Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Baby, baby, baby no: why it's a scary new Bieber-verse

Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber

An almost palpable glee can be felt from grown-ups over pop star Justin Bieber's ongoing catastrophic PR drive.

Bieber, no longer that cheeky pop chipmunk with the horizontal hair, is nowadays a lumbering, petulant man-boy displaying levels of brattish conceit which Roald Dahl would tone down.

"Worst birthday," the poor pop-twink harrumphed last week to his 35 million Twitter devotees – the Beliebers. Shortly before, he'd been presented with a very expensive, Batman-themed customised motorbike.

It was the media, the club-owners, the restaurant-owners, the world conspiring to thwart his simple needs. So I'm not entirely certain whom we blame for Bieber traipsing on stage at the O2 on Monday at 10.35pm, two hours late, to perform to an audience of mainly 11-year-old girls at a venue miles from anywhere, which a Belieber could only attend if some poor chump waited outside in a Volvo until after midnight. But I'll guess it wasn't Justin's. But why would adults relish a minor Bieber backlash? It's only pop music.

Sure, being incarcerated over a long, drizzling British summer break with a six-year-old intending to play Bieber's global hit Baby upwards of 897 times – occasionally stopping dancing to look one dead in the eye and say, "I need to tell you something... I've got the Bieber fever" – might be vaguely sinister, but I wouldn't wish the boy harm.

However, I will say that there has been something rather disconcerting about the rise of Bieber, buoyed by his internet army.

For a long time now, among writers, the first rule of discussing Justin Bieber has been: Do Not Criticise Justin Bieber. It's not worth the stress. At the merest hint of a slur, Bieber's Twitter followers will make one's life sheer unmitigated hell, submerging one's inbox and Twitter stream with boggle-eyed abuse and threats of death.

As an adult, I finds this wearisome and a bit worrying. I remember, back in 1983 being infatuated by John Taylor from Duran Duran, but I contained my affection to weeping in a back bedroom over a copy of Seven and the Ragged Tiger and at no point upped the ante to threatening to kill Mark Ellen at Smash Hits for mocking my beloved John's burgundy mullet.

My mother was besotted with Frankie Vaughan in the 1950s.

At no point did she pen a number of short, vitriolic personal messages threatening to rip the face off his fellow fans, unless she's kept this side to her very quiet.

But the haste in which Bieber fans form twitchfork mobs and turn on each other – demonstrated when 15-year-old Courtney Barrasford had a Twitter message to the star retweeted – is fascinating. Crucially, there is no set precedent in pop for what the Bieber camp has created. This is a wholly modern tale of pop's global reach in the age of social networking, spurred on by erratic hormones, major marketing and a largely silent leader, who rarely tells his devotees to pipe down.

Bieber's record company, minders and staff are completely ill-equipped to deal with the trolling and abuse carried out every day on their star's behalf. In fact, just like Bieber flouncing out of Cirque Du Soir last week, they take no responsibility.

So, please: let me have a good-natured chuckle at Bieber's "Worst Birthday", because I've watched this phenomenon growing and there's nothing to smile about.

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