The other day when I arrived at my Bastard in Suburbia’s office — where I write and work a couple of times a week — I heard the most curious thing:
The catchy intro that hooks you right out the gates on Justin Bieber’s latest smash hit, “What Do You Mean?”
“What do you mean? Oh, oh
When you nod your head yes
But you wanna say no
What do you mean? Hey-ey
When you don’t want me to move
But you tell me to go
What do you mean?
Oh, what do you mean?
Said you’re running out of time, what do you mean?
Oh, oh, oh, what do you mean?
Better make up your mind
What do you mean?”
You know what? The kid asks some good questions here! He’s confused, dammit — and who isn’t perplexed by the opposite sex? Or beyond — your kids, your dogs, your boss, whoever. Mixed messages are some of the more confounding things we humans deal with all the time.
And the Biebs gets it. He just suddenly, crazily does.
When I gave my Bastard — who is a man’s man with a wife, two kids, and a love of mountain biking, off-roading, and generally kicking ass like a boss — a little jibe about being a Belieber, he said, “I’m a musician, and I appreciate what he’s doing.”
JUSTIN! BIEBER! You rascal, you! Snaking your way into the strangest places when we had all pretty much left you in the dustbin of teeny bopper wash-ups, like a modern day Shaun Cassidy or Leif Garrett. (They all kinda look alike, no?)
And it’s not just my Bastard who’s caught up in the sick beats and undeniably relatable lyrics. I fully admit that I’ve got Purpose in heavy rotation on my Spotify… and not just when my kids are in the car.
This was most definitely not always the case.
Years back, the breathy, bubblegum pop quality of Justin’s music made my punk rock blood run stone cold. It was only out of my intense desire to score the coveted and normally elusive “Mother of the Year” award back in 2011 that I took my daughter to see the film, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.
And while the Bieb’s rise to stardom is legendary (discovered on YouTube, plucked from a relatively downtrodden existence by visionary talent manager Scooter Braun and musician/mogul Usher, and brought all the way to international superstardom before he could drive a car), I remember very clearly leaving the movie and focusing not the rags to riches story BUT on the quiet moments captured backstage, where the prodigy had become a prisoner, surrounded by adults that clearly were no substitute for actual friends.
By the time I took my daughter to see JB in concert for his “Believe” Tour in 2013, the shit was already starting to hit the fan. Knowing the kid was spinning out of control, flying high (literally) on fame, getting into scuffles with everyone from club bouncers to neighbors, police, and many others made it hard to sit through his show. I’ll admit there was some captivating degree of spectacle, but the part I couldn’t get past was when Justin “flew” in to croon, complete with a giant pair of Icarus wings, just like the kid in the Greek myth.
If you don’t remember good ol’ Icarus, he was the boy whose dad told him not to fly too low (complacency) or too high (hubris), lest that beautiful pair of wings made of wax and feathers be destroyed. And of course, boys being boys, Icarus flew too close to the sun and that willful arrogance was the end of him.
An abandoned monkey, drag races, pissing in a bucket in a busy nightclub and cursing Bill Clinton, gnarly house parties, blunts for days, egging a house, an arrest, and a litany of other bratty and also often illegal acts later, and the Biebs was in a horrendous tailspin not unlike Icarus’. Cheers turned to jeers, and even the most dedicated Beliebers had to admit that it was near impossible to keep the faith.
As a mom, I will say that I felt bad at times seeing the kid run amok. At 19, had the paparazzi been on my tail, capturing my every move, it wouldn’t have been pretty. There were certainly idiotic pranks, drunken bonehead maneuvers, and at least four ill-advised hairstyles.
Throw endless Benjamins on the spark of youthful indiscretion, and tell me honestly — wouldn’t you flame out, just a bit?
Justin’s story could have been just another trainwreck on the fast track that is child stardom, but then again, maybe it’s time to start beliebing again.
He caught my eye once again earlier this year when he was the focus of a Comedy Central roast. Having worked closely with publicists over the years, I know the best way to regain public acceptance is a careful blend of humility, contrition, and good humor about past mistakes. (Cue Hugh Grant, for example.)
But a Comedy Central roast is no joke, and so sitting through some of the jabs, though admittedly hilarious at times, was brutal. I mean, when Natasha Leggero says, “No wonder he’s got moves, he was in the womb trying to dodge a coat hanger,” Jeff Ross says, “If Anne Frank heard your music, she would Uber to Aushwitz,” Chris D’Elia says, “You have it all… except love, friends, good parents, and a Grammy,” and even Martha Stewart says, “Justin, I’m sure it’s great to have 60 million followers on Twitter, but the only place people will be following you in jail is into the shower,” then you know that the Biebs was willing to go to extreme lengths to humble himself.
Or at least take serious the advice of people that for better (we hope) or worse (please, no) are helping him with a “comeback,” although I’m not so sure he ever really left.
The part that slayed me about the roast was at the very end, when instead of some jokes (which Biebs did have a few good one-liners, notably: “What do you get when you give a teenager two hundred million dollars? A bunch of has-beens calling you a lesbian for two hours.”), Justin got real for a moment with a straight-up apology saying, “I was thrown into this at 12 years old, and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. There’s been a lot of moments I am proud of and a lot of moments I am disappointed for myself, but the things that I have done really don’t define who I am. I am a kind-hearted person who loves people, and through it all I lost some of my best qualities and for that I’m sorry. But what I can say is I am looking forward to being someone you can all look at and be proud of someone you can smile at and see some of yourself in.”
Cynics hated this, but I have to say as a mom who has at times made her children man up and apologize for wrongdoing, when it wasn’t comfortable or easy, to grown-ups that had perhaps already passed judgment, I felt an inexplicable surge of maternal pride.
And although it was clearly a calculated stop on a PR trail that led all the way to this summer’s smash hit, “Where Are Ü Now” by Skrillex and Diplo featuring Justin Bieber (and EVERYONE was shocked it was the Biebs on their favorite song of the season), you gotta give it up to his ability to pivot from being a solo act to playing nicely with others.
If you had told me a few years back that Justin Bieber would be a role model I’d point out to my children, I’d have spit in the general direction of J-Bieb’s washboard abs.
But today nothing comes between my happiness for Jay Bee except maybe my Calvins. And the final step was watching him burst into tears at the VMAs.
As he told Jimmy Fallon: “I just wasn’t expecting them to support me in the way that they did. Last time I was at an award show, I was booed. I think I’ve worked so hard on this album. I’ve worked so hard at just becoming the man I want to become. Stepping into situations, you just can’t help but feel judged. I was just feeling judged and wanting to win so badly and just wanting to do what I love so badly that I just put everything on the line.”
And that, my bitches, is some good life advice to encourage your kiddos to follow — you don’t have to be a Belieber to agree that being able to grasp a hold of humility and say, cry in front of a zillion people, in gratitude for being able to do what you love is a powerful statement about stepping into the person you are meant to be.
Also, redemption is just one “I’m sorry” away.
So if you see me cabbage-patching in my car, just know I’m probably listening to some hot track or another from Purpose. Because when the beat goes on, you gotta beliebe that the best is yet to come.
Now enjoy the video for “Sorry” — dontcha love a good apology AND an all-girl dance routine that features some seriously bad ass bitches struttin’ their stuff. Somebody get me a pair of Timberlands and some booty shorts, stat… and APOLOGY ACCEPTED! (Big props to choreographer Parris Goebel and her dance crews, ReQuest and The Royal Family.)