Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Who is Justin Bieber?
Those of my generation are shaking their heads. Justin who? How? What?
Me, I'm a children's author, plus, I have two girls. I'm in the throes of experiencing all of this from many angles. Granted, my eleven year-old is not a must-go-to-his-concert-or-I'll-die kind of fan, but her best friend is. And let me tell you, the giggles roll in mouth-covering waves when Bieber's name comes up. She knows all of his songs. She follows him in Seventeen. And she will watch any show, ANY, even if Justin is only a tangential part of it.
Why? Why, why, why bemoan parents? Why is he so special?
If you're a writer, you may, like me in my darker moments, feel a distinct twinge of, dare I say, jealousy? Why does he get all of the spotlight? Why his songs? What about my books? Or, to be somewhat more objective and less me, me, me-oriented, Katherine Paterson's? Yeesh. There's a woman who can write. Why don't kids put a huge poster of Katherine on their walls with a shrine of candles and library receipts from all of the Katherine Paterson books they've checked out, and the stub to the Bridge to Terabithia movie in a sealed glass case with light-sensitive glass, preserved for all times? In all fairness, I'm not sure that would really be up Katherine's alley, but you get my point. Why don't kids worship book writers like they do boy singers?
Tricky question. Very tricky.
T.S. Eliot's objective correlative clearly speaks to the answer, but let's keep it simple, shall we. Let's just let the object work on us:
Did your heart skip a beat? Were you swept back to the late seventies, the Partridge Family, hours of pining away for that perfect boy with the perfect hair and who can sing? (Note: this is a 2006 calendar. There are some of you still pining!)
Not feeling it yet?
Try this one:
That's the real clincher, isn't it? What do these boy heart throbs stir in the girly breast (Did you titter because I said breast? Come on, admit it. After those pictures, we're all thirteen right now, aren't we?)
Possibility. The possibility of romance. Of being liked. Of having someone crush on you with that quivering, knee-knocking, heart-stopping intensity that you feel when you look at them.
And, in my great grandmother's words (fake a Hungarian accent when you read this), "They're such nice boys." They'll take care of us. Be good to us. Love us. And yes, even feminist extraordinaires want to be loved. So these figures are working on our deepest emotional desires, even if we do not want to admit it.
Bieber goes a step further. Take his song, "One Time". In the video, Bieber sings about how he is going to open up. He's going to tell the girl. The video shows him finally doing this. And what happens? Cool, ultra popular, singer spills out his heart and...the girl checks her watch and leaves! Rip the teenage girl heart out right there! Why? They know exactly how he feels. They've pined away for a boy who never notices them or worse, disses them. Bieber's video turns the table, making him the vulnerable one, the one needing to be taken care of and loved.
It's the perfect girl dream.
Now, as an adult, if you're still asking, why him?, I clearly haven't put in the right terms yet. Let's talk as adults for a moment, shall we?
Huge financial backing. H.U.G.E.
Usher discovered Bieber. He signed the boy wonder-to-be onto his record label, and then promoted the bajeesuz out of him. And wala, Bieber is a success. Usher could have chosen any kid - and there are tons who fit the boy heart throb bill - spiffy-ed him up, taught him how to sing, and given him a cool hair cut and they would have done the job just as well. Not buying it? Just see the David Cassidy and Leif Garrett pictures again. And again. And again. And again. It should sink in.
Justin just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Which only adds to the mystique, by the way. He is the quintessential nice boy from next door.
Getting back to the source of this blog challenge, Red Room, a group of writers, here's my last, all-out effort at putting Bieber success in writer's terminology. Think New York Times bestseller list. You might be a writer if, you've learned that the books that make that list are ones chosen in the quiet of a publisher's office by a group of editors who decide, "this is the title we are going to push". Marketing gets behind with the full force of their sales staff and advertising dollars. Ads are placed. Interviews lined up. An author tour arranged. And low and behold, the book makes the NYT bestseller list.
Does that mean the book isn't worthy? It's just dollars working? Absolutely not. But there are probably ten to fifty other books that, given the right marketing push, could have risen to that intense fame/financial success given the same sort of marketing support.
In the end, fame (and to some extent financial success) are about getting a lucky break. Luck: where preparation and opportunity meet. We writers can control the preparation. Write. Write on the edge of reason, taking all chances, no holds barred. We can even expose ourselves to opportunity by getting out of our writer's caves, speaking at conferences, doing book-signings at book stores, going to ALA and BEA.
In the end, however, whether opportunity and preparation actually meet, well, that's up to fate. Now if somebody could explain that nebulous entity to me, I'd be eternally grateful!