Let’s have it out! I like some of Justin Bieber’s songs. I was in the Zara dressing room the other month, and I heard Love Me and I was instantly hooked. I then watched the music video, and became convinced that Justin Bieber is the epitome of what kpop tries to achieve.
First, kpop tries to hook you into their fantasy– SHINee is waiting to surprise you with a huge teddy bear, engagement ring, weird-thing-Taemin-drew-on, Boyfriend is asking you to be their “girlfriends”, in SNSD’s Genie a pair of disembodied male hands are led around while SNSD coos “I’m genie for you boy”, etc.– and so Mr. Bieber also tries to hook you into his fantasy, though in a slightly different fashion. Despite his perhaps more posh surroundings (like Usher’s pad as we are led to believe in One Time), Mr. Bieber looks frighteningly normal.
He looks like any other mall rat in suburbia, with a slightly emo haircut, hoodies, shiny smile, the favoring of solid colors, high tops, pants on the low side, and little boy swagger. Trust me, I was raised in New Jersey, I have seen countless guys like that; they exist everywhere. Though there is a Justin Bieber ‘look’, there is nothing intrinsically special about his wardrobe. Whatever he wears a guy can just stroll down to American Apparel and imitate. Also, the lead girls in his music videos are also frighteningly normal– not blue-eyed blondes but rather stock preteen brunettes.
His music video for Baby was set in a bowling alley. Sure, it may be a bit more tricked out than the average bowling alley, but it still has the same cheesy quality that everyone who has gone to a bowling alley has experienced. Mr. Bieber’s fantasy is not one elaborately constructed but rather one so normal that anyone who has gone bowling, gone to a pool party, ever even glanced at suburbia, can pretty much imagine and insert themselves in appropriately without trouble.
Second, kpop tries to be cute and innocent. You may have the spitting image of sex in one moment but that is always immediately reversed, either through the release of a sentimental ballad or appearances on variety shows (that is how we all know TOP is really a dork). I am almost a little embarrassed to say, Mr. Bieber is extraordinarily cute; he makes heart signs with abandon, and his smile is really just shy-boy-next-door, well-meaning and soft. He gives off the sense that he has not quite grown into his boots, but he still has the confidence and swagger– if played the right way, overconfidence in this sense is actually pretty adorable. In his Love Me music video, he runs around wrapped in toilet paper, trying to shoot hoops backwards, making funny faces– being a general teenage dork.
By ‘innocent’, I mean he did not go the Miley Cyrus route to stardom, getting mixed up in drugs and partying. He also chose to date relatively pious Selena Gomez, instead of choosing someone like, say, Miley Cyrus. Plenty of child celebrities have burned out before age 17, and it is actually pretty impressive that Mr. Bieber has not had even one dash of black to his name thus far. I really commend him for this and I hope he will continue to be a good role model in midst of the drugs-and-sex glamorized veneer that Hollywood still manages to have.
Third, kpop aims for catchy music. Note I did not say “good music”, they are only looking for “catchy.” Give yourself the test of Mr. Bieber’s catchiness: try to hum one of his songs. I am betting that for this blog’s demographics.. wait for it.. 100% of you can hum something of his! You probably know the chorus words too.
I think for most people who dislike Justin Bieber, they cannot stand his pre-adolescent voice, which sounds feminine at times. As to that, if there is one thing kpop has taught me, as long as you have a catchy hook and a bucket of autotune, you do not need a good voice at all. Moreover, I have no problem with a male that sounds like a female. A voice is a voice. So, Mr. Bieber’s voice does not affect me.
Overall, these three things– fantasy, innocence / cuteness, catchiness– merge and produce what is most envied in kpop: an extremely large and crazy fanbase. Even Justin Bieber has his noona and ahjumma admirers; apparently 20% of his fans are over 41, the so-called “Bieber Boomers” or the fans that actually work and make monies and can buy Justin Bieber merchandise for themselves and their female brethren to oblivion.
What amazes me the most is that Mr. Bieber is just one person. Quite obvious, but not everyone is bound to find his type physically attractive; we might skip over Siwon for Kyuhyun or Taemin for Onew. We might prefer someone who sings well to someone who dances well. Yet, Beliebers all have one diehard preference for well, Mr. Bieber.
Preference is a mysterious thing.
One last thing, Justin Bieber actually has talent. He can sing well live, right from debut (more than we can say for debut Taemin/Minho), he actively plays instruments, and has started to co-write the majority of his songs. Ultimately, Mr. Bieber has the power to stay on the pop scene for a while, contrasted with the transience and often musically-clueless performers of kpop.
All things considered, I believe that Mr. Bieber is actually beyond the epitome of kpop. For without his agency, he is still something, and Mr. Bieber’s name will go on. In Korea, the opposite is sadly true; looking at JYJ, leaving SM was a debilitating setback to their careers; Jaejoong, Yoochun, and Junsu may never get back to their TVXQ heights of success as they are quietly boycotted in awards shows, variety shows, radio, etc. Without a powerful agency backing them, they are a shadow of their once very loud presence; it is a sad, but true fact. In kpop, to be the epitome, idols must fit into the agency’s desired mold perfectly, and thrown away without so much as a fuss when their run is over. The agency lives on, but the stars fade away.
Side note: One of the things that most irks me are people who insist on hating on Justin Bieber; it may have been cool two years ago, but let us please move on and acknowledge that Mr. Bieber has already hit puberty, and all things considered, Baby is a really great song to dance and karaoke to. In fact, at the only frat party I went to this entire semester, when Baby came on, guys and girls were screaming the lyrics and bopping their heads.