My friend and I are at a bar, sort of bored, and some people from my family show up and make snide remarks to me, so I say we should figure out another plan. We look up movie times on his phone. There’s a documentary about Justin Bieber? It’s in 3D? I don’t know if I care. I try to care, and convince myself that I will once I’m watching it. I will get Bieber Fever and I’ll lose myself in it. If anything, this film will let me know what that could mean.
The movie, I notice is rated G. I haven’t seen anything with this rating in a very long time, I’m sure. Is that interesting? I forget about it soon because there is no way anyone in this movie might accidentally swear, and that is part of why it is bizarre. Bieber rose to success via YouTube, the early footage of him was filmed on an iPhone, and most of the quotes that pertain to anything happening to him now are found on Twitter. So we see the internet being depicted in film—which, by the way, is something no one has gotten quite right yet—but only the clean parts of it. Fans express themselves through these 2D portals, too, and it’s interesting to see this, but the over-designed methods of representation are unnecessarily 3D, and sometimes even counterintuitive. The whole film wanders in a few unrelated directions and feels unfinished.
I start to think about the different types of jargon that make up this kid’s life:
50% Bullshit told to him by club promoters, handlers and his closest “friends” (all of whom are over 25 and work for him as various forms of security and training).
10% Conversations with other celebrities who have something to gain from him (Miley Cyrus and Jaden Smith are children of celebrities, and so have an unrecognized admiration for his independence, which he does not acknowledge).
20% Unrequited and unfiltered devotion from fans who “feel they own him” more than perhaps any other fan base have felt they own their idol, simply due his internet presence.
20% The prayers that ask and thank Jesus for all of this success rolling off a young mother’s tongue as she stands next to the father who abandoned the kid until, coincidentally, now.
As Bieber segues from tour stop to tour stop (pun intended—one remarkable trait of his is a comfort level in even the most dorky of scenarios, including escaping hordes of screaming young girls on his Segway), he talks a lot but doesn’t say much. At one point (sort of the Vh1 Behind the Music suspenseful dark side of the movie, if there is one) he loses his voice, and my own growing discomfort feels clarified: Bieber’s parents and grandparents and friends from middle school talk about him as if he’s dead, and his voice-coach says, almost maliciously, that he can be a normal kid or a star, and he’s already made his choice.
The most poignant line is related to us second hand, in an anecdote about watching the Grammys a year or two ago. During Madonna’s speech about Michael Jackson’s death, after she said, “We took his childhood,” Bieber said, “Don’t let that happen to me.”
I leave the movie a little sad, but not quite moved. I don’t really like the music as much as I thought I did, and he’s a little less charming than I imagined him to be. The Fever looks familiar, and uninteresting, despite its unique conjuring, when compared to all the Manias that have spread around the world before.
I almost feel like I’m in high school again, not quite getting what the big deal is about this one guy or some cool shoes. I keep trying to lose myself in pop music like this, but it usually passes me by and I get overwhelmed by its growing sphere of representation.
Instead of being taken by Justin Bieber’s realness and fragility, I end up wishing he was a little more hardened and a little less incredulous. Or vice versa. An extreme. But he’s perfect for the role he plays, which makes him an easy, innocent target. Most likely, he will age in a depressing way, and all the doubters will say they told him so, and I’ll feel slightly sympathetic because I once felt slightly interested in his career. That is, if I can still remember who, out of all these young people, which one he is.