Justin Bieber: From Billboard Boos To Beyond

Page Mackinley

Justin Bieber has made a decision. Following his public scalding at Sunday’s Billboard Music Awards expressed in the tide of boos that greeted his fan-voted Milestone Award win, yesterday the embattled 19-year-old tweeted:

“Gonna take some time.”

He added: “I know who I am #giveback,” then linked to a pre-Billboard visit he and his team made to Whitney Elementary School.

Offering his take on the dramatic face-off between Bieber and some sections of the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena audience, Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz muses whether “Bieber fatigue” (he was on stage a lot, either to win or perform); fan fury from Bruno Mars’ cheerleaders (possibly triggered after watching the Canadian beat their man to the Top Male Artist award) or Swift’s (she was yet to triumph as the Top Artist); or the media’s daily chronicling of Bieber’s Believe tour odyssey was the cause of the mass rancor.

Clearly, Bieber believed the last of these was to blame.

After an uncomfortable, almost slack-jawed, fidget-filled silence from the teen, he visibly straightened to meet the storm.

“I’m 19 years old, I’m 19 years old,” he began, placing his hand on his heart. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Detouring from the usual generic acceptance speech because he was forced to, the singer put forward his case as to why he deserved to be holding Chevrolet’s first ever Milestone shiny thing.

“And basically, from my heart I really just want to say,” he continued.”It should really be about the music. 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.” Various thank-you’s to family, Jesus Christ, a “fans, you’re incredible” parting, and the monologue was over.

That an artist who, as his tour showed, is adored globally by millions, inspired a hormonal armada in Norway, recently saw “Baby” dethrone Elton John as the highest certified single in history, and punched in five number 1’s on Billboard’s 200 Album chart before turning 19, felt it necessary to explain why he deserved the Milestone award is remarkable.

But Bieber did. Obviously, because he was booed (he was also cheered). But he is also aware he is fighting two fronts of criticism, albeit one more recent than the other.

Despite a five-year toil to become one of the biggest teen superstars in modern times, generally well received reception to My World, My World 2.0, Believe and Believe Acoustic (much more so) — Lipshutz notes Metacritics’ 65, 68 and 68 respective ratings — wins in both 2010 and 2012 as Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards, nine Billboard awards and 10 MTV trophies; outside of his fan base, antipathy to the all-pervasiveness of Bieber has been mounting for some time. Boos at Canada’s Grey Cup football game last November and a 2011 Knicks game just two examples.

The other ‘front’ is the three months of media hyperventilating over the singer’s exploits on tour. While the bigger stories were based on actual fact — the saga of Mally the monkey, the midnight countdown, the delayed London 02 show, a Brit paparazzo run-in, Dubai debacles, Anne Frank, the tour bus bust in Sweden — they have been approached with the kind of tabloid zeal and coverage that even the current White House IRS squall, Conrad Black and Bernie Madoff’s falls from grace were spared.

That’s before we even get to the rash of ‘source’ driven stories such as Bieber’s ‘six hour late Elizabeth Arden photo shoot in Copenhagen’ helpfully tagged with a “temper tantrum” spin (Radar Online’s ‘report’ has since been robustly denied by both Arden and Bieber’s reps).

Other likely spurious stories included Heat magazine’s claim that the delayed 02 show was due to a Bieber tantrum and video games. No real substantiation was ever provided. Ditto for the ‘pop star thrown out of Paris hotel,’ ‘bad tipper in Stockholm’ stories, and the drip-feed of seemingly endless mini-scandals.

Throw in the battery allegation made by the teen’s L.A. neighbor on March 26, swarm reporting on Bieber’s mercurial relationship with Selena Gomez, and his own management team’s appetite for relentless promotion; and it all adds up to overkill.

In addition, the Chicago Sun-Times quotes two music business sources, one of whom is billed as a “veteran industry pro” who said of the boos:

“A lot of people are just tired of Bieber and his antics. He’s such a whiner and is always acting up … I know he’s still a teenager, but come on! He’s been in the business for years now. He should know how to act.”

The other source claimed the majority of the BBMA crowd were music industry professionals, adding that the comments and photos posted by the singer to his Twitter account were seen as “stupid” and that “those boos were just some folk letting off steam.”

Curiously, no mention was made of the charitable links Bieber frequently posts on Twitter, or the observation that (if true) booing a teenager because of their social media output is ludicrous.

Sunday’s backlash is likely a reaction to all or some of the above. If so, Bieber’s decision to take a time out is a good call. While it’s self-evident that much of the hostility he is facing is due to three months of molten headlines and the deliberate acceleration of the media momentum behind it, a period of reflection and a step off the pedal at this critical point in his life and career is a wise move.

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The now peaking sum of assaults on Bieber seen on any comments page, tabloid-esque headline, countless op-eds — and going by the BBMA’s and a recent PPP poll — reflected in public opinion, must be a tough pill to swallow. And at 19, when your sense of self is still forming, the experience may be overwhelming.

Few will ever experience living a life under the kind of scrutiny this young man deals with, daily. The fact that he does while maintaining a stratospheric career and also giving his time, effort and money to numerous philanthropic efforts — Child Hunger Ends Here, Whitney Elementary School, Make A Wish, Pencils of Promise, fundraisers with Avalanna Routh’s parents and the Stratford House of Blessing — to name a few, is more than just commendable.

Has Bieber made mistakes over recent months? You betcha. But, just as neither he or any of us will forget those Billboard boos, nor should it be forgotten that for 57 seconds and throughout his speech, he stood and took it.

If a Bieber nadir has been reached, the most powerful way to answer doubters — at least those who give him a chance to — is to excel. The choice to dig deep into the reserves he showed on Sunday, take only what’s of value from the criticism, and phoenix out of the perception that he is a manufactured force, is his to make.

But from his tweets, it seems Bieber’s motivation to return with renewed focus and new music that compels repeat listening and propels him beyond the boos, may just owe the unfairness of Las Vegas.