THE BEGINNING

Each month a Loud And Quiet writer spends a week listening to music they don’t particularly like. Peter Yeung couldn’t stand Justin Bieber, but, like most people, hadn’t actually heard any of his songs

justin-bieber

“The fact, however, is, that not only the grounds of the opinion are forgotten in the absence of discussion, but too often the meaning of the opinion itself.” So scrawled English philosopher John Stuart Mill – verbosely, yet sagely – in his cornerstone 1859 essay ‘On Liberty’. “Instead of a vivid conception and a living belief, there remain only a few phrases retained by rote; or, if any part, the shell and husk only of the meaning is retained, the finer essence being lost.”

Why I elected to force-feed my ears with Justin Bieber for a week: despite having never listened to a whole Bieber track (the diaphanous, unofficial YouTube version of his ‘U Smile’, 800% slower, aside), I retain an unhealthy dislike for the teen titan from the Lilliputian town of Stratford in Ontario, Canada. As do the quarter of a million Americans who signed an online petition earlier this year, requesting that Bieber be deported: “He is not only threatening the safety of our people but he is also a terrible influence on our nations youth.”

But why? This 20-year-old boy – privy to 75 million facebook fans and more Twitter followers than Barack Obama and David Cameron combined – is in many ways a quintessential example of the American dream: the self-made man. He was the son of two very poor teenagers: JB’s mother, Pattie Mallette, was an alcoholic high-school dropout who experimented with LSD, while his father, Jeremy Jack Bieber, abandoned the family and went on to pursue a career as a tattooed martial arts fighter called LordRauhl.

Friends and family had encouraged Mallette (a devout Christian) to abort the child, but she resisted, and by the age of five, her multitalented son could already play the drums. At 13, Bieber gained attention busking – with enviable projection, and astounding whininess – when trying to earn enough money to visit DisneyWorld. Soon he was spotted online by future manager, Scooter Braun, singing an occasionally soulful, yet sickeningly saccharine cover of Ne-Yo’s ironically-titled ‘So Sick’ at a local talent show. A bidding war eventually ensued between Usher and Justin Timberlake, and as a YouTube comment on the video puts it: “And so, cancer was born.”

Since then the silky-haired, swagster has put out three studio albums, been a part of twenty-six singles, and released twenty-four unfailingly-excruciating music videos (the 400 million-plus viewed ‘Beauty And A Beat ft. Nicki Minaj’ is particular nadir, which includes egregiously superficial attempts at joie de vivre, a painfully awkward “bodyrock” with Minaj, and a blanket pastiche of vogue musical trends). His 2010 debut ‘My World 2.0’ is pipsqueak, production-line tedium, the follow-up, a Christmas album called ‘Under the Mistletoe’ (2011) continues the insipid, spinelessness, which brings out my inner, misanthropic scrooge. ‘Believe’ (2012) is mawkish, Justin Timberlake-aping noise, made to placate Bieber’s millions of lachrymal fangirls, while last year’s output, ‘Journals’, was received with collective apathy, failing to break the UK’s Top 40.

I must admit that during my week I didn’t listen to Bieber’s entire back catalogue – I have boundaries – but there are also limits on how much his vacuous melodies could infuriate me. Admittedly, his flaws are extensive: he’s a wealthy, white R&B singer; he greeted the President by saying “What up, my dude?”; he published an autobiography at the age of 16; he has a gargantuan, smarmy ego; he once observed that Anne Frank would probably have been a Belieber. The examples continue ad nauseum.

Consequently, some act as though Bieber Fever is as threatening to humanity as the hemorrhagic virus ebola. But the teen idol is no more repugnant than the system that has spouted him, and I have managed to avoid his music up until now with ease. It is late capitalism that we should instead direct our vitriol towards, rather than its product. So, in that sense – also noting the terrible, swarming power of his innumerable fans against any detractors – I can tentatively declare: Ich bin ein Belieber.

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