If there’s one issue that the Internet seemed almost completely united on, it’s a shared disdain for Canadian pop star Justin Bieber. From an early age, he represented what many of us hate about the music industry: A manufactured talent spoon-fed to tweens, made to seem far more important than he actually was by the machine of heavy rotation radio-play. Bieber has since parlayed this into a hundreds of millions of dollars at a very early age, making his formative years ones where he was allowed to do virtually anything he wanted, thanks to his star status.
Since then, he’s accrued a laundry list of offenses, including urinating in a mop bucket in a restaurant kitchen, egging his neighbor’s house, reckless driving, spitting on his fans over a balcony, starting fistfights in nightclubs, showing up hours late to his own concerts, and plenty more. Basically it’s a rap sheet that any spoiled yet troubled upper-middle class teen would have, multiplied to the nth degree by his staggering wealth and all too visible public image. We’ve watched him grow up from teen heartthrob to petulant adult in what’s seemed like the blink of an eye, forming into one of the most universally disliked presences in all of mainstream music.
At this point saying you hate Justin Bieber has more become a way of ingratiating yourself with other people. A mutual disdain is a shared interest you can count on having with just about any audience, making every article, tweet, or Facebook post devoted to that ideal an instant hit. Now though, it looks like the people he pays to manage his image have taken the reins.
We imagine the conversation began when Bieber’s PR guy walked into the room and said something to the effect of “dude, everyone hates you,” followed quickly by them laying out the plan for what’s become his unofficial apology tour. More than anything Justin Bieber knows he’s a brand, and when the product he’s trying to sell (read: himself) is reviled to Nickelback-ian proportions, you can bet he recognizes the need to fix that. It doesn’t make him a better or worse person, just a guy with a terrible public image and a staggering amount of money and resources.
The first stop on the “Hey guys I swear I don’t suck” train came in the form of a public apology aired on Ellen, followed by an in-person appearance where he admitted that he’s done “a lot of things over the past few years (he’s) not proud of.” It really was a genius first move by his management: Pair him with a universally loved talk show host for a fluff interview, and put him in front of an audience that can coo over his regret for past transgressions. This was followed quickly by his very own Comedy Central Roast, a tool more used by roastees today to show how likable and down-to-Earth they are. But the artificiality of the whole affair wasn’t lost on many, with Slate offering the most scathing review:
The sheer artifice of the event — the way it oscillated between Bieber’s transparent attempt at redemption and the roasters’ transparent attempts to deny it — only magnified the star’s self-serving facade, leaving little room for genuine emotion or sincerity.
If Bieber’s Roast felt oddly contrived to you, well… that’s because it was. That’s not to say that we’re putting him on trial as a good or bad person; there’s enough of that on the Internet without our help. Rather it shows us someone who’s begun to employ a not-so-veiled attempt at humanizing himself in the eyes of a world he’s thoroughly alienated for the better part of almost five years.
That roast aired on the back of a controversial appearance alongside Skrillex and Diplo at EDM’s marquee event of the year, Ultra Music Festival. What better way to appeal to the next generation of fans than to attach your wagon to the rising wave of electronic dance music? It distances him from the days of Baby, and shows him playing around in one of the fastest growing musical movements in the world. But more than that, it’s a clear show of force from what we’re sure is a well-paid PR team operating on all cylinders right now to rehabilitate the Justin Bieber brand.
But all this may very well not be enough. Bieber is fighting an uphill battle, and reversing the course of public opinion will be difficult given his rampant unpopularity. If he wants to win that battle, it’ll take far more than half-hearted apologies and a Comedy Central Roast. For now we wait and see: Can a kid who’s spent his whole life being taught insincerity learn how to be kind? Or will he continue to worry more about showing everyone he’s changed rather than actually being better?
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