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From MySpace to Myanmar

This Is Justin Bieber’s World

Justin Bieber's World The Internet brings the whole world to us, in all of its variety and much of its complexity. So why is it that so many people choose to use its phenomenally wide-angle lens to focus on Justin Bieber?

Over the past year, the teen icon’s popularity has become inescapable. At the time of writing, his video for Baby, the most popular clip on YouTube in 2010, has been viewed more than 1.3 million times per day since it was first uploaded on Feb. 11. Last week, Facebook named him the sixth-biggest “trend” of 2010 on its social networking website — he’s the only person on the Top 10. Twitter also dubbed the singer this past year’s biggest-trending person; reportedly the service gives more than 3% of its servers to traffic about him. On Google this year, his name was the fastest-rising entertainment-related search in the world.

Bieber is the perfect Internet-era global star: he can be just about all things to all people. His singing voice is androgynous, as is his wraparound hair; his fresh and unlined face gives him the sparsely drawn look of a cartoon hero. As with the likes of Charlie Brown, fans can project themselves onto him and imagine themselves as him, a regular kid with a feel-good rags-to-riches tale.

His lyrics are a triumph of non-specificity: they could in theory have been written by anyone with a basic command of English, and they could apply to any number of people. Even his latest song, the socially conscious Pray, is universally vague. “It’s everywhere I go,” he sings. “Children are crying, soldiers are dying.” His solution isn’t to turn into Bono; rather, he tells us, “I close my eyes and pray”–to a non-specific deity.

Bieber is indisputably talented, in an inoffensive way. He portrays crushes without lust, riches without greed, stardom without ego. His adolescence is without rebellion, his R&B-flavoured pop itself unlikely to ruffle feathers among his young fans’ parents. His content is safe for work, children and even military dictatorships — at the time of writing, Google’s Zeitgeist feature suggests the country with the second-highest interest in Bieber is Myanmar.

Thus, it’s unsurprising we’ve seen an epidemic of Bieber fever on the Web, which, despite its apparent championing of diversity, is the greatest force for promotion and conglomeration the world has ever known. As recently as 2007, when Bieber uploaded his first homemade videos, the web was still mostly seen as a springboard — independent artists who uploaded music onto MySpace could win popularity that led to radio and TV appearances and music sales. By 2010, it was an end in itself. Bieber started on YouTube as a slight 12-year-old boy singing in under-lit videos; he’s now debuting his large-budget, glossy promos on the same service, and of course selling songs, ring tones, concert tickets and merchandise online.

His popularity is now so large, it’s self-sustaining. The more his fans tweet about him, comment on his videos and “like” his Facebook posts, the more he appears on various sites as a popular “trend,” the more other people are likely to read about him and watch his videos, and react. All of this catches the attention of traditional media outlets, such as the one you’re reading now.

Bieber seems impervious to backlash, but the seeds of change are coming from within: his voice having broken, he can’t remain in an idealized adolescence forever, and his fans will grow up. He faces a difficult transition, and also competition from pop stars version 2.0: in Japan, virtual “Vocaloids” now sing with synthesized voices and give holographic performances. The most popular, Hatsune Miku, can be 16 forever and has been selling out stadiums.

Clearly, Bieber will need to transcend his teen pop-star status. Will he begin to do so in 2011? No doubt everyone will be the first to find out.


— Originally published in The National Post


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