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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

July 7, 2010 at 2:30 PM

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The essential unseriousness of Bieber Fever

Posted by Andrew Matson

Image from the Internet

After thinking more about Justin Bieber than a 28-year-old male probably should, I've come to the conclusion that unsupportive parents and older siblings condescend to young Bieber fans when they say, "How can you take him seriously?"

Barbara Walters was obviously charmed but not taking him seriously at all when he hit on her on "The View," and I think many Bieber fans consider him the same way, and regard his romantic/sexual advances as cute but essentially clueless and ultimately non-threatening.

For those not knowing, Bieber is a 16-year-old Canadian pop star who looks like he's 14, was discovered on YouTube by the same guy who tried to make Asher Roth a rap star, and ushered into the American mainstream by Usher. His music is chintzy ringtone R&B pop with lyrics mostly about love and romance, and his image boils down to wildly apparent youth, a famous neo-bowl haircut, and tween-urban hiphop-friendly style (cocked baseball hat, "shorty" = "shawty," etc.).

If you're anywhere near the Comcast Center in Everett Tuesday 07/13/10, the scene should be like Beatlemania except with parents everywhere. That's Bieber Fever. Everyone knows Bieber's music is dumb and image is artificial, but those with Bieber Fever don't care that much.

On a recent trip to L.A., I met two female high school senior Bieber fans that clued me into this. One girl identified herself as having Bieber Fever and the other did not, but both listened to Bieber all the time and had several of his songs memorized. The one with Bieber Fever seemed to almost make fun of herself when she talked about her fandom, transforming into something I imagine was closer to her 15-year-old self and simultaneously sniping from the side, and the other said she'd never actually pay money to see him perform. She seemed offended that I even suggested it, but said of course she'd go for free. This obsessed/repulsed dichotomy is, I think, the tension at the heart of Bieber fandom.

Bieber's hair doesn't magically know where to go. It's ironed. And he doesn't happen to have great style. He has a "swagger coach" dress and coach him. Somebody else writes his music and lyrics. He is the product of a mom who pimps his career on Christian TV and a dad who has a website with shirtless pictures of himself on it. Certainly any dedicated Bieber fan knows all this, because they all know how to use the Internet, but concentrating on any of it ruins the experience of getting sucked into the pop comforts of "One Less Lonely Girl" (where Bieber pledges to change one lucky girl's life) and "One Time" (where Bieber meaninglessly announces "my fight is your fight, my breath is your breath").

Bieber's music career trajectory is obvious. In his new song "Never Say Never" with Will Smith's kid Jaden, he almost raps. He'll probably rap in the future, or at least sing on rap songs. If he stays making pop R&B and doesn't undergo some ultrareligious reinvention, his soft-core romancing will surely turn explicitly sexual in a few years. We know this because we knew New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Bow Wow, etc. The writing is on the wall, and time is limited for Bieber to be this toothless puppy, this mix of forthright sexual energy and reassuring impotence.

Kids get that because, deep down, they are smarter than we give them credit for being.

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