I have seen Justin Bieber’s penis. I did not ask to see his penis, or even necessarily want to see his penis, but I have seen his penis nonetheless. It’s as if the penis was drawn towards me, or I was compelled towards it, so hypnotized that I barely even realized what I was doing after I heard that Justin Bieber dickpics had materialized on the internet. I acted on my desire to see something embarrassing about a stranger who I have never met and never will meet unconciously and ended up face-to-screen with a six-inch, uncircumcised Crif Dog of a dong that was jacked from Justin Bieber’s computer by some douchebag roadie. Or it could be the rapper Lil Twist’s fault; he’s Justin Bieber’s best friend and an undeniably bad influence on the little moppet.
There are some (many) who’d say that the penis I saw wasn’t attached to Justin Bieber at all, but instead to some poor twink who’d consented to get some of Justin Bieber’s tattoos henna’d on him in hopes of making America’s Little Brother Who’s Better Looking And More Talented Than Us look bad. And those people may very well be right, and I may as well have just accidentally looked at some random dude’s dick. I guess it doesn’t matter, really, whose penis it is. The perception is all that matters, because perception creates reality, and the reality is basically 98.765 percent of us sort of want to see Justin Bieber fail. We want to know he’s fallible. We want to see inside of Bieber; and until we invent some sort of privacy-invading X-Ray machine, seeing his dick is as close as we’re gonna get.
The idea of getting inside Bieber, not just gazing at his dong, is the unspoken subtext of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Teddy Wayne’s new novel about a Bieberesque character that might serve as an origin story for all of society’s terrible, wonderful pop angels. Does The Love Song of Jonny Valentine explain to me why I’ve seen Justin Bieber’s penis? That’s what I kept in mind while reading the novel, and I decided the nature of my review would be contingent upon the answer. Turns out the answer’s pretty much yes.
The author sets you in the head of Jonny Valentine (né Valentino), an 11-year-old singing sensation who makes semi-shitty pop music for kids. He has no control over his life, which is managed in all facets by his mother. His arc to fame is similar to Bieber’s: A destitute mother uploads a couple videos of her talented child performing to YouTube, then a record deal and several hundred thousand screaming fans later, the kid’s a star. His mom makes up for what she lacks in record industry savvy with a tenacious determination never to be poor again even if it means exploiting her one son. In her quest to cake off of her spawn, she kind of fails to notice that Jonny has become fucked up, nearly beyond repair. He’s got bulimia, a mild dependency upon sleeping pills, is addicted to videogames, and masturbates too much (This is important. Pay attention to the masturbation scenes). His mother shuts him out of the real world; he isn’t exposed to media because he’s a constant topic of discussion and knowing that people hate him might fuck up his self-worth, his one friend is his much older bodyguard Walter, and he’s unable to interact with anyone his age, and to an extent anyone in general.
Jonny’s desperate to both live out a childhood that’s slipping away from him and disavow anything that isn’t adult showbusiness whatsoever. His one escape is a World of Warcraft-like videogame in which the player has complete autonomy. His warped perception of being normal leads us into the uncanny valley of his psyche: It’s as if Valentine (and Bieber) attended middle school and Business school simultaneously. Is it that conflation of power and absolute immaturity that would lead someone to take a picture of their very famous penis and have it laying around their computer? Justin Bieber’s normal is our weird, and it’s important to remember that.
We get to know Jonny through his voice, a feat that’s impressive for a number of reasons. It’s the rare first-person narrative from a kid that reads for adults. Jonny almost has a handle on the world he’s navigating—he knows his station in life without necessarily understanding why he’s been placed there or how that station affects others. Just like any other 11-year-old kid, he overhears words and phrases that he doesn’t quite understand but tries to use anyway. Except in Jonny’s world, he’s throwing around shit like “Secondary Markets” and “Media-Savviness” as if they were stuff he’d deal with on a paper route.
Fame is terrible and fucked up and stupid and bad and anyone in their right mind should hate it and avoid it like gonorrhea, but it obsesses us. Justin Bieber is a demon, but we made him that way. Jonny Valentine/Justin Bieber’s slow spiral into suck is our doing, but it’s not our fault Justy Valenbieb was introduced into a system that was allowed to eat him alive. I guess ultimately, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a critique of America—the media (VICE gets a mention, and there’s a pretty clear Gawker stand-in as well), our culture, capitalism to some extent—as told through the eye of the dick it’s both sucking and screwing.