As another winter approaches, my thoughts turn to Justin Bieber. It was at this time last year when I began a quest to find music that would get my sleepy six-year-old daughter out of bed on chilly school mornings. I felt we were beyond Raffi but not quite ready for Lady Gaga.
Despite daily violin practice, this is a pop-positive home. I encourage a no-brow embrace of culture, assessing each offering on its own merits. It was in this spirit that I sought out this young Canadian burning up the charts.
It worked. Before long, my daughter was demanding to hear the strains of Baby playing through the speakers in our kitchen before she would deign to join us for breakfast. I happily complied, grateful for a reprieve from the muffled growls I had been greeted with before. And I found I didn’t mind the music. It was sweet and light-hearted, advancing uncomplicated romantic ideals of monogamy and devotion.
It was easy to avert my intellect from the fifties-era notions of girls as “prized possessions” happily accepting his money (“Give you a little more because I love ya”), along with his grammatical liberties (“So prettier than all the rest”) when Justin’s tender voice carried the lyrics. And the beats were the kind of thump that goes directly to your hips, making them move in a way recommended by both my long-ago dance instructor and, more recently, my chiropractor.
In November, my mother-in-law asked what my daughter might like for Christmas. My World, I answered, my rapid reply heralding the onset of my condition. After the holidays, the album quickly became the soundtrack for our drives to school.
With the bass shaking the windows of our tragically unhip minivan, I would pull up to the curb, maintaining what dignity I could as the children piled out. The Bieber disc would be swapped for something more age-appropriate before I pulled away – The Current on CBC, perhaps, or some indie band’s latest offering.
I had disclosed Bieber’s presence on our play list to a few friends, implying that it was wholly for the enjoyment of the kids. I have since learned that displacement of responsibility for song selection is one of the classic early signs of Bieber Fever.
I’m not sure when I first left My World on for my private enjoyment. I do remember a moment’s pause as I made room for this new development. A subtle shift occurred in which I concluded that being 34 meant no longer making excuses for what makes me happy.
And so I found myself skipping ahead to my favourite songs alone in the van, waiting with anticipation for JB to hold those perfect notes in Favorite Girl. Recalling my mother playing the King’s College Choir at Christmas, I understood on a visceral level why the vocal range of prepubescent boys has been prized for hundreds of years.
At stop lights, I patted the steering wheel to the beat of Somebody to Love, remembering the agony and ecstasy of what it was to be young and in love with my first boyfriend.
My little sister, 24, and carrying impeccable hipster credentials earned through years of attendance at art crawls and intimate music clubs, came to visit near the end of that long winter. It seems likely that the blankets on the guest bed carried Bieber Fever. Given the particularly virulent strain in our household, she had contracted a full-blown case within hours.
The two of us were soon performing our best hip-hop moves to the horrified delight of my three young children, holding their attention like a multi-car pileup on Deerfoot Trail. Amplification of symptoms when in proximity to another sufferer is a unique symptom of this illness.
The decision to see Never Say Never together required minimal discussion. Taking my daughter along as our beard, off we went on the last day of my sister’s visit, exchanging favourite lyrics and bopping along to our inner soundtracks, shedding inhibitions like viral cells as we lined up for tickets.
I was prepared to be charmed and entertained by the film. I did not expect an epiphany. We watched Justin grow from a precocious little boy drumming on his kitchen chair to a performer who could pack stadiums. I’m a good Canadian. I don’t aspire to greatness nor would I wish that kind of success for my children. Yet in this story I recognized the flourishing of a genuine spark of human excellence made possible by the combination of Justin’s courage and the loving support of a strong family and community.
This little spark got the fuel it needed to become a full-blown bonfire. It is these sparks of human excellence that get me through my day, easing the burden of the human condition, all the heavier in Calgary in January. With a heightened awareness, I began to find evidence of this flourishing in so many human endeavours and to feel real gratitude for it when I did.
My Bieber Fever broke this summer, allowing me to return to diversions that invite less derision. But my experience leaves me marked as a Belieber: a belieber in pop music as a legitimate art form, a belieber in the importance of individual flourishing for the health of society, and a belieber in getting through another winter by whatever means necessary.
Laura Kraemer lives in Calgary.