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Biography / Voice of A Generation
by Ruta Kupfer
February 17, 2011


What will happen when Justin Bieber grows up? That's the elephant in the room for two books on the teen pop star recently published for his legion of Israeli fans.

Once there was a teenage idol. He had innocent brown eyes, a button nose, lips like berries and light-brown hair that fell onto his forehead. He sang love songs with simple words, in a somewhat high voice, and girls in the third, fourth and fifth grades were simply crazy about him. His name, by the way, was not Justin Bieber - it was Donny Osmond. Where Osmond sang "Puppy Love," Bieber sings "Baby"; both have found their way into the hearts of young girls because of their cute appearance and the equally cute subjects of their song titles: babies, puppies, all the things that so many girls like.

This 1970s singer wasn't Bieber's double in every sense. While Bieber, a 16-year-old native of Ontario, is an only child, Osmond came from a Mormon family from Utah and was one of many siblings, with whom he performed when he was 5 in the Osmond Brothers vocal group, and afterwards as a duo with his sister Marie. Donny Osmond, a doll-like and unthreatening creature, with delicate features and a sweet voice (just like Bieber ), was frequently on the covers of American magazines.

Endless articles were written about him in the teenage weeklies. He had gold records and a fan club with a well-oiled publicity network.

But an entire world of technology separates Bieber from Osmond. In the 1970s, before the Internet and globalization, what happened in America happened, for the most part, only there (it took even a huge pop singer like Michael Jackson years to cross the ocean ). That allowed local teenage idols like Noam Kaniel, who had something of a high voice, a mane of hair on his forehead and nice eyes, to survive on the Israeli stage without fear of competition.

In the case of Donny Osmond, the articles in the teen magazine Seventeen were full of stories about the star's mischievous behavior and various hobbies, as well as stories about his ostensible love life that were cooked up in the feverish brains of public relations agents, in order to keep the girl fans in a constant state of hope or envy. I would like to believe that those articles were written with less blatant flattery than two new books about Justin Bieber, but we know that is not the case.

Closing of a circle
In our global village, Justin Bieber's "Baby" is hummed by young girls from Canada, where the singer was born, to the United States, Europe, East Asia and elsewhere, all the way to little Tel Aviv. Its video clip was the most-watched song on YouTube in 2010, with slightly over 400 million hits (several million of them thanks to my fourth-grade daughter ). In a sense it was the closing of a circle, because Bieber first erupted into public awareness thanks to the videos he posted to YouTube.

Recently, I discovered that in April he is scheduled to perform in Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, and we can assume that more than one Israeli mother heard the news with sorrow mixed with self-pity at the thought of what is awaiting her when she has to chaperone her daughter to the event.

According to the publishers of both of the Bieber books recently been translated into Hebrew, the pictures they feature are "amazing," and both come with a free poster. The significant differences between the two books, aside from the fact that on one cover his hair is combed to the right and on the other to the left (though maybe the picture was simply reversed ) is that Millie Rowlands' "Biebermania" (as the Hebrew version, which has already found its way onto the best-seller lists here , is called) is a much slimmer volume and has more pictures. Both avoid understatement like the plague. Chas Newkey-Burden's "Justin Bieber: The Unauthorized Biography" ("unauthorized" by whom? how? and why? ) promises to give Justin's fans an entree into the everyday world of the singer, with both books touting his good looks and amazing voice (though one refers to a sunny personality and the other to a perfect smile ).

18.5 million Tweets
As befits these times, facts about Bieber's life and fame are taken from Twitter (a search on Google is apparently too much of an in-depth investigation ). The unauthorized biography tells us that, as of June 2010, 0.27 percent of all Tweets have mentioned Justin Bieber - a number that amounts to 18.1 million - and that 1.5 million Tweets have been written about his debut album.

Both books tell the same story: He was raised by his single mother, Pattie, and was somewhat poor. He was discovered to be very musical, played a large number of instruments, and can solve a Rubik's cube in two minutes. Both books emphasize his athletic side (the Newkey-Burden biography in particular is full of hockey descriptions ) and his romantic side; they tell about his first date and his first girlfriend. The celebrity gossip-mongers are already at work, and in "Biebermania" they promise that Justin isn't ruling out a romantic relationship with a fan. Both books describe his musical breakthrough and his busy lifestyle on the fast track.

Newkey-Burden's book, if only because it's the longer of the two, is the more problematic as well. One reason it's longer is that it is packed with filler material, inflated with sentences that read like pure irony, although they may not be intended as such. For example, "Those who have studied their Canadian history would point out that, as well as Justin, other famous people have lived in Stratford, including Thomas Edison - the man who invented the light bulb."

Bieber didn't invent electricity or the wheel, but he has set historic records. According to "Biebermania," he is the youngest male soloist to have reached the top of the American charts since Stevie Wonder, in 1963. Both books inform us that he has already performed in front of U.S. President Barack Obama and his family.

The unasked question in these books is what will happen to this wunderkind. Will he follow in the paths of many child stars (like Donny Osmond ) and fizzle out at an early age? Will he soon find himself suffering from a drought of "like"s on his Facebook page, after being so heavily showered with expectations? Will he get no further than winning the ninth season of "Dancing with the Stars"? Or even worse, might he face a future like that of Michael Jackson?

Various comparisons have already been made between Jackson's early career and Justin's first steps in the music industry, according to the unauthorized biography. But Chas Newkey-Burden tries to show why they are different, pointing out that Michael Jackson was only 11 years old when the Jackson Five released its first single in 1968, while Justin was 15 when his first song came out - really old compared to Michael. In that case, there's nothing to worry about.

Ruta Kupfer is a cultural correspondent for Haaretz.



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