"I didn't want to come off arrogant or conceited—basically how I've been acting the past year and a half,” said Bieber apologetically to his phone’s camera early in the morning on January 29. It was his second apology in the past few hours, and came as an addendum to the apology he made on The Ellen Show earlier. The 20-year-old pop star was apologizing for the batshit behaviour he’s exhibited since making his only good album, saying that those actions came as a result of the struggle he was facing growing up in the public spotlight. It was a move that caught many off guard and left many wondering about the timing of the situation. Why apologize now, especially after a string of incidents that would likely be career suicide for anyone else? Why not continue to ride the bad boy image that Bieber so clearly loves to embrace into the sunset? Because in the past year and a half, Justin Bieber has tried to become a hip-hop/R&B artist, and he’s just now realizing that, if he wants to actually be a pop star and sell records, going more “urban” was a huge mistake.
Bad decisions and personal drama aside, Bieber has had an abysmal musical streak since Believe came out. His compilation album Journals was released on December 23, 2013 and did so poorly that its sales numbers were never reported. The album had an extensive roll-out where singles were released every Monday, and big budget talent like Lil Wayne, Big Sean, Chance the Rapper, Diplo, and R. Kelly were called in to help bolster the album’s star power. This made the eventual failure much harder to swallow, since the glossy sheen put on Journals wasn’t enough to reach number one on any chart in the world featuring the world’s biggest pop star join forces with rap superpowers. Journals was stylistically unlike Believe in a lot of ways, but the most straightforward way of comparing the two albums would be by genre. Believe was an Adult Pop album with a handful of rap features, but Journals was the project that would find itself in the “Urban” section of the CDs, blurring the line between hip-hop and R&B.
This is a problem for Justin, who has lived too sheltered and privileged of a life to even know what the “B” in R&B stands for (he probably thinks it’s rhythm and blunts), let alone being able to emulate it. His foray into the genre reeked of voyeurism and proved to be ultimately fruitless, which is why he can’t keep going deeper. He need to mark a switch in his life, something that can be pointed to as his “pre” and “post” phase. For some people this is a jail stint, while others need to successfully complete rehab before being seen by the public as redempt. But for Justin, this change is marked by an appearance on daytime TV, followed by a “personal” message uploaded to whatever video app teens are using. Justin Bieber wants to rise again from the ashes like a phoenix, but he would like for those ashes to be pre-selected and sanitized before he needs to touch them in any capacity.
Look at how Bieber was presented to the world when he went on Ellen. His hair was no longer bad-boy bleached, but returned back to its former innocent and neutral shade of hazelnut brown. The tattoos that he has spent the last 18 months decorating his body with were hidden by a striped long sleeve shirt, giving Bieber the look of a teenager and not an out of control fame monster created by YouTube. At one point, Ellen pulls up a picture of Bieber from the first time he appeared on her show and puts it on the screen behind them. The juxtaposition is interesting, but you can’t help but wonder how much more interesting it would be if it was done six months ago when Bieber’s face was permanently stuck in a confused scowl and adorned with a prepubescent mustache, or six days ago when he was trying to prove to people that his dick isn’t tiny by posing in a hotel room clad in nothing but a towel. This wasn’t an accident, it was a PR move disguised as a birthday present to Ellen DeGeneres. And unfortunately for Bieber and Co., it’s too little too late. Justin’s return to the pop world is unlikely, as the sphere is currently being dominated by boy bands and Taylor Swift, both of whom show no sign of slowing down. Bieber has sunk too deeply into the rap lane to go pop again: if he were to visit the Ariana Grande/Big Sean household today, it would only be to check up on Big Sean.
Bieber’s peers in 2015 are “urban” artists, which is exactly what Bieber wanted when he embarked on the road that led him to Journals—but he’s not complementary to those rappers. He’s not an R&B artist, he’s a pop artist who wants to sing explicitly about fucking. And in a year that saw R&B artists do some very impressive things within the genre, Bieber seems to have been left behind on the first tier. It doesn’t help that his non-musical endeavours villainized him to the public in the same, albeit far more tame, way that rappers are. The amount of stupid shit that Bieber has done in the past 18 months has been thoroughly documented by respectable music publications, so there’s no point in recounting it here. He made so many terrible decisions and said so many dumb things that you couldn’t help but wonder if this was some sort of Joaquin Phoenix-style performance art spectacle. But his umbrella apology for being “arrogant and conceited” doesn’t address the specifics of what he wants to be forgiven for: the racism? The assault? The street racing? The deposition footage (we’re actually not mad about that one)? It’s not enough to offer a blanket apology when you’ve done literal listicles worth of stupid shit, and it doesn’t help refute the argument that this is a publicity stunt done to preserve your self image when you don’t even specify a single event in your puppy-eyed apology to fans.
I don’t think many people will accept Justin Bieber’s apology, but I’m truly sorry for him. This was a kid plucked out of rural Ontario because of a few YouTube videos and then forced to stay in an international spotlight during his most formative years. His mentor Scooter Braun has been steadily picking up talent since signing Bieber, assuring his future success even if Bieber becomes a full-blown disaster. Everyone that has entered in Bieber’s life since he’s become famous has done it to capitalize off his success, including Bieber’s own biological father. It’s a surreal lifestyle to have to learn to adapt to, and it would probably make the most stable person act a little crazy. That’s why I feel sorry for Bieber, but it’s also why I don’t think his apology is genuine. In his mind, Bieber is still in the right. Sure he’s been arrogant or conceited, but if you had a movie made about your life at 18, wouldn’t you be arrogant and conceited?
Slava Pastuk is very happy he was able to make that pun in the headline - @SlavaP