Teen singer Justin Bieber is an undeniable part of popular culture, and the large crowd expected at his concert tonight at the KFC Yum! Center is evidence of that popularity. He seems nearly ubiquitous these days, but he is more deserving of a lecture on pop culture relevance at Bowling Green State University than he is an article in a music magazine. Of course his absence from British periodicals like Q, Uncut, and Mojo is further proof that our UK counterparts tend to focus on the music over the hype.
Unless you are a 'tween girl - and apparently there are like five billion of them in the U.S. - chances are you will not want to hear Bieber's music. That is no knock on him, but no adult male will be singing along with Never Let You Go in their car on the way to work.
None of this is to say that teens can't make their mark musically and maintain a staying power. In 1963 at the age of 13, Stevie Wonder scored a hit with Fingertips (Pt. 2) and has since left a legacy of classic songs over the last 45 plus years. In the late '70s, an 18-year-old Paul Weller blazed through The Jam's debut In the City with reckless abandon while having something to say about the world around him. Over three decades later, Weller was nominated for the Mercury Prize this year. Jonny Lange made his first record at 15, and his undeniable guitar skills now make him a seasoned veteran at 29. Joss Stone was 16 but sounded 36 when her debut The Soul Sessions came out in 2003.
Bieber, however, doesn't yet have the skills to secure a long term future simply as a musician. And his voice makes Donny Osmond's vocals on Puppy Love sound almost like Tom Waits. Perhaps Bieber will become a Donny Osmond type, a hard working and versatile good guy who has undeniable showmanship and an ability to adapt and endure. The thing is, none of us know, and surmising anything is about as accurate or purposeful as a Michael Irvin pregame NFL prediction. But Bieber needn't worry about such things. Comparatively, at sixteen, I was only worried about enduring another dateless Homecoming dance.
The media's fascination is a bit baffling. Sure his hairline is reminiscent of Ted Koppel’s, but that's no reason to make a big to-do about him. Just yesterday, the Courier Journal ran an interview with Bieber discussing an upcoming book. And a Yahoo headline last week mentioned that Bieber wants kids by 30. I'm thinking procuring a driver's license should probably come first. Seriously, is his parental plans really newsworthy? Do 16 year-olds really have the insight to have such a vision anyway? But we can't blame Bieber. Someone in the media had to request an interview and ask the question. Bieber can’t be blamed for politely and thoughtfully answering questions.
For music critics to be harsh is, well, unnecessary. Do they really feel a need to be clever and droll with their reviews? Isn't it really unnecessary? Does anyone but a girl in the 6-13 demographic really find his music compelling? Do critics need to reiterate in Faulkner-esque prose that Baby is really not very good? Nope. While some may find Bieber annoying – like male students in my son’s third grade class who want to throw darts at Bieber’s picture or my three-year-old who said, “He’s stupid” as he walked past a life size Bieber cutout in front of FYE at Mall St. Matthews - he seems innocuous to most music fans, a non issue and missing on their iPods.
On the song I'm Not Running Anymore off his 1998 self-titled album, John Mellencamp sang, "I'm not the young kid that I used to be, so I push the hair back out of my face." Maybe pop culture and music critics alike need to realize Bieber is still a young kid, so it's OK that his hair is in his face. There have been no reports of Bieber drinking and driving with his learner's permit or going on violent crack binges. By all accounts, he appears to be a decent kid. That's why the media should give their analysis, commentary, and coverage a rest. Give the Bieber a break.
Well, isn't this article hypocritical then? Aren't I perpetuating Bieber Fever by writing another piece about him? Aren't I as guilty as the editor who gave the go ahead to report that Bieber was involved in fisticuffs at a laser tag venue earlier this year? Well, when you write about music, and he's coming to your city’s new arena, you probably need to give it a mention; as The Kinks said, give the people what they want.
Just recently, the Justin Bieber doll was released, and it will surely be on quite a few young girls' Christmas lists. Remember, however, having your own action figure is no guarantee for future success. Remember Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter had his own doll, and the last time I checked Ron Palillo didn't have his name above the title on too many movie posters.
So, although he seems to be at the top of show business, there's no need to give the Bieber the business. Serious music fans give him no more attention than they would a Telly Savalas release in the '70s. It's not Bieber's fault that the media writes about everything he does.
Justin Bieber will be playing the KFC Yum! Center tonight at 7:00 as part of his My World Tour . For ticket information, see the arena's website.
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