Zayn Malik and Justin Bieber have both publicly revealed they are living with mental health issues. Respectively: Malik’s severe anxiety, and Bieber’s mental and emotional exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.
Both artists opened up about their conditions as reasons for pulling out of contractual obligations they had taken on. Yet, the reactions each received from fans and the media after sharing personal information has been so vastly different, it’s impossible to deny the double standards in play.
On Saturday (June 12), Zayn tweeted a last minute announcement that he was forced to cancel his scheduled performance at Capital’s Summertime Ball at Wembley Arena because of what he called the “worst anxiety of my career.”
In a lengthy message, the former One Direction band member explained that, “my anxiety that has haunted me throughout the last few months around live performances has gotten the better of me,” adding that “with the magnitude of the event, I have suffered the worst anxiety of my career.”
After apologizing, Zayn wrote, “I know those who suffer anxiety will understand and I hope those who don’t can empathise with my situation.”
While footage of the Summertime Ball showed many in the crowd booed when the organizers said the “Pillow Talk” singer would not be coming, Malik’s supermodel girlfriend Gigi Hadid, his fans, and other stars flocked to Twitter to express support, concern, and praise for the British star’s candid admission. As did media outlets. Zayn was widely described as “brave.”
Anxiety is real… I know the feeling https://t.co/Tt18LZJWsU
— Ellie Goulding (@elliegoulding) June 12, 2016
You clearly have no compassion for people who suffer from anxiety…. https://t.co/9JpPYQEH8I
— Doniya Elisha Malik (@DoniyaElisha) June 11, 2016
To @zaynmalik and anyone else that deals with anxiety, you’re never a disappointment to your fans or yourself. You’re stronger than you know
— CelebMix (@CelebMix) June 11, 2016
@zaynmalik Take your time, get yourself feeling better, everyone can wait. Good & brave decision made today.
— Rae Earl (@RaeEarl) June 11, 2016
@zaynmalik get well soon Zayn. We can understand. Just do what you gotta do to feel better. Ignore those haters, we’re all here for you. xx
— Zayn Malik Updates (@OfficialWithZJM) June 12, 2016
All of which is great. The widespread acknowledgement of Malik’s mental health issues is what should happen when someone honestly opens up about their well-being. All that said, the support shown to Malik can only be called progress if that acceptance applies to everyone.
To their fans, Justin Bieber and Zayn Malik are chalk and cheese. But, industry come-ups aside, they are both solo, male heartthrobs who put out great music, have passionate fans, and can generate worldwide headlines just for taking their shirts off.
Other than race, the only major difference between them is Bieber’s over-documented, turbulent history. It isn’t a stretch to state that the Grammy winner is criticized a lot more than other artists and celebs because of his backstory.
There is a pattern of the Biebs being slammed for the same things that other celebs are praised for. The most obvious example of this was the universally damning response of most media and fans across-the-board to the 22-year-old canceling pre-scheduled meet-and-greets with fans in March 2016, a little over two weeks after his Purpose World Tour kicked off.
In an Instagram statement, Justin revealed mental health issues were behind his decision. He admitted that the meet-and-greets left him “feeling so drained and filled with so much of other people’s spiritual energy that I end up so drained and unhappy.”
At the time Bieber added, “I want to make people smile and happy but not at my expense. I always leave feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression.”
Within hours of the post, TMZ reported that a security risk during a meet-and-greet at one of Bieber’s shows in Los Angeles caused by a potentially dangerous female fan, was part of his decision to cancel the M&G’s. That’s a solid combination of reasons: Depression and a security incident.
Despite this, all hell broke loose when numerous Bieber fans (even those who hadn’t booked M&G’s) gnashed online about losing the chance to meet their idol. Typical rants went along the lines of “You signed up for this” and “How hard can it be?” However, some fans were understanding and applauded the singer for sharing his mental health struggles and attempting to minimize them.
Meanwhile, the media’s backlash was intense. In fact, it effectively ended the four-month honeymoon period that resulted from the release of the Biebs’ acclaimed Purpose album.
Countless articles distorted or mocked the singer’s explanation with headlines such as, “Justin Bieber won’t meet paying fans as they make him depressed,” which, as i-D noted ignored “the reality that the star genuinely could find the experiences intense and overwhelming,” before adding, “Remember, this is a fanbase that has previously threatened to maim themselves if Justin doesn’t respond to them on Twitter.”
The magazine went on to conclude that, “Rather than respecting Justin’s mental health, the deluge of articles pointed to the price of his concert tickets, and called him spoiled and obnoxious.”
— i-D (@i_D) March 24, 2016
The situation got more complicated when fans who wanted refunds were frustrated by a delayed refunding process. The upshot, saw Bieber’s anxiety and depression dismissed as excuses amid that outcry. Incidentally, most (if not all) refunds have reportedly now been returned.
It’s instructive to look back at Bieber’s mental health history. In the 2013 concert-movie Believe, the superstar’s mother — Pattie Mallette — described her son as “anxious.” In January 2014, after Justin’s first arrest in Miami, Florida, toxicology results revealed the presence of marijuana and Xanax in his system. The latter is prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. Bieber told police that he took Xanax when he felt “closed in,” as the Associated Press reported at the time.
Fast forward to 2015. Bieber first talked about his depression during an appearance at On Air With Ryan Seacrest to discuss his then forthcoming new music. Months later, he shared more about his depression in an detailed interview with the NME.
“I just want people to know I’m human. I’m struggling just to get through the days. I think a lot of people are,” Justin told the British music magazine.
“You get lonely, you know, when you’re on the road,” he added.”People see the glam and the amazing stuff, but they don’t know the other side. This life can rip you apart.” Bieber also said that he lives with depression “all the time” and feels “isolated” by fame. In his Billboard cover profile last November, the superstar revealed he came “close to letting fame destroy” him.
— MTV (@MTV) November 13, 2015
— billboard (@billboard) November 5, 2015
Roll to this year, after more than a few dissociative Purpose concerts and the Biebs telling fans (via Instagram) that he would no longer take pics with them because the bombardment and frequently aggressive frenzy of fans made him “feel like a zoo animal,” Entertainment Tonight recently reported Bieber’s team are worried he may be heading for a breakdown.
Into the mix of all this, the recent tragic and fatal shooting of The Voice singer, Christina Grimmie, sent shock waves through the industry. Many are now re-assessing fans and artists’ interactions and security changes, amid other artists canceling meet-and-greets. Criticisms of meet-and-greets as a whole have also been raised by others in the past.
— Stuff.co.nz News (@NZStuff) June 12, 2016
But, it’s Bieber who is the most prominent — and arguably — the first of this generation’s artists to buck the expected norms of the superstar/fandom system and set necessary boundaries for his own health and safety, which has created a path for other artists. That path envisions a present and future in which artists don’t have to be show-ponies 24/7 in the people-pleasing Age Of Fandoms, but are also encouraged to respect their own needs.
Clearly then, it is unfair that Bieber receives flak for doing exactly the same thing as Malik, for similar reasons. Both artists’ mental health conditions are real, and they should both be commended for publicly owning their vulnerabilities and making hard choices in their highest interests.
Bottom line? Acknowledging and supporting a person’s health issues shouldn’t depend on whether or not we like them and consider them deserving.
— Inquisitr Showbiz (@IQShowbiz) May 25, 2016
[Images via Kevin Winter; Getty Images/Larry Marano; Getty Images]