moment, Bieber (the brand) has five versions of a Justin Bieber doll for sale and three Justin Bieber teddy bears (now available for preorder!). And by the time you take all that in, Bieber has tweeted 15 times.
"A great brand raises the bar — it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it's the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you're drinking really matters." — Howard Schultz (president, CEO and chairman of Starbucks)
Brand awareness and brand addiction. That's what Justin Bieber stands for.
What about the hair ... is that something? No. It is not. Moving on.
Middle-aged former child stars — mostly the ones whose time in the limelight has faded — are constantly bemoaning the loss of their childhood. But some are able to cope with the rush of fame and fortune and flourish — if they are able to stay relevant or have good people surrounding them. Bieber's "people" appear to have his best intentions in mind, but you never know. Only time will tell.
For Bieber, it might now seem to be all about the music. But for the rest of us, it is not.
"I want my fans to grow up with me. I just want to keep making good music. Michael Jackson is an icon to me. I want to be a great entertainer like him."
This is what Bieber, speaking to WWD.com, has to say on the matter — without a hint of awareness of his own mortality, of the eerie similarities between his and Jackson's youth, of what Jackson was subjected to and deprived of in his brief and insane life, and ultimately, what Jackson became.
Bieber, a boy, is more of a robot than a real child, the creation of his fairy god-Scooter. In many ways, Bieber's journey may parallel David the robot's; in other ways it might be a mirror opposite. A real live kid who became a brand, whose innermost talent, whose creativity is being masked, homogenized and polluted for the masses so it can go down easier.
Justin Bieber is not absurd, but Bieber™ is.
Killin it. So damn sexy
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…