11/06/2015

Belieb it or not

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I want to blame my sudden and total outpouring of love and affection for Justin Bieber on Kate McKinnon.

On several episodes of Saturday Night Live, McKinnon, a cis, white lesbian, and also the love of my life, impersonated Justin. Despite the character’s obvious goofiness and put-on swagger, I swooned. Mostly for Kate, but the resulting endearment I now hold for the Biebs was collateral damage. I was smitten. Confused, sure; but smitten all the same.

Then, for his 21st birthday, Justin put together his very own Comedy Central Roast, where the likes of Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg and Hannibal Buress laid into the pop star for his faults and transgressions. He finished up the 2.5-hour roast with a sheepish “Sorry,” coincidentally the title of one of his singles, apologizing in a strange display of self-awareness and regret.

Many cried “PR stunt!” claiming the roast was a way to rehabilitate the spoiled and bratty image of the pop star. And, although it probably was a PR move, you had to admit that it was a pretty great one. Here was the biggest pop name of our time, standing in front of a live audience, allowing them to freely mock him.

Tainted by his Baby past, he has absorbed an astonishing amount of vitriol from the world and is responsible for YouTube’s most-disliked video of all time — the music video for Baby, clocking in at 5.2 million dislikes as of printing. That which made him a household name has also likely condemned him to the depths of music hell.

And yet, there seems to still be a great divide, separating the world into two camps: a loyal bunch of fans who call themselves Beliebers, and everyone else who just thinks he’s an a-hole. I almost crossed over to Belieber territory after watching his biopic, Never Say Never. It was your typical underdog story, something that made you want to root for the small-town kid from Canada.

Following his numerous successes, Justin grew up, proudly flashing his own badge of teen rebellion, collecting multiple traffic violations, public outbursts and scandals, that awful March 6 deposition, and a string of other miscellaneous acts of sickishness including but not limited to: spitting on his adoring fans from his Toronto apartment, getting carried around on the Great Wall of China; and leaving behind a pet capuchin monkey at German Customs who, I should note, made an appearance on the aforementioned celebrity roast.

Then, his PR team went into overdrive. In the next couple of months, we saw a relaxing, candid version of him in a session of Carpool Karaoke — driving around and clothes-swapping with James Corden, solving a Rubik’s Cube, and confusing my feelings with an admirable blend of earnest self-deprecation and a certain comfortable confidence.

“Why do I like this guy?” I asked myself, in a moment of crisis. “Who have I become?”

Then there was that Martha Stewart sitdown for Interview magazine, where we learned that he graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA. In a recent cover story for Complex magazine, he talked a bit more about his faith, by way of a Taco Bell comparison, and opened up about his tumultuous relationship with his ex, Selena Gomez. And though knowing these little bits and piece of information is great, one wonders: “What about the music?”

Most recently, Justin spoke with Telegraph magazine, reuniting with his profiler from 2012, asserting that he means business this time around. It’s been a while since Bieber’s last proper release; his latest studio album, “Purpose,” is slated to drop some time this month. So far, we’ve heard four songs from it — all of which have made the world pause and say, “Wait a minute.”

Because Justin’s new songs are good. Like, really good. I didn’t follow much pop music until I fell down the One Direction rabbit hole. Then I started streaming Nick Grimshaw’s The Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 1, which introduced me to a super-catchy tune. Imagine my surprise (horror? Surprised horror?) when I discovered that the song I was jamming to turned out to be Where Are Ü Now, created by the unlikeliest threesome: Diplo, Skrillex and Justin Bieber. What I could’ve easily dismissed as typical pop trash by a tabloid regular turned out to be incredibly good. And then it happened again. And again.

A countdown to What Do You Mean? followed soon after, and after countless replays of this damn song, I’m still not sick of it. After three years away from the stage, Justin played both songs live at this year’s MTV VMAs, a performance that ended in rather emotional tears. Shortly after that, he released a “dance video” for a new single, Sorry, featuring New Zealand’s ReQuest and The Royal Family Dance Crews. People with wild imaginations (not me, honest) may even read into these tunes, probably reminiscing about Jelena, stewing in angst whilst reading his as-of-late very revealing interviews. Insistent of the authenticity of this album (“This is me” is a consistent sentiment), Justin seems adamant about shedding his carefully arranged layers, revealing his true self on his own terms, tired of being misconstrued.

“Purpose” comes out on Nov. 13 — the same date as One Direction’s “Made in the A.M.”, their first release since Zayn Malik’s untimely mid-tour departure. And although I’m excited for both, my anticipation for Purpose goes beyond fannish interest. I’m a little dubious, though supportive, of One Direction’s frankly rushed release, and the fact remains that tons of people won’t give “Purpose” a listen, based solely on the fact that it’s a record by… Justin Bieber.

After two recent outbursts — one at a Spanish radio station and another at a free show in Oslo where he walked out after performing only one song — it may seem like Bieber still has a bit of growing up to do. At least his music’s grown up a lot. I don’t think I’m a Belieber just yet, but from the four tracks that have been released so far, I can say that I’m sorry (not sorry) that I kind of really can’t wait for the rest of it.

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