Earlier this week, my esteemed colleague Rob Van Winkle posited that we’ve been brainwashed by our Baby Boomer-dominated culture to believe that the Beatles are better than they actually are. According to Rob, the Beatles suck because, “I’m saying teenagers EVERYWHERE, FOREVER, have ALWAYS been stupid.”
No offense to Mr. Van Winkle, but seriously…what a bunch of crap! This is the type of blatant genre prejudice that I’ve ranted about more than once. Just because something is a “teen” phenomenon, it’s automatically inferior to more mature acts? Rob, you can go ahead and enjoy yourself there in Barry Manilow-land, but the fact is, teenagers are at the forefront of trends and culture. They understand where our musical evolution is going long before we do. They don’t have to be the arbiters of taste; they make the tastes.
Which brings me to the subject of my review: Justin Bieber.
For the last several years, Justin Bieber has been one of the most popular teen idols performing today. He has become more influential online than the President or the Dali Lama. He was the most searched-for person on the Web. And his rabid followers have their own name—Beliebers—and Urban Dictionary entry. Yet Bieber has also been the target of rabid, almost fanatical hate. Being a bit of a musical anachronism myself, I’ll admit that I hadn’t actually heard any of Bieber’s music. So I wanted to take a look at the Bieber phenomenon objectively to see what I could find.
What I found were poetic exaltations about the most profound emotion of all: love.
So let’s take a deeper look…
Justin Bieber: The Man, the Music
Watching the video of Justin Bieber’s first single, “One Time,” you think it’s going to be about a rebellious teenage boy throwing a party. Instead, it’s a bold declaration of the powerful feeling known as first love. Let’s take a closer look at some of the lyrics:
When I met you girl my heart went knock knock
Now them butterflies in my stomach won’t stop stop
and even though it’s a struggle love is all we got
so we gonna keep keep climbin’ to the mountain top
Bieber’s love is so overwhelming, so all-consuming, his heart goes “knock knock” and the butterflies in his stomach just won’t “stop stop.” (I recommend Pepto Bismal for that, actually.) He knows this relationship will be a struggle, but they will continue “climbin’ to the mountain top.” Such heartfelt sentiments! But the most telling statement here is, “love is all we got.” Even as young as he is, Bieber has already identified love as the pivotal emotion that it is.
Such themes continue in Bieber’s later work. Let’s take a look at his most recent single, “Boyfriend”:
“Boyfriend” is a plea: please let me be your boyfriend. Again, we see the running theme of the declaration of love—but in this song, we can see Bieber’s growing commitment to his beloved. Specifically:
Tell me what you like yeah tell me what you don’t
I could be your Buzz Lightyear fly across the globe
I don’t never wanna fight yeah, you already know
I am ‘ma a make you shine bright like you’re laying in the snow
This is a more mature love than what we’ve seen in Bieber’s previous work. This is not a love that’s self-gratifying. He would do anything for her, including becoming her “Buzz Lightyear” and traveling all over the world with her. He doesn’t want to fight with her; instead, he just wants to make her “shine bright” like she’s “laying in the snow.” It’s a beautiful sentiment, being so solely dedicated to the welfare and happiness of the woman he loves. I also must commend Bieber on his inspired use of metaphor.
Mr. Van Winkle mentioned in his article that he’s a married man. He should consider serenading his wife with Justin Bieber songs. I don’t know of any woman who wouldn’t swoon at such sentiment.
Which brings me to my next point:
Justin Bieber, and the lesson he teaches men
What is the number one complaint most women have about men? They don’t want to talk about their feelings. (Statistically speaking, that they don’t put the toilet seat down is actually a more common complaint, but as it’s filed under the category of “negligible concerns,” its weight is calculated differently. But I digress.) Men would rather do almost anything else besides talk about their feelings. Eat Brussel sprouts. Get a root canal. Watch a Sex and the City marathon. It’s the Mars/Venus effect. Some theorize that it’s because men have fewer neural pathways between the hemispheres in their brains, and thus have more difficulty vocalizing (a left-brained task) their emotions (which reside in the right brain). Some say it’s because men have been culturally conditioned to believe that emotions—and their expression—are unmasculine. Still others say it’s because men are just stubborn. But whatever the reason, anecdotal evidence certainly suggests men don’t often vocalize their emotions—and women would often like them to.
But Justin Bieber is an evolved man. Justin Bieber knows what he’s feeling, and says so. Other men could learn a powerful lesson from Justin Bieber. Take a look:
In “Never Let You Go,” Bieber talks not only about love—but also about the destructive power of hate. Clearly, Bieber is a person who can both identify emotions (love, hate), but also articulate them in some detail. Pay attention, all you men out there: Justin Bieber is exactly the kind of guy women look for.
As Bieber has been more of a female phenomenon, men have been reluctant to accept his message. But somehow, slowly but surely, Bieber’s wisdom has begun to spread to the male population.
The Bieber Effect
The mainstream male population may be reluctant to accept Bieber, but the music world has not been. Usher is Bieber’s mentor—but only after winning a bidding war against Justin Timberlake. Kanye West and Drake are featured on Bieber’s “Believe” album. Bieber may not have a foothold in the male population, but these performers do.
And take a look at the video for Bieber’s “Baby,” the most viewed and discussed video on YouTube:
Wait a minute! Who’s that? Is that rap superstar Ludacris freestyling about his first love? Why Luda, how positively evolved of you! You’ve come a long way since “What’s Your Fantasy?” (featuring Trina).
If the Bieber Effect can make someone who once declared, “Rip the pants and rip the shirt, ruff sex make it hurt, in the garden all in the dirt,” wax poetical about his first youthful love, there’s hope for anyone.
So in conclusion…
Whatever snobbish reviewers like Mr. Van Winkle might say about teen music, Bieber’s songs are actually quite profound and, at times, inspirational. These are songs solely dedicated to the expression of romantic love. And really, if you love someone, you should tell them. Yes, Bieber is young, but does that make him any less capable of love? After all, as the Twilight series teaches us, the love you find at 17 can last a lifetime (or longer than that, if you get turned into a vampire). I think we can all learn a little something from Justin Bieber.
So yeah, I’ll admit it: I am a Belieber.