Is there anything more strange (or more exciting) at an awards show than a powerful heckle?
Statuette ceremonies are habitually such self-congratulatory group hugs that there’s rarely any room for dissent, so when the boos come out, it tends to stop the Internet in its tracks.
Last night’s Billboard Music Awards incident surely wasn’t the first time Justin Bieber has been booed, but even though he was wearing dark shades, it was clear he was shaken by the reaction. He pointed out to the crowd that he was still only 19 years old (even if it feels like we’ve had him in our lives for no less than four decades now), and that his level of success justified his victory.
But then he took a stand, letting loose with this instantly-infamous statement: “I really just want to say, it really should be about the music. It should be about the craft that I’m making. This is not a gimmick, I’m not — I’m an artist, and I should be taken seriously. And all this other bull should not be spoken of.”
Let’s make one thing clear: Justin Bieber would like you to talk about him because you like songs from Believe and not because he has monkey problems, a blog-catnip on-again/off-again relationship with another pop star, and sometimes attacks photographers on the street. He wants to be known as an “artist,” whatever that means. He is not tabloid fodder nor a meme victim. He should be taken seriously.
And he’s right: Justin Bieber should be taken seriously. Yes, his music is actually good, and his personal narrative — raised in low-income housing by a single teen mom, courted at age 13 by Usher and Justin Timberlake, internationally famous millionaire by 15 — is generally fascinating. But the way to get people to take you seriously isn’t to simply demand that they do or to declare yourself an artist.
He has two options: He either has to laugh off all the crazy stuff that happens around him, or he has to ignore it entirely and just be himself, without apologies or explanations or pleas to be “taken seriously.” There is no third option.
Because you know what the definition of cool is? Not caring what other people think or say about you. Plenty of stars claim to live that way, even though they have Google Alerts set up for their names and the phrase “king jackass.” Accepting that not everyone will love him or respect his admittedly poor choices with monkeys will make Bieber seem more self-confident and complete. He’d be like the Fonz—cool no matter what.
But that takes a lot of work, especially for a teenager, and if the never-ending blog spew does actually bother Bieber, the facade will eventually crack and he’ll be back as square one. Just look at Kanye West. Whatever you think about his music or his penchant for impregnating the living embodiment of the horrors of commercialism, West has generally played it cool. Sure, he comes across as aloof, but that only made him more interesting. It added to his mystery. Maybe it’s getting to him though, because the dude just walked into a street sign and absolutely lost his mind. And then this happened. The Fonz would never act like that, even if he did take a Yield to the dome.
So the only hope for Bieber (and West, and any other pop star who feels he’s disrespected by haterz on the Internet) is to learn to laugh at yourself. It’s a lesson that any bullied middle school kid learns in his first week in a locker: Laugh with them before they get the chance to laugh at you. So rather than simply self-promoting or making vaguely defensive sidesteps, use Twitter to make preemptive strikes against those faceless minions.
Hire a joke writer to do this if you have to, but it’s best if you simply learn to laugh at yourself. It shows humility and self-awareness, and a little self-awareness goes a long way. Start with a comment on that ridiculous outfit you were wearing last night. Because seriously man, that’s just silly.
Bieber’s music isn’t the problem. I still stand by Believe, and I think there’s still a single or two left to give it a second life (“Fall” would make for a killer end-of-summer radio jam, for what it’s worth). He just needs to embrace the ridiculous things that have nothing to do with music but get him headlines anyway. When he decided to enter into the art of pop music, he passively gave up a little bit of dignity and a lot of privacy.
That’s part and parcel with the deal. But if he simply accepts that the monkey and the Selena drama and the paparazzi are part of who he is, the happier he’ll be. Constantly playing defense has got to be exhausting, and it doesn’t make him any more likable. As he said himself, he’s only 19, and he’s probably got a lot of career ahead of him (if nothing else because of the ironclad support structure around him, including musical godfather Usher and manager Scooter Braun), so he’s got time to make mistakes and adjust to his surroundings. After all, it’s just pop music, and he need not buy into the idea that “artist” means something high-minded or super serious.
And if all else fails, he could dry his tears with his millions. Or buy a new Razor Scooter. Whatever helps.
Read More on EW.com: