What is a Justin Bieber?

I find most of my new music these days by being recommended something and then listening to it on YouTube. In doing this, I’ve been noticing that more and more of the comments on these videos involve one person comparing the music to that of Justin Bieber and another person condemning them as worse than Hitler for doing so. And whilst it has been long established that the comments on YouTube videos are a disgrace to the good works of humankind it is odd to see so many focused around this one person.

Like the majority of internet users, I have heard of Justin Bieber. In fact, I know a few things about him:

Beyond this I am woefully ignorant. Doing some further research (ahem, reading his wikipedia entry) I now also know that he is Canadian, Christian and controversial.

I already knew the controversial bit. My choice of words in calling Bieber a ‘pop star’ was very deliberate. He belongs to the current breed of pop superstars who are known as ‘performers’. These artists have a strong emphasis on the visual nature of their medium and themselves. Think of Nicky Minaj, Ke$ha or Lady Gaga, whether you like the music produced by these individuals or not it is surely unarguable that their distinctive style is a major part of their draw.

To me this is what these individuals rely on. They are not great musicians or songwriters. They are commercial creations intended to appeal to specific demographics, running on profit margins rather than on artistic ability. Not that this idea is new, The Monkees were an embodiment of this as far back as the 1960s. This is just my opinion however. A great many reasonable people consider these artists (particularly Lady Gaga) to be creative geniuses whose talents are unappreciated by snobbish, closed minded critics.

I’m the very definition of a snobbish, closed minded critic. I won’t watch any of the television talent shows, I don’t listen to the popular commercial radio stations because I think current pop music is crap. This brings me back to Justin Bieber. I’ve never heard any of his music. I’ve not gone out of my way to try, but it is unusual not to have come across it accidentally (overheard on the radio, flicking onto a TV music channel, etc). Despite this, I already have a clear image and sound in my mind when he is mentioned. Formulaic overproduced pop with bland auto-tuned vocals with little to differentiate it from the rest of the genre.

It is incredibly unfair to judge something without ever giving it a chance. So I’m going to give Justin Bieber a fair run. Using YouTube I will view the official videos from his first three singles and decide if I like them or not. To give you some idea of my thought process I will transcribe my thoughts in real time (thankfully I think slower than I type. And I type pretty slowly). So let’s get to it:

Song 1 – One Time:

  • Slightly annoying voice on that Bieber kid. And that Usher kid for that matter.
  • Big beats intro to the song. Pretty sure I’ve heard that before. Do modern pop acts pick their background music from a catalogue like Dulux swatches?
  • Look at these kids with their smart phones. When I was their age I had a brick. And I’m not referring to a big heavy mobile phone. I mean a literal brick. If I wanted to get the attention of one of my friends I chucked it through their window.
  • Apparently he loves the young lady. I’m impressed by his maturity, at his age all I loved was school holidays, Pogs, and underrated Manchester United fullback Dennis Irwin.
  • He seems a bit young to be at that party. Someone should make sure he’s not allowed to get near the alcohol.
  • “I’m going to tell you one time that I love you.” Hardly Shakespeare, but then I dare say I couldn’t do much better.
  • Woah, he got a kiss! Score young Bieber! I hope your parents have had ‘the birds and the bees talk with you’, might be needing it soon.

Thoughts: On first impressions I have to say I found that to be bland. Fairly standard background music, no cleverness to the words and there was little in his voice that suggests he would have become such a mega star. Perhaps the next video will show his talent.

Song 2 – One Less Lonely Girl:

  • He seems to do a lot of staring soulfully into the camera. His eyes seem to follow you around the room…
  • Isn’t she a bit young to be doing the laundry at the laundrette all alone? And isn’t he a bit young to be taking a guitar into a laundrette in an obvious attempt to pick up single women? This is like a slightly creepy children’s game of ‘play at being adults.’
  • Is that the same background beat as the first song? Or is it slightly different? It would be the difference between ivory and magnolia at best.
  • Did she just drop her knickers in front of Bieber? What a skank. Oh it’s a scarf. That makes more sense. And is less slutty.
  • I’m pretty sure promising girls Justin Bieber and cute puppy dogs is the current favoured technique of paedophiles.
  • An unchaperoned slow dance? This is what letting kids do the laundry alone leads to.

Thoughts: My original verdict of dull stands. There was very little difference in that video from the first one. Although I will accept that most songs about love (99.9% of all music produced) can all be boiled down to the same basic principle, few of them are as obvious and scripted as that. A little originality please Master Bieber. Let’s try lucky number three.

Song 3 – Baby (feat. Ludacris):

  • A different backing track! Bieber is branching out. Hang on, it’s become a lot like the previous ones. It definitely is different this time though, a maroon to the previous red in Dulux terms.
  • The male/female protagonists have gained posses for this video. I smell a ‘West Side Story’ dance fight coming on.
  • Did you just sing the line “Girl, quit playing”? Bad Bieber.
  • ‘I’ll buy you anything, I’ll buy you anything.’ The road to a ladies heart is not through material possessions young man.
  • DANCE FIGHT!
  • “Like, baby baby baby ohhhhh.” Alright, I definitely could do better than that.
  • As the videos have gone on, Bieber’s dance moves have become more and more intricate, it’s as if the soul of Michael Jackson has slowly invaded his body…let us all remember that he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers.

Thoughts: Again, nothing in this to blow my socks off. Bieber has his formula: he is in love with a girl, she is only mildly interested, he puts some sweet-talking legwork in and they come around. Age appropriate intimacy occurs. All across the backdrop of a basic hip-pop beat.

To conclude, after watching these videos I can see why Bieber is a ‘teen idol’ to massive hysterical groups of tween girls. All his songs are about how much he loves this one girl (though she changes from video to video, Justin is clearly a bit flighty) and how he will show his love. There’s no trace of the ‘women as objects’ that is at the foundations of male rap/hip hop and has begun to cross over into mainstream pop. The lyrics suggest a clean virtuosity towards love that appeals to the romantic side whilst the videos have a slight sexualised edge which undoubtedly excites. Bieber himself has the young boy good looks that so few of his less fortunate contemporaries (riddled by plagues of acne) have and clearly some exuberant charm.

His music is everything I thought it would be though, instantly forgettable and lacking any sort of creativity or true talent. Whilst he can sing in tune he has very little to differentiate himself from others who can sing well. The best vocalists have some character to their voice and apparently auto-tune has yet to develop a button or knob to add this.

So I won’t be buying a Justin Bieber album, going to one of his gigs, or even listening to one of songs again, any time soon. But I do feel better that I can objectively say ‘I do not like Justin Bieber’ having listened to his music rather than having made a judgement based solely on the media’s portrayal of him. Besides, the new cool thing is to hate Rebecca Black.

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