Tweet, tweet, Bieber fever

Sat, Aug 7, 2010, 01:00

PROFILE: JUSTIN BIEBER: According to his producer, 'he has Beatles hair, the loveability of Michael Jackson and the talent of Elvis.' But 16-year-old singer Justin Bieber also has something those other stars lacked: the internet. Rosita Bolandreports.

JUSTIN WHO? If you’re asking that question, you’re clearly not one of Justin Bieber’s 4,180,968 – and rising – followers on Twitter. Nor are you one of the millions of people who have watched his music videos on YouTube. You’re also probably not a young girl, cohorts of whom form the majority of teenage pop/RB sensation Bieber’s fans.

Canadian Justin Drew Bieber (pronounced Bee-ber) was born in Stratford, Ontario in 1994. If he had been born 10 years earlier, or even five, it is unlikely we’d ever have heard of him. That’s because when young Justin was 12, he won second place in a local talent contest for singing a cover of Ne-Yo’s So Sick. His mother posted a video clip of his entry on YouTube and then continued to post several other videos of her small precocious son singing and playing piano, drums and trumpet in his bedroom.

And lo, Bieber’s video was found by chance by a musical scout with the unlikely name of Scooter Braun, while he was scooting round the internet. The short but important history of Bieber to date records that when Scooter called Pattie Mallette, Bieber’s mother, saying that he wanted her son to record demo tapes, she was completely unfazed by the offer, but initially deterred by Braun’s name, thinking it was all a hoax.

Bieber, then aged 13, agreed to go to Atlanta, Georgia to make demo recordings. While there, he sang for Usher Raymond IV, always known as Usher, who has sold 45 million albums worldwide. An industry scrap to sign Bieber then ensued between Usher and Justin Timberlake, himself a former child singing prodigy. Usher won, and Bieber signed to Island Records in October 2008, with Scooter Braun as his manager. Mother and son are now based in Atlanta, making Bieber Canada’s most famous export. His debut album, My World, went platinum in the US and is still hoovering up sales internationally.

The fact that Bieber is a brown-eyed moppet, with a beanie of floppy hair and a wide grin, is almost as useful as the fact that he has a recording contract. He resembles a sweet spaniel puppy and those pretty-boy looks have endeared him to millions of young female fans, creating what’s called “Bieber fever” wherever he goes. He also still looks about 12 years old.

“Justin has Beatles hair, the loveability of Michael Jackson and the talent of Elvis Presley,” said his producer, LA Reid, in a sweeping and memorable description of the newcomer. But Bieber also has something the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley lacked: the internet.

Regardless of what you think of Bieber’s music, he is a pop star in tune with the zeitgeist. Many singers and bands have successfully used social networking sites to promote themselves. There’s nothing new about that – YouTube is as famous a noun now as Google is a verb. Singer Susan Boyle’s fame spread when a YouTube clip of her audition on Britain’s Got Talentwent viral, and millions around the world saw it. But even that is monkey nuts compared to the 275 million views of Bieber’s Babyon YouTube, the website’s most-watched clip to date. And rising.

What is radically different about Bieber’s extraordinary success is that no other act has successfully used YouTube to promote its music videos while also connecting regularly with millions of fans through the ever-growing social-networking site, Twitter. For months, Bieber was the top trending topic on Twitter. Undoubtedly he still would be had Twitter not changed a rule earlier in the summer to reflect spiking popularity rather than consistent mentions of a name or subject.

His most notorious Twitter moment came in April when Scooter Braun refused a police request in Sydney to put out a tweet on Bieber’s account to cancel a concert due to unmanageable crowds. The size of the crowds that turned up meant several people ended up in hospital.

Through all of this, when he’s not touring (with his mother), Bieber continues to play basketball and ice hockey. On Sunday, his day off, he sleeps in. He has a curfew.

“Justin is such a nice kid,” one of his interviewers approvingly told Oprah Winfrey when Bieber appeared on her show in May. The interviewer, who described him to Oprah as a “nice kid”, was herself 11 years old. Bieber then told Oprah and the American nation that he was afraid of the dark, which was unlikely to be something any other US platinum-selling artist had ever confessed to before.

With so much media coverage has come scores of associated hoaxes, rumours, spoof sites, fake Twitter accounts and YouTube parodies (a parody of his interview with the 11-year-old girl from Oprahhas already racked up 1.5 million hits). He’s gay. He’s dead. He’s been arrested. His mother is posing for Playboy. Chuck Norris is his father. He has a sexually transmitted disease. He’s playing in Pyongyang in North Korea. He’s playing in the White House. Of all of these, only the latter is definitely not a hoax – he performed in the White House last Christmas, telling Oprah that the experience was “probably top of the things I’ve done”.

And now there’s Justin Bieber, the memoir. This week, it was announced that Bieber was writing his life story for HarperCollins, to be called First Step 2 Forever. Cue howls of protest from people, most of them who have no idea who Bieber actually is. Isn’t 16 a little young to be writing your autobiography?

Yup, that’s what Bieber thinks too. He went on Twitter to clear up the rumours. It’s true that a book called First Step 2 Forever, featuring Justin Bieber, is indeed going to be published by HarperCollins, but it’s not actually a memoir. This week, he tweeted variously: “it isnt a memoir . . . i teamed up with this amazing photographer robert and he has been taking pictures behind the scenes from before the tour . . . so the book will include all those pics and im going to tell the story of all that led up from rehearsals until the first night of the tour . . . am pretty excited about it and think everyone will enjoy the story and the pics . . . but we can all agree im a little too young to write a memoir. Im still the small town kid you all found on youtube and im hyped to see the world.”

History does not record the name of the person who won the talent contest Justin Bieber came second in when he was 12. But we can guess that he’s probably not one of Bieber’s 4,206,508 Twitter followers – a number which has increased by 25,540 since the start of writing this article.

CV JUSTIN BIEBER

Age: 16

Who is he?Canadian pop/RB sensation

Why is he in the news?With a platinum-selling album, millions of Twitter followers, 275 million YouTube views of his latest video, and now soon to have a book out, he’s never out of the news these days

Most likely to say?Something in less than 140 characters

Least likely to say?“My role model is Ozzy Osbourne”