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Stardom

Ready to Belieb, again: Why we should be proud Justin Bieber is Canadian

Justin Bieber is aiming for a comeback with his new album, Purpose – and the forgiveness of his countrymen. But when it comes to pop stars, we exhibit a very conditional kind of love

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber

Jordan Strauss

Once upon a time, we were so proud of Justin Bieber. "He's Canadian!" we would say with an enthusiasm now reserved only for Drake and certain members of the Toronto Blue Jays. Did we like his music? Of course not (a lie), but we'd still cling to his accomplishments as though we were directly involved in what made him world-renowned.

And then came his downfall. From 2012 onward, Bieber did the unthinkable and … acted his age, spiralling into the depths of teen-turned-twentysomething rebellion fuelled by a pop star ego, industry enablers and millions upon millions of dollars. So, we would turn to joking about disowning him, claiming that Bieber had "changed, man" since making it big and he had obviously forgotten his Stratford, Ont., roots – as if any of us hadn't hit bottom or became the worst versions of ourselves at 18 or 20 (or are the worst versions of ourselves right now).

We quickly became desperate to create some distance. Sure, we had sung his praises upon the release of Never Say Never or upon the increasing number of record sales and tour dates he'd racked up as a wee, innocent, sure-you-can-date-my-daughter boy, but to watch him act as a human was to admit that we were, too. After all, we are Canadian, and our celebrities show a bit of decorum.

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Drake would never pee in a restaurant bucket! (Instead he cost the Raptors $25,000 after telling Kevin Durant to come play in Toronto.) The Weeknd wouldn't egg his neighbour's house! (Not after getting arrested in Vegas last year after allegedly punching a cop, anyway.) And Carly Rae Jepsen? Well, she's perfect and my best friend. So whoever Justin Bieber had turned into was something Canadians couldn't possibly understand. He'd failed us, so goodbye forever.

And then last year, he issued an apology. In the midst of lawsuits, controversies and criminal charges, the Little Bieber Who Could did his duty as a Canadian and said he was sorry, sending pop critics the world over into a tizzy, wherein they questioned and requestioned whether this barely-20-year-old could "really change."

Justin Bieber attends the 17th NRJ Music Awards at Palais des Festivals in November in Cannes, France.

Justin Bieber attends the 17th NRJ Music Awards at Palais des Festivals in November in Cannes, France.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

He did, and he has, and he will do so even more because that's how human beings work, regardless of whether they're Canadian. And now, we tell ourselves this, seconds away from the release of Purpose (his forthcoming album already heralded by critics), as if we didn't excommunicate the 21 year old less than a year ago; as if our prodigal son's comeback isn't the second coming of Top 40 Christ; and, as if we won't latch onto it when he upstages the J-Biebs we once knew.

But this is a dance we're familiar with. Unless our celebrities have hit all-time, untouchable highs on par with Shania Twain or Wayne Gretzky, our judgment runs deep. Lest we forget that, not too long ago, Avril Lavigne was counted as a Canadian icon, too – as a poster child for irony-drenched pop-sanctioned counterculture. Then, when she failed to evolve in the way we wanted her to, we left her behind. (Don't get me started on how quickly we stopped bragging about Celine Dion.)

We treat our artists the way we do our sports teams: by exhibiting a very conditional love. Look at our Jays and/or Raptors pride (sorry, Leafs, but you're already done this year): Our specialty is to champion our exports when they're at the top, but then quickly undermine their successes when we fear they're starting to stumble.

Justin Bieber in October in Madrid, Spain.

Justin Bieber in October in Madrid, Spain.

Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images

We've honed a distinct brand of tall poppy syndrome, washing our hands of a person or franchise before somebody on the outside can tell us we should've – yet then we claim them as ours if we've got a quick chance to brag about our ties. We're fair-weather. The worst kind of friend. We can't even commit to staying mad. Sorry. (See, we did it again!)

So let's decide once and for all to be Beliebers: We should be proud of him. We should be happy to claim him as ours – to brag about his freakish work ethic that saw him touring the world when most of us were smoking our first cigarette behind the mall. We shouldn't gun for his deportation when he acts like a human on a global scale. Regardless of whether you're into his music, the man (no longer a boy) is still a Canadian who has accomplished more than most of us ever will, and has staged a comeback in a pop-culture climate defined by absolutes.

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And if he stumbles again? We defend him the way we defended Jose Bautista's bat flip. We recognize that Bieber deserves more than to be a bandwagon on which to jump. More so, we acknowledge him as a point of Canadian pride, and not one of contention. In his 21 short years, Justin Bieber created a empire and never seemed to forget where he came from. The least we can do is the same.

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