Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hell Froze Over: The Story of DanielleTBD Writing About Justin Bieber...

Imagine you're Justin Bieber. Well, not exactly Justin Bieber because who wants to be a sixteen year-old boy who looks and sounds like an eleven year-old girl? But imagine you're like Justin Bieber: a young starlet who rose to fame as an overnight sensation and is not only making huge waves in your current industry of choice but crossing over into others as well. You're on a media blitz; you're on covers of magazines without even having to pose for new or exclusive photoshoots; your music is covered on glee with all of the heartthrobs of that show trying to copy you; you may even have a film "documenting" your short life. You're a bonafide celebrity and public domain because of it. So wouldn't you hire the biggest, best, scariest publicist there is?

Bieber's recent Rolling Stone interview is already causing quite a stir, not quite among his young fans but certainly among his young fans' parents and other media professionals. Some are blaming the interviewer for trying to put him in the tough position of talking about topics most average sixteen year-olds aren't really qualified to comment on (such as politics, abortion, and rape). Some are blaming his mother for not instilling better values in the boy who said he doesn't believe in abortion because it's "like killing a baby" and that "everything happens for a reason" in response to a question about rape. Some are blaming him, which seems a little harsh considering we all said and did really stupid things when we were teenagers...

But interviewers and journalists are supposed to pose the tough questions to those who might be ill-equipped to handle them. That's what often provokes the best discussions, creates salacious headlines, and yes, generates the most traffic to the article.

And stars-- young or otherwise-- are supposed to say whatever the hell they want. An interviewer or journalist works hard to establish a comfortable enough relationship or simple vibe in each interview that the subject lets down his or her guard enough to be so open and honest. It's best when they're really opinionated and not necessarily politically correct. But there is something to be said for the fact that Bieber is still just a kid, and as much as he rewards from his fame, he didn't necessarily ask for it. He might still get blindsided, especially because as tabloid journalism becomes more and more popular due to its relative ease, ethics consistently get tossed out the window, but he is supposed to have people to help him with that.

So the blame here should fall to the publicist. Just because Rolling Stone is a national (and accredited) publication does not mean a publicist should step off to the side and allow an interview to take place without his or her watchful eye. Perhaps even especially because it was Rolling Stone, a national and accredited publication known for strong but still a bit biased political interviews and articles, this publicist should have paid closer attention.

I have interviewed quite a few child stars in my day, and with each one I see a slightly different approach. Perhaps this is due in part to the child his or herself: some can handle themselves better than others; some have been pre-coached before the interview starts and are prepared with pre-selected soundbytes to avoid a controversial spiral; some are simply too cute to even ask the tough stuff. But they're still just kids, and they should always have someone looking out for them, as well as their images.

I'm not justifying what Bieber said in his Rolling Stone interview. About any of it. His diehard fans will inevitably rally around him, saying that he didn't mean any harm by it; that all he was saying was that if there is such a thing as fate in this world, then of course even all acts of violence are fated; that, too, doesn't mean they are justified. His opposers will use these quotes to point to him as a false hero-- just another dumb kid with a spot of good luck who doesn't deserve all of the wealth this life has heaped upon him. But I would like to point out that he was very lucky: obviously Rolling Stone knows what a cash cow he is and how many more magazines they could sell if they had some big expose on him and his "true" beliefs-- religious, political or otherwise. One question about abortion or rape usually leads to a bunch more-- follow-ups and the like-- and it could have really spun a different way. It could have been much, much worse.

Perhaps it almost was. Perhaps the publicist was paying attention; perhaps she was able to get out in front of it in the sense that she had them cut out a majority of the quotes that made him sound immature or ignorant or simply suffering from "foot in mouth" disorder. But if that's true, than I have to wonder why she'd stop there: why wouldn't she have just demanded any and all mentions get removed so the speculation wouldn't begin?

Maybe Bieber's publicist is of the "well, any publicity is good publicity as long as they're talking about you" school. But that's not great, either. So if I were in his shoes, I'd think about getting someone new-- and someone who would focus on my image in articles, as well as on the cover of magazines, too. After all, his hair became his identifier more than his baby voice, and that's just another thing with which Rolling Stone tried to mess.

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