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February 21, 2011  | by: Kerri O'Malley

Justin Bieber in Vanity Fair

As Justin Bieber hit the media circuit to promote his new 3-D movie, Never Say Never, the boy wonder probably never anticipated what would follow.

Or who would follow him.  As Bieber started on his promotion rounds earlier this month, he found himself on lots of late night TV (SNL, Conan, The Late Show, and The Daily Show, to name a few) and his face was plastered onto the covers of grown-up mags like Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone.

Sort of an odd audience for the 16 year-old Biebs.  Some of the adults Bieber encountered in the past few weeks put the kid gloves on for the, uh, kid: Conan literally surrounded him with marshmallows, and Jon Stewart did his best for Bieber’s promotion, although he conceded “I’m not the target demographic.”  But Stewart might not be as right as he should be, and Bieber’s feeling the pressure from the adults who left the kid gloves at home.

The March 3rd issue of Rolling Stone magazine features a glove-less interview with the young popstar.  Previews for the article on the Stone website focused on its mature content.  “Justin Bieber Talks Sex, Politics, Music, and Puberty…” headlined the content that was later adjusted after Bieber’s anti-abortion comments caused a scandal.  But the real scandal is why the young singer was asked such a tough, adult question.

Bieber on the Cover of Rolling Stone

The crimes of the interview don’t stop there.  The Biebs was also questioned about his politics, his views on homosexuality, sex in general, and his religion.  I don’t mean to imply that the interviewer should simply write a puff piece about how great Bieber is, but asking a 16 year old questions like this doesn’t guarantee a good story (and Justin’s answers are definitely not interesting.  They’re purely a study of how uncomfortable he is responding.)  Instead, asking these types of questions guarantees a controversial story, the magazine’s obvious goal.

But controversy at the expense of a squeaky-clean teenager is totally unfair and, I think, unethical.  Besides, who really cares if Bieber says America sucks?  If he thinks “whatever they have in Korea” is “bad?”  No one’s a Bieber fan because they respect his politics or (sorry Biebs) his intelligence.  Even the RS interviewer, Vanessa Grigoriadis, isn’t really interested in any of that.

38 year-old Grigoriadis, instead, starts her article off by proclaiming outright that she has a huge crush on Bieber: “I’ve watched his videos at least a dozen times each, I own two of his three albums, and I have him on my Twitter feed,” the writer proclaims, although she steps back from the dangerous uber-fan line by claiming she’s never “bought a lock of his hair on eBay for my locket.”  Creepy as it may sound, the fact of the matter is that part of Justin’s demographic is older women.  “Moms,” as Justin calls them (probably to their dismay).  This phenomenon is somewhat ironic, looking back at rock’s history.

The Biebs (Ironically) Surrounded By Elvis Records and Preteen Girls

Eons ago, rock stars like Elvis Presley, Jimmy Page, and Jerry Lee Lewis fought hard to keep their naughty feelings for teenage girls under wraps.  Elvis famously kept the future Priscilla Presley (who he met when she was 14) out of the eye of the press after Jerry Lee, his contender for the title of “King of Rock and Roll” at the time, lost all public support when he married his 14 year old cousin.  What was then a culture clash between the back country ways of the south those rockabilly boys grew up in and the rock marketing centers of the world has now become a moot point with the age-defying “Bieber Fever.”  Now, respected rock journalists are allowed, in Rolling Stone magazine, to reference a 16 year old’s “superhuman ability to make panties wet.”

It’s a disturbing switch whose roots are truly confusing.  Did Britney Spears break the ceiling on describing kids as “hot?”  Or are we just living in a more over-sexed world, one where concerns for decency have been abandoned for the titillating possibilities of controversy?  Does the age-old double-standard (the fact that Justin is a boy and the assumption that boys can’t be molested) come into play?  Or in an age of “girl crushes” and other such casual sex talk, has fantasy lost its dangerous edge, its potential to turn into reality?

Bieber Loves His Lil Wayne

In her article, Grigoriadis pretty much blames the Biebs for creating a sexual fantasy that doesn’t pan out: To her, Justin Bieber symbolizes purity, innocence, and a naughty slow dance euphemism.  In reality, Bieber’s a hip-hop loving, Will Ferrell-quoting, braces-wearing 16 year old dweeb.  He hates ice skating and says “swag” way too much.  He may be a millionaire.  He may be undeniably famous.  But Justin Bieber is still just a high school kid, trying to be cool.  And probably failing most of the time, despite all that crazy “swag.”

Truth is, I’m not a fan of the Biebs.  I don’t think his music is terrible (it’s pop music — embrace it), and I respect what he’s done for himself and his family.  But at the age of 22, I already feel a little too old to get sucked into the Bieber Fever.  The problem is, I’ve lived through the Britney Spears era: that time, not yet long ago, when a beautiful, blonde Christian from a meager background got discovered at a young age, sexed-up, and thrown into the spotlight just as she blossomed from pre-teen to adult.  There are too many parallels and too many potential pitfalls for me to get excited about Bieber.  At my age, loving the Biebs seems like praying for a hurricane.  Grigoriadis should know: she wrote the 2008 Rolling Stone cover article about Britney’s lowest points.

All in all, I’m ashamed of the lengths Grigoriadis went to to get a controversial story out of the young star.  In an age where scandal has engulfed news, writers and news media are leaving the used bodies of their stories stinking in the sun behind them.  But Bieber, as easy-to-love or easy-to-hate as he is, doesn’t deserve such treatment.  Next time this star pops his head up for some easy promotion, let’s keep the kid gloves on.  At least until he turns 18.  After that, all bets are off, right?  Don’t worry, tabloid writers.  Justin may have said he’ll never do drugs, but then again, he also said…Never Say Never!

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