He went from zero to hero in the blink of an eye. How did Justin Bieber do it and can he stay the course? Alison Grinter investigates…
Three years ago Justin Bieber was just another pop star wannabe with a pushy mum, uploading his DIY videos on to YouTube in the hope he’d be discovered. An eye-blink later, he dominates the music landscape like a latter-day pop conquistador. And he’s only 17. How the hell did that happen?
A social networking phenomenon who has harnessed YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to invade every aspect of our lives, the Canadian teen now has so much online clout that he can tweet “give money to charity for my birthday” and three minutes later an obscure Clean Water charity has $7m (£4.3m) in their coffers. Bieberhas more cyber influence than President Barack Obama. Again, how the hell did that happen?
Social networking phenomenon?
Bieber’s rise to fame is nothing short of extraordinary. His YouTube videos caught the attention of talent agent Scooter Braun who then landed Bieber an audition with R&B star Usher, who immediately signed him to Island/Def Jam.
Mega-hits soon followed: One Time went platinum in Canada and America, and the clip for sickly ballad Baby surpassed Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance to become the most viewed, and most hated, YouTube video of all time.Tweens love him and have been gripped by “Bieber fever”. He has an army of fans called “Beliebers”; when they’re not trying to crush each other to death at Bieber events, seven million of them are hanging off his every tweet.
So is this the new model for pop stardom? Dr Julian Henriques, senior lecturer at the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University of London, doesn’t think so
“I don’t see that there’s a qualitative change from what people like Justin’s doing to what’s been done before,” he says. “It’s intelligent people using any means necessary to get across to their audience.”
“A lot of artists are already doing that – The Arctic Monkey’s climb into popdom was precisely using social networking so he’s not the first person to do it – but he is doing it very successfully.”
A “modern global superstar”
Another thing Bieber has done successfully is to collaborate with hip hop heavyweights Dr Dre, Ludacris and Usher and Taio Cruz, earning him considerable pop cred. It is this cross-pollination between new and established stars which Popjustice editor Peter Robinson believes makes Bieber “very much a blueprint for the modern global popstar”.
“Usher [is] making himself relevant by hooking up with someone like Justin Bieber,” says Robinson.
“He’s got his own label so it’s part of the new model for new stars, and for current stars who are looking at the next ten years of their careers.”
Transition to adult pop star
There are already signs that Bieber is cultivating a more grown up image to prepare for his transition from teen heart-throb to bona fide adult pop artist.
He recently went on the record about his relationship with Disney star Selena Gomez, talked about adult issues in Rolling Stone Magazine, got rid of that ridiculous, chipmunk cheek-enhancing bowl-cut and was the subject of his very own biopic, the 3D film Never Say Never.
“Actually that film has changed people’s minds about him,” says Robinson.
“People are looking at it going, ‘actually, he’s not a dick’. His tweets can get quite annoying but he’s pretty sharp and he can be quite funny and he’s not an idiot. That comes over pretty quickly when you see him interviews.”
“He’s not going to reach out much beyond his core audience just yet but you’ve got people going, ‘Good on him’. Mums and dads will go ‘he’s alright‘,”
“I know rock ‘n’ roll is not about pleasing your parents, but if you’re 13 years old, parents still have to approve.”
“The trick is for him to grow up with his fanbase. There are ways to do it; Justin Timberlake managed it in an amazing way, without doing anything too shocking or any of these crass things that some popstars do as they get older.”
Like flipping the bird at the paparazzi as Bieber did last week? But the committed Christian immediately tweeted an apology to his fans. So maybe he’s not going off the rails just yet.
But one thing Bieber must do if he wants longevity is to change his sound.
“For his next album he will probably go for a harder, more adult sound and move away from syrupy pop songs like Baby,” says Robinson.
“He’ll be able to do that fairly easily when you’ve got 10-year-old Willow Smith knocking out songs Rihanna could do.”
“His next album could be the one that launches him as an adult R&B star. I think he’s smart enough to carry it off.”
Still not a Belieber? Well, get used to him – he’ll be around for a while yet.
» Performing at the O2, SE10 0DX North Greenwich (0844 856 0202, theo2.co.uk). Mar 14, 16, 17. From £33.75