I have a confession. I love Justin Bieber. I love his voice, anyway. And his songs are so darn catchy! To be honest, I cringe to think about the effect that millions upon millions of sceaming girls has upon the ego of a 15 year-old male, but you’ve got to admit…the kid’s really good.
But I’m not here to talk about his vocal abilities. I more want to dive into the content of his music. Imagine the scene: a 15 year-old kid auditions for Usher and it’s clear the kid’s got amazing talent. After a bidding war with Justin Timberlake, Usher gets the rights to raise up this pop prodigy into celebrity greatness. Put yourself in Usher’s shoes:
How do we make him larger than life? How can we maximize revenue given his talent? Who is his audience? What will he sing about?
The music industry has very calculated answers to those questions because there’s so much money riding on the right answers. And it appears that said industry has realized that Justin would do well to appeal to pre-teen and teenage girls by singing a certain variety of pop love song. The kind that guarantees masses of screaming girls in sold-out stadiums.
I’m going to show you what the industry machine produces when you tell it that it needs to pump out millions of lovestruck screaming adolescents. As you watch, I want you to try really hard to put yourself in the shoes of middle school you. I want you to process your own emotions and think about why this product so predictably churns out such intense emotions among one of our nation’s most vulnerable populations.
So what did it? What was the secret ingredient? If you came up with a list of elements that drive teenagers (especially girls) crazy, I want to take the question one step further: Why? Why do those elements drive teens aboslutely insane? I’ll actually extend the question to you: Did your heart flutter a bit as you watched? What kind of longings did this stir up inside of you? What seduced middle school you? I’d love to hear your response in the comments section.
The industry doesn’t want us to really think about or answer these questions, because once we start doing that, it’s not long before their master plan is unveiled:
1) Convince young women that their worth is defined by how many boys are physically and romantically interested in them.
2) Leave them to pursue romantic relationships before they’re mature enough to know what love means or look likes.
3) Wait for the serious heartbreak and emotional wounds that inevitably result when two adolescents invest deeply in one another romantically.
4) Prey upon their wounded hearts and shattered dreams by providing a hero (Justin Bieber) who claims the power to be the counter-example and love perfectly. Then let the money to pile up from the pockets of these broken dreamers. Now back to step 2, and let the cycle continue and intensify with each repetition.
It is one of the most twisted money-making schemes that our nation’s laws allow for.
I want to weigh in with how I understand this phenomenon on a spiritual level. I think this video is so appealing because it paints a potentially beautiful, even perfect reality. The intense pursuit, desire, and lack of conflict that epitomize the video relationship reflect deeper relational dynamics of the Kingdom of Heaven. Relational dynamics that satisfy the eternal longings in each of us (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11). And I think it’s created with the intention of convincing you that a romantic relationship that is typified by that kind of perpetual joyful intimacy is really possible here on earth. And we love believing that, so we buy it. By the millions.
The images and sounds are made to sort of lull you into this belief, so that you eventually begin to long for it yourself. 14 year-old girls, who don’t know any better, begin to believe that Justin can provide this for them since he promises it in his music. If you missed the promise, it took the form of the bridge:
I can fix up your broken heart
I can give you a brand new start
I can make you believe,
I just wanna set one girl free to fall,
Fall in love
But he’s lying to you. He can’t actually do any of those things. In fact, nobody can. No human being actually has the power to free you, fix you, or make you do anything. Especially celebrities. Of course Justin has no idea how to love a woman. He’s 15, people. The rates of martial dissatisfaction and divorce in America suggests that most full-grown men around here don’t even know how to love a woman. So the video makes a cripplingly empty promise that looks something like this: “You can find that unwavering perfect intimacy that always fulfills all of your heart’s deepest longings in a romantic relationship with another broken, hurting, selfish, sinful person.” You, being your mature, wise, experienced self would quickly call this promise ridiculous. But millions of young women don’t think it’s ridiculous when they watch the video. They want it…
(In Part II I’ll try my hand at what I think the Church can do to begin to repair the pain this pattern has caused our nation and restore our young people to a healthy place of hope and longing)