So maybe you’ve heard about this, where someone took a Justin Bieber single and slowed it down by “800%” and made it end up sounding like something Sigur Ros would do. (The number is in quotes because there’s some debate on it, though there is no informed debate about the song actually being a Bieber single). Personally, I found it awesome. I listened to all 35 minutes of it at work.
This brings up an interesting topic. Not the act of slowing down pop songs to make them sound like the orchestrations of Icelandic post-rock groups, but Justin Bieber.
So how about a quick history lesson for those of you who still have never heard of him? He had a Youtube channel and was discovered by some music guy, who promptly introduced him to singer Usher, who, along with other industry people, have opened up some checkbooks and turned him into a teenie-bopper pop sensation.
Because he is so successful, he naturally has attracted a lot of attention; a lot of which is not so desirable. The internet is rife with Bieber-hate these days. I first became aware of him probably five or six months ago, spending too many unemployed hours in a day on sites like Failblog, and began to notice the hatred of acts like The Jonas Brothers shifting to this kid. People knock his alleged androgynous appearance, his higher-register voice, his poppy music, etc. It’s really the standard stuff. But there was something about all of that which I noticed. I first began feeling this particular way when I observed the large amount of Jonas Brothers hate, but now that it’s Justin’s turn, it’s completely realized and confirmed. The feeling is . . .
I don’t really get why people hate this kid so much.
You know, I was someone who was passionately anti-Boy Band in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I was sure that acts like theirs would destroy music. I was convinced that their fans would grow up to be mindless corporate slaves. Yet they all faded away, music is just the same as it was then (i.e. the good stuff is seldom the popular stuff), and I’m actually good friends with several intelligent, well-adjusted girls (excuse me: women) that recently went to a Backstreet Boys reunion concert. Yes, that’s right: Backstreet’s back. Alright.
So I guess I should re-phrase my previous statement. I know why people hate him so much, but I have absolutely zero understanding for it, and have even less amusement from it.
The rest of the Aughts focused its pop enthusiasm on solo diva acts and poppy “punk” or “emo” groups until Disney® became, I guess, a record company and we end up with groups like Hannah Montana* and the aforementioned Jonas Brothers at the top of tween and teen girls’ squeal list. Well it seems that all of those guys just paved the way for this 16-year-old sensation to take the market by storm, as well as becoming the object of many an internet user’s ire.
The first time I ever actually heard anything by him was right before hitting play on that slowed-down version of his song “U Smile” (read: yesterday, around 4:10 p.m. PDT). Let’s talk about this for a second. First, it’s very poppy and I could only get about a minute into it. But not because it’s bad per se, but because it feels like way too much chocolate cake and ice cream. But the kid can actually sing (admittedly, though, I don’t know how much Autotune was used). He can sing well. If you think differently, then you don’t really understand singing. He’s good. I also read up a little on him on Wikipedia, and found that he is also a self-taught musician that can play guitar, piano, trumpet, and drums. He’s 16. At 16 I was a failed trombone player and in my seventh year of piano lessons, but only at level 3 in the Bastien Piano Books series. At 16 my older brother, who has yet to be topped in the rankings of “people I know that are insanely good with music,” had been playing guitar for two years and was really good, and I think may have dabbled in piano by that point, but was really a one-instrument person. This kid has learned four. I don’t know how good he is at all of them, but to have a basic understanding of more than two without training (heck, even with training) demonstrates not just talent, but intelligence.
I could go one-by-one through the kinds of insults and large-scale pranks pulled on him (some apparently by the ever-classy 4chan group), but there’s no need to. Just read any string of comments on anything about him and you’ll get the idea. I see that stuff and think, “Why? What’s the big deal? He’s a flavor of the week and will fade away within the next year; two years, tops. Anybody can see that. So I say let him enjoy his ride and be a decent human being and hope he doesn’t end up wrecking his adult life like so many pop stars before him. There’s no benefit in belittling him, and doing so only puts on clear display your own insecurities and jealousy.” But not everybody understands that. I didn’t understand it in 1998. Nor did I understand it in 1991 with the New Kids on the Block. I’m actually a fan of Donnie, now (via Band of Brothers, of course). I’m pretty sure it was the same thing with Leif Garrett and David Cassidy and Ricky Nelson, too. It’s weird to say this with the utmost and honest-to-goodness sincerity, but I’m too old for that kind of crap anymore. I’m certainly not going to be picking up any Justin Bieber singles anytime soon, but I’ll be where I am now, secretly hoping the kid busts out some indie-cred in the next few years and ends up becoming the voice of his generation or something. I’d laugh, for sure.
*Yes, I know Hannah Montana is not a “group.”