Justin Bieber said something controversial?
Back up, back up.
The 16-year-old, Stratford, Ont., singer-songwriter has been ubiquitous of late, and it’s hard to keep up.
Let’s start with the Grammys, or the Easy Listening Awards.
So middle of the road, so determined to praise the soporific and the sedative, even Bieber was shut out this year, given his raucous work on his new hit, Somebody to Love from his album My World 2.0. (He lost the best-new-artist Grammy to Esperanza Spalding.)
But Bieber won, as well: Turned out in a sleek Dolce & Gabbana tux, and smoothly operating in a noticeably lower register, he showed the world he is growing up.
And he is everywhere: Recently, in addition to his Grammys performance, he has guest-starred on Saturday Night Live, starred in his own 3-D biopic Never Say Never (his bangs come right at you!), appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, reprised his character – the emotionally fraught, badass teen Jason McCann – on CSI and was the featured artist on last week's episode of Glee.
The kid must be exhausted, but as his biopic indicates, ever since he was a drum-playing toddler, he has been driven to succeed. The superstar once told an interviewer that he occasionally Tweets lovesick fans despairing of his ever noticing them, “Never give up.”
“And it changes their life,” he noted, immodestly.
Exceptionally shrewd about his public image, Bieber has always been prudent: He stays away from trouble, including women (for their sake too, given the violent ardour of his worshippers); he looks out for his fans; and he’s currently in the news for refusing to perform at venues without “adequate seating plans” (because of possibly fatal stampedes).
But he has also decided, it seems, that he has things to say.
If his Rolling Stone interview is any indication of what’s on his mind, smart advisers will urge him, in future, to shut up and look pretty.
On the cover, he has been completely revamped: Styled like Sid Vicious (without any of Sid’s arsenal of spiked jewellery and ravaged junkie skin), Bieber’s hair is gelled into tall porcupine quills, and he is wearing a white tank, a long silver chain and a biker/punk leather jacket that is falling, fetchingly, over his lily-white shoulder.
His signature mouth – huge and pouty – is played down; his big, doll eyes, squinting here, do their best to replicate a 1,000-yard-stare.
So far so good!
A tougher, more mature look for the young man who has always had the sexual allure of a cartoon squirrel.
Yet most tweens don’t like sexually threatening men. Bieber’s Tiger Beat success, his legion of lovesick fans, is due, in large part, to one’s vague sense that there is a rainbow beneath his pants.
Will his nation of girlfriends like him looking tough? Sure, because he looks, ultimately, tuff. Like a young Donny Osmond in an edgy, back turtleneck; or a teen David Cassidy fooling around with marshmallow handcuffs.
But what about the interview, which has so many commentators up in arms, including, most notably, the ladies of The View?
The interviewer, Vanessa Grigoriadis, threw Beebs some easy pitches about love and sex (the two should go hand in hand, he declared), then decided to solicit his views on abortion. Why she didn’t ask if he preferred Hamas to Hezbollah, one will never know, but here is the Baby star’s response: “I really don't believe in abortion. I think [an embryo]is a human. It's like killing a baby.”
Grigoriadis then, predictably, asked about rape victims’ pregnancies (incest pregnancies being the other Hail Mary play of liberal interrogators), and Bieber said he could not really say because he has “never been in that position,” but “everything happens for a reason.”
Or did he? Rolling Stone has since issued a confusing clarification, saying that due to “an editing error” the quote is incomplete and should have read: “Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don't know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that.”
Here, the artist – who, disappointingly, has yet to make a public statement to his young fans about the grave issues of rape and “incomplete quotes” – covers every base, without scoring a solid run.
Bieber, the son of a single, extremely religious woman, is probably still living in her shadow; a very young pop singer, he very likely has no strong opinions on big issues, and if he does, should they be solicited?
He can, of course, say whatever he likes; he is entitled to his own opinion. (This last sentiment is what makers of awful arguments everywhere like to say, backed as they are by the beautiful bulwark that is democracy.)
But can we perhaps not ask him whatever we like? Does anyone ever pester Selena Gomez about her views on rape in male prisons, for example?
When I first read Bieber’s mangled remarks, I became, instantly, a soldier of 4chan, and was ready to slide into hate (every politico’s home plate).
But when his character was shot to death on CSI the other night, I felt bad. He’s just a kid. I am pro-choice, but I don’t want to see dead babies either.