We try to get inside the head of the seemingly troubled star
When 25,000 tickets for Justin Bieber’s upcoming gig at The Sevens Stadium sold out, it was already the biggest concert Dubai had ever seen, according to promoters. So when Done Events announced a second gig, a day after the original Saturday May 4, it sealed Bieber’s position as the biggest music act ever to visit the emirates. Bieber is incomprehensibly huge – he has more Twitter followers than anyone else in the world, at 37 million and counting – but his appeal has been carefully crafted to target a specific age bracket. Those older than his own 19 years are likely to be scratching their heads at the teen phenomenon that has clocked three billion hits on YouTube.
When we asked our Twitter followers to explain their love for Bieber, we were overwhelmed with the responses. Two UAE-based teenage girls behind the Twitter handle @Biebaholic94, Leyla Oueida and Nathalie Henkens, sent us a joint statement to explain their adoration: ‘We completely love and adore Justin. Justin has changed our lives forever. He is such an amazing idol and inspiration to many girls around the world, but especially to us. He helped us overcome many difficulties we have faced in life and he taught us to always chase our dreams, never give up and, most importantly, to believe.’
Moving stuff – and there’s more. Leyla and Nathalie are among the hundreds of UAE teens hoping for a chance to meet the Canadian star as part of Virgin Radio’s hunt for ‘The Ultimate Belieber’. Over the past weeks, hundreds of fans have been queuing up at locations across the country for the opportunity to enter a video booth and record a personal message explaining why they’re a ‘Belieber’.
‘We sit down after the shows and watch the videos, and can’t help but be moved,’ says Virgin Radio DJ and Time Out columnist Kris Fade. ‘I ask all these fans, “What is it about this guy?” and they all say the same: “He inspires me. I think he’s hot. I love his music and it’s just him – I’ve been a Belieber for years, I’ve seen him grow up as I’ve grown up.” It’s the same feeling as The Beatles in the ’60s.’
Bieber fever may be comparable to the fervent outbursts of Beatlemania seen in years gone by, but is that where the comparisons end? Where Lennon and McCartney wrote the bulk of their music and flouted conventions, Bieber appears to many to be a manufactured star, the puppet creation of savvy record-company executives eager to crack the teen market. Discovered on YouTube in 2008 by American talent manager Scooter Braun, he was introduced to Usher, quietly signed to the pair’s joint management company (reportedly outbidding Justin Timberlake), and quickly packaged as a pop sensation. Just months later he began breaking Billboard chart records, and was later named the first artist to have seven US chart hits from a debut release, My World.
Much is made of Bieber’s fruitful youth spent teaching himself piano, guitar and trumpet, even mastering the drums at the age of two, but his writing credits are shared with a legion of pro pop songwriters, suggesting his control is negligible. It begs the question: how much talent does Bieber really have?
While many Dubai musicians might never admit to liking his music, few dispute the hard work he’s had to put in. Nikhil Uzgare is lead singer of Point of View – the winner of Time Out’s Best Dubai Act award – and the promoter behind Rock Nation. ‘As a promoter, he’s done completely the right thing – targeted a young audience not into serious music. It’s incredible for a performer of his age to do so much. Musically, he has some of the best session musicians in the world, so he can’t sound bad. Vocally, maybe he’s not so good, but people aren’t into his voice – they’re into the grooves, catchy choruses and idol worship,’ he summarises. ‘He definitely has talent to pull off so much. Everyone goes through a lot to get where they are – it’s up to you if you want to acknowledge his hard work.’
Aside from the debate about his talent, far more damaging to Bieber are the recent accusations that he no longer represents a good role model to his legions of young fans, especially as he faced increased media scrutiny during the recent European leg of his world tour. Things turned sour on March 4 when Bieber turned up two hours late at London’s O2 Arena. A few days later he was rushed to hospital after collapsing on stage at the same venue, feeding rumours about his physical wellbeing.
A few hours later Bieber got into an alleged altercation with a London photographer, caught on camera yelling threats at the pap while he was physically restrained by his entourage. Later that month there were more charges of violence when a neighbour accused Bieber of battery following a confrontation outside his LA home. And in a case of star narcissism, after an April visit to Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House he signed the guestbook with the comment: ‘Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.’
Psychologist Dr Tara Wynne, clinical director of The LightHouse Arabia, a Dubai-based community mental health clinic, said someone like Bieber’s behaviour could get worse before it gets better. ‘It seems he’s suddenly been tagged with this bad-boy persona, and it all sounds very much about aggression and impulses,’ she says. Comparing Bieber to other teenage stars such as Michael Jackson and Miley Cyrus, Dr Wynne says the problems occur because young celebrities are not allowed to develop a normal sense of self. ‘Justin Bieber has been catapulted from a normal existence to an extreme lifestyle of huge expectation. Where do young people get the internal resources to deal with that? Young people are not prepared to cope, they’re quite primitive, so will quite often turn to risk-taking behaviour.’
Yet it’s possible, Dr Wynne adds, that this could all just be an attention-seeking act to move from his cutesy youthful image to a more rebellious adolescent, going hand in hand with his deeper, mature voice and ageing the Bieber persona as his fans age with him. Whatever the real state of Bieber’s mind when he takes to the stage in Dubai, it’s clear that for Leyla, Nathalie and tens of thousands of other ‘Beliebers’, it will be the greatest moment of their year.