Justin Bieber is not a douchebag.
He’s not. The 22-year-old continues to make headlines for how ‘poorly’ he treats his fans – and he’ll probably never live down his German customs monkey or the Anne Frank thing – but it’s worth remembering that only two months ago he said his experiences with fans makes him feel “like a zoo animal”, and as a result now no longer poses for photos. Now it looks like he’s also fed up with receiving gifts from fans, and even with accepting their love – and that’s really ok.
A few days ago (July 15), the Canadian pop star was chatting to fans in the middle of his Atlantic City show when someone chucked a gift in front of him. Visibly irked, he kicked it away and responded, “Take this moment to listen and try not to give me a hat or whatever you’re trying to throw onto the stage right now, because I probably don’t want that shit.”
“Sorry,” he soon added. “That was mean.”
It gets a bit meaner. A few days later (July 18) a video emerged of a fan hoping for a hug with the 22-year-old in a shop. As she approached him with open arms, he walked past her and simply said, “No” before continuing to browse the clothes in the store. The fan and her friends were mortified.
The thing is that, like other musicians, Bieber really doesn’t owe his fans anything other than music and a good live show. The $2,000 meet-and-greets that paraded him in front of legions of smartphones prior to shows left him, in his own words, “emotionally exhausted to the point of depression” – so eventually he sacked them off, as any sane person would have done. Being constantly photographed by fans that wouldn’t talk to him like a person was pissing him off, so now he doesn’t pose for them any more. Being given souvenirs and memorabilia that he doesn’t want was bumming him out, so he doesn’t accept gifts any more – and being hugged by random strangers while he’s trying to look for clothes isn’t his cup of tea either, so he’s drawn a line there too.
It’s the same situation for many musicians – fans want to meet them, and they’ll hang out at backstage entrances for a chance even at a glimpse – but there are few musicians that have reached Bieber’s level of fame or social media ubiquity. While megastar Taylor Swift seems happy to be very involved with fans – even showing up their weddings sometimes – that’s not Bieber’s style. He’s younger, he’s seemingly more private, more confused, and he doesn’t want to take control of his interactions with fans in the same way. It shouldn’t be expected of him to care about the millions of people who buy and stream his music. That is, objectively, a pretty exhausting proposition.
To say that being hounded for photographs is part and parcel of being a rich and famous musician is basically encouraging the anti-social behaviour Bieber’s vociferous fans are capable of. The thrown gifts, the guerrilla selfies, the unsolicited hugs – if you think about the impetus for them, none of them are for the benefit of Bieber. It’s an expectation of entitlement on the part of the fan, and Bieber doesn’t need to pretend to respect or sanction it like many other celebrities seem to. These fans want a story – no, video evidence – of a brush with fame. Bieber’s point, really, is that the notion of celebrity is entirely meaningless and that he is just another human being.
Case in point: footage of Bieber playing Pokémon Go in Central Park. Clips recently uploaded by his manager, Scooter Braun, show him looking pretty chilled out – in his natural habitat, maybe – strolling about playing the game on his phone. None of the crowd notices him because they’re all too busy playing the same thing. He looks happy, and not at all like a douchebag. Bieber is often portrayed as a monster, or a brat – but among pop’s picture-perfect paragons and superstars, he’s really an antihero.