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The term “tragedy” is so over and incorrectly used by red top tabloids that we may not be aware of the fact that we are currently baring witness to an actual tragedy, a pop music tragedy, playing out before our very eyes right now.
The tragic hero? Justin Bieber.
His hamartia? Early-acquired fame
The Chorus? His Beliebers and 49.2 million Twitter followers
Currently ranked the ninth most powerful celebrity in the world by Forbes, how did he end up getting arrested twice in one week? How in the space of two years did his concert film movies go from generating over $12 million in a single day (2011’s ‘Never Say Never’) to clearing just $4.5 million in a five day stretch (2013’s ‘Believe)? Why has the quality of his music dropped so dramatically? Obviously the typical Planet Notion reader does not fall within the Bieber-target market but there’s no denying the poptastic goodness of ‘Baby’ and ‘Somebody To Love’ – especially when compared to the knuckle-chewing awkwardness of his latest effort ‘Confident’ and his ‘Lolly’ cameo. Wait… why do I care about any of this?
My attitude towards Bieber pre-mug shot was like that of anyone else – he’s annoyingly successful and something of a jerk, but he makes a lot of young girls happy and he isn’t hurting anybody. Of course, now with DUI and assault charges to his name he is harming others. With each self-destructive, headline-grabbing act he’s committed over the past fortnight, the more I feel like a helpless, unwitting guardian on ‘Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents’; watching on passively with nothing but a disappointed headshake to offer.
Wasted young lives and talent is always a great shame, and yes, a tragedy. Whether you like Justin Bieber or not, there is no denying that tales of boy wonders gone wrong are heart-breaking.
Bobby Driscoll was Walt Disney’s first ever contracted actor at the age of 11. He was the animation model and voice of Peter Pan. Unlike the boy of Neverland, Driscoll grew up and once he developed acne and his cherubic looks matured he was cast aside, deemed only suitable for brutish, bully roles and then forgotten by Hollywood altogether. After serving time in prison for drug addiction, seven years later, at the age of 31, his body – with a failed heart and hardening arteries due to long-term substance abuse – was discovered in a deserted apartment block by two unsuspecting children.
Frankie Lymon was the astounding soprano singer of adolescent doo-wop group The Teenagers. ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ and his cover of ‘Itty Bitty Pretty One’ serve as the most pertinent examples of the youth’s precocious talent. Prematurely pushed into a solo career that failed to match the success of The Teenagers, and with his voice changing, Frankie developed a heroin addiction at the unthinkable age of 15 which claimed his life ten years later when he overdosed in his grandmother’s home.
Whilst Justin Bieber’s recent track record of reckless antics – from pissing in buckets, to spitting on fans and chewing on a stripper’s nipples – do not match the tear-jerking falls of Driscoll and Lymon, they are surely indicative of further issues that run deeper than simple teenage rebellion.
We’ve seen pop idol casualties before, sure, but never have they been as swift or as well documented as Bieber’s. Britney Spears’ upsetting head-shaving meltdown came out of the blue, and nine years after her Lolita schoolgirl ‘Baby One More Time’ debut. Michael Jackson had been working as an entertainer for over 15 years before he treated himself to an adopted pet chimpanzee, whilst Justin acquired his first primate in March 2013 before abandoning the monkey three months later. At this rate, Bieber’s demise will be as swift as his rise.
Five years is the short space of time that has elapsed between Usher first introducing his teen Canadian protégé to the world and Justin’s smiling mug shot being released by Miami police. It seems as though the speed with which he was discovered on YouTube and became the boy-king of planet pop has been matched by the alacrity of his current free fall.
Show business doesn’t need another Bobby Driscoll or Frankie Lymon recorded in its history books. The current chapters of the Justin Bieber story run from chipmunk-cheeked bubblegum phenomenon, to brooding wannabe R&B artiste and we’re now currently stuck in the souped-up, unrepentant bad boy episode. There’s still time for a happy ending but there is equal potential for an irreversible tragic conclusion.
Written for Planet Notion