Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

I have only followed Justin Bieber from a distance [hence I did not know how ridiculously catchy “Somebody to Love” is], obviously being too mature and disdainful of his kind of teen pop, but a friend watched this and said it made him cry, because you just see this young and naïve child be circled by adult sharks who view him as a cash cow, and: I MUST see that, now!

I didn’t really see that, though. The movie is largely a feature-length promotional piece, carefully combed-over to ensure that zero compromising messages slip through the cracks. The film follows the Biebs on tour, so you get info about his history and his rise to fame mixed in with concert performances every few minutes. He is shown as a complete extrovert and performer from a very young age, and was said to display musical talent very early on. He would post himself singing others’ songs to YouTube, garnering a large group of fans. This guy in Atlanta flew him down on his own dime, and offered to start producing music for him. Things are a bit murky here, as the film makes out like this guy was an industry outsider who took a bet on Bieber, but… he’s also hanging out with Usher. Eventually Usher brings him to LA Reid, who later says that Usher “brought me a gift.”

Evidence of sharkery is in little evidence on screen, which makes sense, as the film is completely promotional and is entirely devised as a piece of fan service. We do see two instances of his voice coach be a bit nasty when Justin voices the tiniest wish for a normal life [“You gave up normal. This is your new normal”] or express that he’s exhausted [“Okay, so you want to give it all up and move back to Canada?”], and every so often one of the adult’s faces is caught staring forward in grim, taut tension, but for the most part the narrative is that Justin is living out everyone’s most cherished dream and having the time of his life doing it.

What does come through is that this is a child—16 years old at the time of filming—and that he is now locked into doing 82 arena shows, with hundreds of people counting on him to put out night after night. The pressure of having that many people completely dependent on one for their livelihoods while being only 16 is unimaginable. Oh, and while we catch one glimpse of Justin being tutored in his tour bus, one can only imagine [and his more recent appearances call into question] the amount of education he is getting in order to have a way of dealing with all this.

But the biggest emotional effect is not so much in the movie. Throughout, we see Justin happy and smiling, having a great time with everyone, and seemingly finding the whole experience an incredible rush. There is an undeniably infectious spark of joy in his eyes. Which becomes more poignant as we recall some of his more recent appearances, first in the dead-eyed contempt for humanity he displays in this compilation of his publicity gaffes, and the empty, craven expression that dominates his newest videos and appearances. I recall the way he cried after his successful performance at the Video Music Awards, widely interpreted as tears of desperate relief after it looked like he had already bungled his young career. What can it be like to be in that position? He’s currently 22 years old, having been a star for eight years already. Where will he be in five—or twenty—years?


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