Cosmic Slop #47: Do we really buy Justin Bieber’s redemption?

By Shaun Ponsonby
Thu 14 January, 2016

As rational human beings start giving into Justin Bieber, Shaun Ponsonby asks whether we should really buy such a transparent mediation.  

How many musical chid stars have made a successful transition into an adult career? There’s Stevie Wonder, but I think that’s about it. I’d say Michael Jackson, but although he had a successful career, the phrase “transitioned into a successful adult” puts me off doing so.

In the case of Stevie Wonder, he just let the music do the talking. He was pretty successful as a kid, but he slowly built his reputation after that as a multi-instrumentalist, genius songwriter and visionary (ironically). Culminating with Songs in the Key of Life, he produced an unimaginable run of classic albums that proved how deep an artist he really was. As a result, he became one of the most lauded and respected. It was a slow-burner, and boy did he earn it.

Is it too early to tell if Justin Bieber can do the same? Perhaps. There are a lot of people beginning to quietly whisper their admiration for him. They don’t want anyone to hear them doing so yet, but it’s definitely out there. Which is a shame, because some of them are actually pretty rational human beings.

Sadly, I don’t buy it. The whole affair is a pretty transparent marketing ploy to move Bieber into the realm of artistic credibility. Usually that’s a phrase I loathe, particularly when many of the people who spout the terminology are wholly hypocritical about the people they choose to use it to describe. But you know the audience they’re trying to get respect from are the kind of people who use words like “credibility”.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been an improvement. What Do You Mean? doesn’t sound too bad, despite the fucking stupid lyrics; “When you nod your head ‘yes’, but you want to say ‘no’/What do you mean?” She means “no”, Bieber. If she wants to say “no”, then she means “no”. It’s not rocket surgery. Looking at it from this perspective, the sex scene in the visually gibberish video starts to make this song the rapey-est song to top the charts since Blurred Lines.

Speaking of, the beginning of the video appears to show the clock at 2.50 when Bieber enters, and the sex isn’t just over by 3am, she’s fast asleep and he’s attempting to sing the lyrics whilst looking sincere in a generic popstar kind of way. I mean, that’s happened to us all, but I’m surprised Biebs wanted to make his video about prem-ejac, if that is indeed the theme.

The video makes about as much sense to me as the support for Donald Trump. It just comes across as Justin Bieber desperately trying to prove that he’s fucking awesome now. “Look! I have sex! I’m a big boy now! See? And I do badass things like have me and my girlfriend captured and taken to a late night Rampworx for some reason.” It’s also why he bulked up and did that Calvin Klein advert. It’s pretty desperate.

Checking out his album credits on Wikipedia shows that most songs on his album have about 5-6 songwriters. Which is kind of silly. This is a common trait in modern pop. I don’t know quite why it takes 5-6 people to write everything on the charts now, when the timeless pop from days of yore generally took two or three. Maybe they’re giving people credits for suggesting a different key or tuneage. No doubt some of the artists are getting credits just because they’re contracted to. In any case, more hands in the pot is usually less likely it is to bring out something unique, insightful or intelligent, as opposed to some focus grouped song specifically targeted at what Radio One have been playing. Is that really “art” as Biebs and the like often pretentiously maintain? No, it isn’t, because you’re compromising for the sake of airplay.

Now, that’s not necessarily a criticism. It’s called “pop music” for a reason. But people going nuts over the Bieber album, claiming some kind of redemption is a real hyperbole. It’s not like he’s made Talking Book or Off The Wall here. He might do one day, but he hasn’t yet. In fact, the songs aren’t really that much different to the ones he was doing previously, really. He just sounds 21 instead of a 16 year old whose voice has inexplicably not broken yet.

A bigger problem he faces in his artistic development is that he has a boring voice. He shows about as much character, uniqueness and personality as Hayden Christiensen did in the Star Wars prequels. We all know how that worked out, despite the sheen of what studio magic can do. You can’t fake soul, and all the vocal lessons in the world won’t help you achieve it.

This whole campaign really started a few months ago, when he started apologising for being a total prick. Saying things like “I’m not making excuses…”, before making a fannyload of excuses. It’s not really working, because he keeps slipping; storming off stage in Norway because his fans were just too bloody adoring, getting his arse out at a sacred temple, moaning that people saw his Woody Woodpecker when he himself decided to go outside naked in a definitely not publicity stunt after living in the spotlight for half a decade, claiming not to know who Bette Midler is.

His social media apologies go along the lines of one of those grating, meaningless memes about inspiration. “I don’t always handle things the right way but I’m human and I’m working on getting better at responding not reacting,” he said after storming off stage, failing to understand that he – like all people – has a natural ability to be human and professional simultaneously. He then acts like a brat again, basically re-words the previous apology and vaguely talks about “learning” and “growing” whilst doing neither.

All of which is fine, but his supposedly destructive doesn’t come across as in any way subversive. It just comes across like he’s a pampered prick. At least Keith Moon had a sense of humour. Bieber is too into himself.

Every couple of weeks as of late, we have seen news stories resulting from him breaking or matching chart records by The Beatles and Elvis. But it’s not really true, is it?

Now that streaming counts towards the charts, people listening to every individual track on his album via Spotify is a “sale”, something The Beatles and Elvis never had during their heyday. It would be interesting to see how many “sales” they would have achieved had it counted everytime people listened to the songs. Their chart records were based on individually released and promoted physical discs. He may be setting records for streaming, but they’re completely different records to the ones they’re being compared to. It costs most people nothing to stream songs on their phone. Kids actually had to save up and even – gulp! – leave the house to get Elvis/Beatles singles. Not that his team won’t use this to get him mentioned in the same breath as people who genuinely shook up the world.

What all of this really shows is the transparency of the PR campaign surrounding him, and what suckers we are for falling for it. They did some research and realised people didn’t like Justin Bieber, so they cleaned up his image and went for songs that did likewise (he has a song called Sorry? Really?). Publications are going nuts, giving his new album way more credence than it deserves. What’s more than likely is that these publications have secured interviews with him and feel obliged, either contractually or otherwise, to suck up to him.

Either that or the bar was just set so low in the first instance that him making a competent record was a semi-pleasant surprise.


Noel Gallagher says he doesn’t like Jeremy Corbyn because he doesn’t like “communism“, proving once and for all that he has an insatiable ability to run his mouth on anything as if he’s an expert, whether he knows what the fuck he’s talking about or not.

Apparently, the first rise in UK music sales since 2004 shows that the music industry remains “buoyant“. I would strongly recommend asking artists how “buoyant” their finances are from their appalling streaming revenues.

Can’t someone shit die for once?