Let’s just get it right out front: while there is no question that our country has had its share of embarrassing teen heartthrobs, Justin Bieber’s look and style has officially sunk us to rock bottom.
Maybe deep down we always knew, but everything bubbled to the surface at MTV’s VMAs over the weekend. Let’s see: lesbian haircut and glasses, fire-engine red skinny jeans, leopard shoes. Individually, fine. But put ’em all together, add an inexplicable baby snake and…seriously?
Clearly, some historical perspective is needed.
Looking back on heartthrobs of tween pop past, we can see a pretty clear and steady decline. Remember that Elvis and the Chairman of the Board began their careers as teenybopper favorites. The 1960s gave us clearly less awesome but still pretty cool figures like Dion, Frankie Avalon and Tommy James, the last of whom made The Ramones possible. By the 1970s, we’ve got the Italian machismo of John Travolta and the boyish energy of David Cassidy. Even Leif Garrett turned out to be pretty badass once we got to know him a little better. The 1980s brought us irritating but still obviously male figures like the Coreys and New Kids on the Block.
Somewhere in the 1990s, however, things headed south. The boy band craze brought us stars that were no longer simply safe as milk. These cats were downright kitten-like. American consumers became accustomed to men who were men in name only. Sure, the guys in ’N Sync spent time at the gym, but for all the wrong reasons. This is about the same time terms like “metrosexual” and “manscaping” entered the lexicon. While Justin Timberlake blossomed into a style maven and King of All Michael Jackson Clones, the die had been cast. The record industry now wanted stars more akin to Thai ladyboys than leather-clad badasses.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that this phenomenon has only influenced mainstream pop. Even the realm of heavy metal has been deeply affected by this turn toward the feminized male pop star. Bands like Black Veil Brides, Vampires Everywhere! and The Devil Wears Prada are difficult to distinguish from their groupies lurking backstage. At least when the New York Dolls, Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses minced about in women‘s clothes you got the distinct impression they could cut your balls off quicker than you could get in a snide comment. The latest crop of lady-fied hard rock bands look like they’d respond to your heckling by hugging themselves with their sweaters and calling you a big meanie.
There’s likely some psychological study waiting in the wings regarding precisely what it is teenage girls find appealing about a sexless monstrosity who more closely resembles one of their own than a strapping young lad. Take a look at Lady Gaga—she out-mans this clown even when she’s ripping off Madonna, to say nothing of when she’s donning her drag king outfits. Try and imagine Bieb in the sharp-as-a-tack tux Gaga has taken to donning as of late. It’s a joke, and not a terribly good one.
J-Bieb isn’t just a bump in the road to a renewed era of the manly teen idols of yore. He’s the 17-year-old, Selena Gomez-dating, 12-million-Twitter-follower-having lowest of the low, at least until the new rock bottom rears its ugly head. In the meantime, red-blooded American men can take solace in one irreversible fact.
At least he’s Canadian.