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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Justin Bieber and the Agony of Defeat

Justin Bieber has had a tough few days - his much-hyped movie was beaten out of the top spot in its opening weekend by a movie whose romantic leads have a combined age of 80-something! He walked the Grammy red carpet with his fly unzipped, was forced to share the stage in his Grammy performance with Will Smith's obnoxious son and a huffing and puffing Usher, and walked away empty-handed. The headlines screamed "Grammy Upset" next to stills of Bieber, while talking heads and entertainment media, in the role of esteemed sage, tried to put it all in perspective with comments like, "well, he's only 16, this won't be the last we hear from him." To top it all off, an outbreak of Bieber Fever caused his fans to send out violent tweets against Esperanza Spaulding, the woman who beat the Bieb, taking home the Best New Artist Grammy; oh, and he had to work on Valentine's Day, including an awkward interview with Conan O'Brien, where he was forced to answer, yet again, the Question of the Day: "Are you disappointed that you didn't win the Grammy?"


That's a heck of a lot for any adult to deal with, so imagine what must be going on in the head of this 16 year old. It's not like losing the election for student body president. Bieber is an industry and a product, supporting hundreds of people from concert promoters to the guys hawking t-shirts, to the ticket agents, the roadies, bus companies, managers, musicians, dancers, technicians, etc. A Grammy loss, a lackluster live performance, or a dip in box office - these singular incidents ripple through Bieber World and can cause a panic. If Bieber were a stock, then he's taken a definite hit.

It may sound premature to ponder the demise of a pop idol, but at some point, the fever pitch begins to subside and you'll be forced to make some decisions about who you want to be and what you want to do with your life and your talent. Other pop stars have been through this, but the survivability rates are variable. Michael Jackson enjoyed critical success as well as mass appeal as a performer and writer, but his personal life was fraught. Britney Spears eschewed the critical acclaim, choosing to remain a pop princess, but with a host of personal demons. Miley Cyrus is in the midst of the transition to adult artist, expanding, with limited success, into film actress and clothing designer, and weathering some embarrassing extracurricular activities.

Bieber is a talented kid, and the hope is that as he finds his way, he'll remember that the talent that brought him to this place will see him through this temporary set-back. President Richard M. Nixon once said, "You've got to learn to survive a defeat. That's when you develop character." And if that doesn't help, well then the Bieb can console himself with a cat nap on a bed made out of stacks of $100 bills, or line the cat's litter box with fifties, or to quote another famous person who climbed out of hard times, comic Dave Chappelle, "I'm rich B*tch!" I'm just saying!

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