Bieberology: understanding Justin Bieber
To understand what makes Beliebers believe in Bieber, you need to examine his hair, fans and even music
Justin Bieber, who plays at the O2 in Dublin tomorrow, is a Canadian pop sensation with big kitten eyes, a honking voice (inexplicably inaudible to adults) and an idiosyncratic, evolving hair style. Discovered on YouTube by the music manager Scooter Braun in 2008 and championed by Usher and Justin Timberlake, Bieber is now irresistible to a generation of tweens.
Online you can find communities of passionate Beliebers who suffer from Bieber Fever. They spend their time worrying about Bieber’s relationship with his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Selena Gomez, discussing his humble origins as the child of a single mother, and writing fan fiction that involves Bieber falling in love with them.
Sadly, I am not a Belieber. I do not belieb. Arguably it is impossible for me to become a Belieber, because I am in my late 30s. But I want to understand. So I have recruited an array of experts to help explain. I call this cross-disciplinary approach Bieberology.
Stephen Graham is an Irish musicologist and visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths College in London. I ask him why Bieber’s music is so popular.
“Baby [Bieber’s biggest hit] is classic doo-wop, a familiar 1, 6, 4, 5 chord sequence which you find throughout pop history. Initially he was playing on those classic ideas of pop. But in his latest album, Believe, he’s done something typical of modern r ’n’ b artists: a mixed-genre record with aspects of pop and up-to-date hip hop. He’s brought in producers like Max Martin and Diplo.”
What’s different about this? “Robbie Williams and Justin Timberlake were in boy- bands for a long time before making a break for what they saw as credibility. But the idea of credibility or authenticity seems to have completely collapsed.
“So within two albums Bieber has gone from really pop stuff to up-to-date r ’n’ b. People like Nicki Minaj, Ludacris and Big Sean guest on his tracks without losing any sense of street credibility.”
What’s unique about him? “He has a particular persona in the music and the idea of this rags-to-riches rise. He was discovered in a grass-roots way, so he has the hallmarks of being an authentic artist despite making what some would call manufactured pop.”
Colman Noctor is a child and adolescent psychoanalytical psychotherapist.
“Justin Bieber is marketed to appeal to the anxieties of tweenagers experiencing the early onset of sexuality. What Bieber offers is a clean-cut nonthreatening sexuality, and he sings of love and devotion and [unconditional] romance . . . Fandom is healthy if not taken to extremes.”