As Ellen DeGeneres celebrated her 57th birthday this week on her show, it was one of her guests who had a coming-of-age moment: Justin Bieber, pop culture’s love-to-hate bad boy.
Only he’s looking more like the Canadian kid millions of teens swooned over years ago than the rugged thug-wannabe who is snagging headlines.
On Wednesday’s “Ellen DeGeneres Show” he looked nervous. He mentioned his upcoming Comedy Central roast (March 7), saying he deserves to be made fun of for his mistakes.
Like so many teen stars before him, he tried to break out of the kid mold by going the way of the bad boy — peeing in a bucket in public, disrespecting Bill Clinton, drag racing, strippers, underage drinking, alleged weed use and egging a neighbor’s house.
It’s not good. But Bieber, now 20, is no Lindsay Lohan, either. Remember some of the mistakes you made as a teen. Now picture the paparazzi there to snap, flash and click your every move. The media blast you when you’re good (they used to call Bieber “cookie cutter” and “girly”) and kick you when you’re bad, too. The pressure must be insane.
After his appearance on “Ellen,” he uploaded an emotional video to Twitter apologizing for his mischief. He said he felt awkward on the talk show because he knew he would be judged.
“I didn’t want to come off arrogant or conceited,” he said. “I’m not who I was pretending to be. … We pretend to be something we’re not as a cover-up for what we’re truly feeling inside. Being young and growing up in this business is hard. Growing up in general is hard.”
His goal now: to be the kind and loving young man his mom raised him to be. But will we let him?
This is a guy who can’t even make a Calvin Klein commercial without being mocked and accused of Photoshopping his body. The “SNL” skit skewering his ads was hilarious. But is it fair? When a woman’s body is critiqued like that, the blogosphere lights up with think pieces on body image issues and unrealistic beauty standards.
We are hard on child stars. I mean The Onion called “Annie” actress Quvenzhané Wallis a vulgar slur when she was only 9 years old.
Last weekend, 14-year-old Willow Smith, daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, took a stance in the #freethenipple campaign, dedicated to fighting the censorship of women’s breasts. She wore a turtleneck with a statue-like nude designed on it. Risqué? A little.
But mommy blogs were crying for child protective services and better parenting. Over a shirt and a feminist attitude. Sigh. I shouldn’t be surprised after Malia and Sasha Obama were torn apart for being teens. Who doesn’t give their dad an occasional side-eye? Give those girls a break.
Jawn Murray, TV host and editor of AlwaysAList.com, says there’s a fine line here. On one hand, celebrities should expect headlines, flashing lights and gossip. On the other, we need to have boundaries when it comes to children. Jay Z and Beyonce’s daughter, Blue Ivy, is a toddler. Her hair should never be fodder for blogs.
“Kids like the Obama girls and the Smith kids, they are not grown,” Jawn told me by phone Friday. “So when people put heavy expectations and aggressive scrutiny on them, it’s unequivocally not fair.”
But at some point they need to be held accountable.
“Having a little edge is one thing, but breaking the law is another,” Jawn says. “In the case of teen stars who attempt to deconstruct their teen image by acting out in public, there should be a level of scrutiny. There are parents who are buying merchandise and tickets and have teenage children who are avid fans of these stars. … You can either get it together and become a Justin Timberlake or you don’t get it together and end up dead.”
Bieber seems to be taking responsibility now. But the apology tour can stop here. Going forward, he owes himself forgiveness and a chance to escape the tragic child star narrative.
Fans have started a supportive hashtag: #WeDontJudgeYouJustin. Maybe everyone will be a little slower to judge and quicker to act right.
Not just toward celebrities, but toward one another.