Like most of the Internet I spent a good deal of this weekend freaking out about the forthcoming new Justin Timberlake album . I listened to his old CDs and prepared some dance moves that will need to be busted out all summer. I’m excited.
But my mellow was resoundly harshed by a broad-scale reaction to the news that took me off guard. A lot of people were using JT’s don’t-call-it-a-comeback as a reason to turn around and pour some hate on an easy target: Justin Bieber.
I was actually sort of surprised by my reaction to the Bieber haterade. After all, it’s not unusual to hear. But after thinking about it more (a little to much, maybe) I realized that it was because that reaction is actually a confluence of several different phenomena that, in tandem, form a rather large chip I’ll now attempt to brush off my shoulder.
Comparing Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber as their current selves is like comparing Puppy Bowl contestants with National Dog Show champions You might say one is better than the other (more mature, sleeker, talented) but you’re forgetting something.
Let me provide you with what I’ll call Exhibit N for N*SYNC:
It has not always been glam and Bringing Sexy Back in the Timberlake camp. Hell, that shit isn’t even over; have you heard a description of his recent wedding to Jessica Biel? She wore pink and he sang her down the aisle. JT is a cheeseball, and loving him has gotten no less silly in the last 10 years. He was Bieber a few years ago. Outside of Neville Longottom there’s hardly a more compelling argument for letting a dude mature before passing judgment for life.
Oh, I love JT. I do, so so much. But this urge to shout from the rooftops that JT > JB plays into a time-honored tradition of Nostalgic Amnesia. We got plenty of this during the election, this doe-eyed romanticizing of A Better Time, When Things Were Somehow More Pure. But that ignores obvious history: Timberlake, and Bieber, are part of a long, continuous string of decent-looking guys with good voices who are embraced by an audience of largely young, largely female fans who enjoy their music. For my mom, it was The Monkees’ Davy Jones. For my cousin, New Kids On The Block’s Jordan Knight. For me, it was JT (4eva), and for my younger cousin, it’s the Biebs.
So all that bluster about Timberlake being somehow better seems like so much hot air. Why waste time hating the current example of an inexorable trend? Especially in the same breath as lavishing adoration one version of that trend?
And let’s be clear: we’re not comparing Mozart to Maroon5 here. Take a listen:
And the Biebs.
Pop stars have one job: to make music that makes a lot of people want to dance. I think both JT and JB are doing their jobs well.
Finally: Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber alike rose to fame as artists targeted at teenage girls. Disparaging and belittling Justin Bieber (and his related teen-fame coterie, ex: Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez) is contributing to a culture that repeatedly and vehemently tells teenagers—and in particular teenage girls—that their opinions, feelings, and perspectives have no value.
Most importantly, that attitude ignores the fact that we were all teenagers once. If you love Justin Timberlake, odds are that you’ll cop to liking at least on N*SYNC song. Or NKOTB song. Or a Monkees’ song! At some point you were a teenager, and you liked music made for and marketed to teenagers. So why be angry that someone between 13-18 is experiencing that same thing now?
Am I the Only One?
I reached out to the resident Pop Culture Guru for this here blog, Erin, to see if I was crazy for having so many pop music feels. I think her response ties the arguments together nicely:
So, I am not much of a Bieber fan… but oddly I’m not a Bieber non-fan. For a few years, he looked so goddamned young that it felt creepy to even like his music. But the new Bieber (aka The Second Coming of Justin) I actually feel actively less guilty about liking. Because he reminds me of JT.
So the key here is that I probably had the same level of disdain for the young girls screaming for Bieber that my mom had for Justin Timberlake in 1998. “They’re boys, Erin,” she used to say to me, rolling her eyes with a How-could-you? look on her face. Did it matter to me? Not one iota. When you’re 16, you care a lot less about a pop singer’s ability to grow facial hair or have defined pectorals. They’re relatable to you at that age because they look like the guys walking by your locker between classes… and maybe in some way, they’re awakening you to the fact that even the unassuming guy who sits next to you in Algebra might have a little Timberlake in him. They’re so relatable because they could be any one of us. And at that age, isn’t every single door open?
I was hoarse for 3 days following the one and only Nsync concert I ever went to. And yes, my mother thought this was preposterous. But I thought it was awesome.
Now that I’m rounding the corner on 30 (WHAT.), I’d like my smooth-soul songsters to have a little spice in their lyrics; something that rings true to a different period in my life where I began to seek men for slightly *ahem* different reasons. (And yes, a period in my life where things like morning scruff and a ripped chest started to matter.) The older you get, the more you’ve been through the rounds on love… and you hope your singers have, too.
At some point in life, you stop watching cartoons. Who knows when this switchover happens; gradually Phineas and Ferb just aren’t funny to you anymore. You’re looking for something with more acid, more edge. So you wave a friendly goodbye to the animated characters of childhood and you move up to MTV programming. Maybe an entry-level Thursday-night comedy or two. And in our pop idols, we do the same. You move on. You grow up. You want something different than they deliver. But it doesn’t mean you were ever wrong in wanting it.
I guess if I knew a high school sophomore who was hoarse from screaming at a Justin Bieber concert, I’d see a little of me in her. And in Bieber, we should see a little of JT in him. (Swapping those deliciously frosted flopping curls for an artfully swished set of man-bangs, of course.) And we should appreciate how, even though we’ve changed, adolescence hasn’t.
And don’t even get me started on One Direction.
What do you think? Am I wildly over-reacting, per usual? Are you psyched about JT’s new stuff? Will you deny that you never tapped a toe to a single Bieber tune??