Photos by the author
I'm not usually thought of as much of a visual artist, but this past Sunday, I created art that will be featured in Jack Ü and Justin Bieber’s official music video for their hit song "Where Are Ü Now." A fan of both acts, I jumped at the chance to be involved.
I’m the guy who got a #diptatt on my ass during Jack Ü’s album release party in March as a tribute to my love for EDM and to remember the epic night, which was livestreamed over the Internet, forever. That same month, Jack Ü headlined Ultra Music Festival, which was also livestreamed online, and brought out several of the artists featured on their album—Kiesza, Kai, CL, and a special guest appearance by P-fucking-Diddy—to have their closing set go out with a bang, fireworks and all. As their climactic finale, Diplo and Skrillex brought out Justin to perform "Where Are Ü Now," the undeniable standout track off the Jack Ü album, even when performed by a Biebs who is visibly gone off the shits, lip-synching it in front of 300,000 ravers and the rest of the global population via livestream.
Since then, "Where Are Ü Now" has received international radio play, reaching number one on UK Dance Charts last week and currently climbing the Billboard Hot 100, where it sits at number 17. An iPhone/MacBook clip montage of Justin being goofy singing the song with his celebrity friends currently has over 7 million views on YouTube, the site that launched his career.
"Where Are Ü Now" is an addictive EDM breakup ballad. Bieber's singing is devastating, and his soft, heart-melting voice floats over a catchy beat made up of piano synths paired with the signature dubby, drummy, tribal Diplo-meets-Skrillex sound, and a sort of enchanted bird crying throughout the chorus—which may have actually been sampled from me screeching every time I hear it.
Bieber's passionate and engaged fan base, with their intense dedication to social media, are a large part of what makes Bieber the bona fide pop star of our time, and Jack Ü’s collaboration with him allows Diplo and Skrillex to further infiltrate the tween demographic/next crop of budding EDM thots. Musicians cross-exposing their audiences to each other through collaboration is nothing new, but when the artists are as big as these, the collective impact they have is beyond massive. To give some of that power back to the public, each party teamed up on the "Where Are Ü Now" Video Project, sending an open invitation via social media for anyone to come participate in the art sessions held over three days at The Seventh Letter Gallery in Los Angeles.
I showed up at the Fairfax pop-up on the final day of the project in my Justin Bieber T-shirt from his 2012-2013 Believe Tour, ready to make art. Security guards dressed in suits standing outside ushered participants in and out through sliding glass doors with the giant yellow “Ü” superimposed on them, which opened up to reveal an eclectic crowd of Jack Ü/Justin Bieber fans and random passersby buzzing around in various states of concentration to trap music as a film crew taped the activity. Along the two longest adjacent parallel walls were two staggered rows of about 40 wooden easels, each with one unique, serialized film still of Justin clipped onto it, along with cups of paint pens provided for everyone to draw over Justin to their liking.
In speaking with the project coordinators—all devastatingly hot art bros tasked with coming around to swap the dry, finished drawings for new canvases and replenish everyone’s pen supply—I learned just how tremendous of a production they had taken on. There were over 24,000 video stills in total. Once placed in consecutive order, the drawings will form a flipbook-style animation of everyone’s drawings layered ontop of the original video. Several real, actual Artists were also invited to animate portions of the video in their own private VIP area, where tarps were laid out on the floor to let them go ham, like on this piece that looks like a rainbow ejaculated all over it.
When the opportunity presents itself to conceive of something that you know will be seen by millions of people, you will go great lengths to ensure your work stands out—if not to get noticed, then at least be recognizable enough for you to be able stop the video and take a screenshot of it. With complete freedom of expression to do whatever the fuck you wanted, people got creative. My favorite piece I saw was this girl’s illustration of her seducing Justin, depicted as an angel-devil hybrid in a place where rain doesn’t put out fire. I guess anything can be a fetish.
Walking around the gallery perusing everyone else’s drawings turned out to be just as fun as making my own. While some hardcore Justin fans took the project as a ritual of apotheosis, professing their fandom by spending hours creating painstakingly detailed works of art, trying to manifest Justin into existence, others took a lesser-serious, graffitist approach, proudly tagging their phone numbers and twitter handles, myself included (HEY BELIEBERS, IF YOU’RE READING THIS @ ME!!!)
One fan, artist Lauren Kukula, showed up with her own fan art, a portrait of Justin from his recent Calvin Klein underwear campaign she spent days drawing, in hopes he would be there for her to give it to him. Since, to both of our disappointment, he wasn’t, I posed with her Justin, making believe in my own delusion that it was really him.
Since my artistic ability is nowhere near Lareun’s, I doodled to my thirst’s content. Going off the emotion of bittersweet ecstasy "Where Are Ü Now" evokes for me, I drew a heart over the chest inside a silhouette of Justin’s body with energetic lines radiating from it to represent my fiery, passionate love for EDM, which just like the song lyrics professes, I longingly desire. With Justin’s open arms as an invitation in, my piece is a call to all the DJs who have broken my heart and ever left me off the guestlist: “Where are you now that I need you?” To call this work a triumph of symbolic expression would be an understatement.
Right after I finished my piece, Scooter Braun, Bieber's manager and a very nice, chill, constantly smiling bro, showed up. We took a picture together with my artwork. I wish I could say that this picture guaranteed my art's immortality, but what really matters for the sake of posterity will be my one fleeting moment of encouraging video viewers to remember my Twitter handle.
Artists of the magnitude of Diplo, Skrillex, and most especially Justin Bieber, understand that being celebrities makes them increasingly less accessible to normal people. For this reason, it’s important for them to make their fans feel included in everything they do. The "Where Are Ü Now" Video Project offered this open access, while being a cool, active way to turn everyone into an artist—even me. The fan art concept allows Jack Ü and Justin Bieber to create a fluid narrative through their music video for "Where Are Ü Now," where fans tell the story, and earn single, coveted millisecond frame of fame.
Jazper Abellera can be seen starring in the upcoming Jack Ü video if you pause it at the right moment. Follow him on Twitter.