Justin Bieber’s turbulent 2013 has made him a polarizing figure among the young, who battle daily online for or against the pop singer. Conversely, it’s just the opposite with the older generation. As Public Policy Polling revealed back in May, the 19-year-old united disparate, older voters in dislike of him.
During the latest Elders React installment, in which senior people watch something on a computer and then talk about their reaction, the world’s most scrutinized teenager comes under more scrutiny as some his buzziest moments to date go under the gavel.
The elders are Bill, Victoria, Pamela, Don, Melvin, Phil, Catherine, Vera, and Jennifer. The first clip in the dock, the Billboard Music Awards where Bieber was roundly booed after winning the fan-voted Chevrolet Milestone Award.
Revealingly, before the pop star even begins his leather-clad amble to the stage the elders are already shaking their heads.
It didn’t get any better as the Bieb’s infamous speech got going.
After his “I’m 19-years-old, I think I’m doing a pretty good job” intro, Bill refers to an apparent spell in Vietnam saying that when he was the same age he was “up to here [gestures at his forehead] in rice paddy water looking for people to shoot.”
The rest of the elders reeled off insults, “arrogant,” “a joke”, and “a maroon,” which might possibly be racist.
Bieber’s invoking of Jesus Christ in his Billboards moment was met with a curiously stupid remark from Jennifer who said, “What up! He just made that up.”
In contrast Catherine offered the singer a degree of respect and said, “I’ll give him credit, he’s got balls for standing up there,” while Don said he didn’t blame the popster for facing down the crowd.
Next on the block was Bieber’s shirtless, giggly, first Instagram video. Back in June, it set off reams of comment speculating that he was stoned during filming.
The Elders agreed, with Richard asking, “Was he high?” and Catherine inquiring,”Is he like wasted or something, he’s on drugs?”
The jewel in Bieber’s 2013 crown, peeing into a nightclub’s kitchen mop bucket, followed.
“I need to call his mother,” says an aghast Jennifer watching, and looking as if she wanted to cry. She added, “That’s sad, it’s so sad,” at the end of the clip.
During a Q&A at the end, the elders were asked for an overall view on Bieber’s career, behavior, a muse on child stars, fame, how these have changed over time and, lastly, their advice to the kid.
Melvin: “I think it’s worse than [than the old days] because of social media.”
Jennifer: “Because we like to see people fail. Because it makes us feel bigger.”
Catherine: “They grow up to a certain age and all of a sudden nobody wants them. That has to be just very hard to deal with.”
Don: “These kids are often pushed and pushed… so their agents and the people behind them can make money.”
Advice ranged from “Stay humble,” “Become a plumber,” “Get an education, have other interests,” “You don’t have to be wild to get a good high,” and “Try to show a little more maturity, you’ll keep most of your fans.”
Depending on your viewpoint of Bieber, you’ll either dismiss the elders or nod happily along.
Watching it, I was reminded of other pop culture figures, River Phoenix, Leif Garrett, David Cassidy, Marc Bolan, George Michael, and Michael Jackson, and the truism that wider public empathy for their struggles only came after their exits or declines.
It’s perhaps worth noting that not one of the nearly three and a half million who have so far viewed the Elders Reacts video knows what it’s like to be Bieber. Seemingly adrift, endlessly criticized, for acts that present and past hellions such as Freddie Mercury, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, Steven Tyler, Mark Wahlberg, Mick Jagger, Lindsay Buckingham, Sean Penn, Elizabeth Taylor and many more, wouldn’t bat an eyelid at.
If nothing else the video is one helluva time capsule, and disturbingly, the kind of footage that could one day feature in some untimely Bieber retrospective. For his sake, lets hope not. And maybe do more than just hope, lets not hasten that uncertainty either.