Teen idol needs a splash of reality

by | Jul 17, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

He played to more than 50,000 fans twice in one weekend – in the same building! He sold out Madison Square Garden in a day. There was such madness for his concerts in Australia, that some wanted him deported. Girls screamed with every smile. Fans trampled one another to get near him. That hair! Those eyes! He sold millions of albums. You couldn’t go anywhere in America and not see his face.

Justin Bieber…

Was not his name.

His name was David Cassidy, he once fronted a TV band called the Partridge Family, he was a decent singer with some decent talent, and he constantly wanted to be taken more seriously, even though at one brief point in the 1970s, he was arguably the biggest solo act in the nation.

He wound up, as the years passed, in musical theater, milking his dwindling fame overseas, writing autobiographies about being a teenage star and, more recently, doing a stint in rehab.

And he’s one of the success stories.

So you’ll forgive us if we merely sigh at Justin Bieber and his current delight in acting like, as the Brits might say, a prat – or as TMZ recently chided, “an oblivious, self-important little twit.”

It’s not a new story.

‘‘This is not a gimmick. I’m an artist’

In case you’ve missed it – and why wouldn’t you? – Bieber, the Canadian teen heartthrob, who is all of 19, has been on a tear of bad behavior. In the last several months, he has thrown F-bombs while threatening photographers, been two hours late for a concert, signed the guest book at Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam with “hopefully she would have been a Belieber” (one of his obsessive fans), skipped out on a $1,600 bill at a Las Vegas amusement and, most oddly, urinated into a restaurant mop bucket and then cursed out former President Bill Clinton.

This, on top of reckless driving in his Ferrari and a small meltdown at the most recent Billboard Music Awards, where he was booed after being given a major honor.

“Basically, from my heart, I really just want to say, it should really be about the music,” he complained at that event. “It should be about the craft that I’m making, and… this is not a gimmick. This is not a gimmick. I’m an artist, and I should be taken seriously. All this other bull should not be spoken of.”

I can’t tell you what “bull” he was referring to, unless it’s his own – or the endless Tweeting he does to 41 million fans. It’s hard to whine over attention when you’re constantly courting it.

But I can tell you this: His cry for being taken more seriously has an echo over the years, through acts like Frankie Avalon, the Monkees, Vanilla Ice, Menudo, Donny Osmond, New Kids on the Block and the Jonas Brothers.

And in the end, none of it mattered.

Gravity took over.

It’s about the fans, not the stars

Because what most of those performers didn’t understand – and I don’t think Bieber does, either – is that the hysteria isn’t really about them.

It’s about being a teenager.

At a certain age, swooning over an idol is fun. It makes young girls feel grown up, it gives preteens an entry into the music world, it gives even the loneliest kid a crush – and perhaps, a rush of affection when she gets a Tweet that says, “I love you all.”

But kids grow up. They lose interest. They move on. The mind-blowing numbers that teen stars put up – like the five straight No.1 albums for Bieber – speak more to the instant and insatiable spending habits of teens than to the art. It’s the reason “Argo” wins the Oscar but “The Avengers” wins the box office. Nobody confuses the two.

Yes, now and then there are exceptions. The Beatles. Elvis. Michael Jackson. Their talent transcended adolescence; they remained huge as they aged. But even their numbers fell, and the screaming tamped down. And – at least in the case of Jackson and the Beatles – there was master songwriting and producing.

Is there any evidence Bieber is in that category? From what? Songs like “Boyfriend?”

He should sit down with Cassidy – or Bobby Brown or Leif Garrett, both of whom were huge teen stars who had major drug and legal troubles as adults. They might tell Bieber to enjoy the ride – with a bigger smile and less attitude. It’s going to end. That’s inevitable. You don’t want it ending in the same kind of bucket he just filled.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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