7 important lessons Justin Bieber needs to learn

All child stars have to grow up someday.

 

Chris Osterndorf

Internet Culture

Published Sep 12, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 2:44 pm CDT

To put it bluntly, Justin Bieber has been fucking up lately.

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Despite having legions of fans, he’s also one of the most-hated celebrities in the world, and by now, it seems impossible that he doesn’t know it. His latest shenanigans? While being booed (not the first time this has happened) during his appearance at a “Fashion Rocks” charity event on Tuesday, Bieber stripped down to his underwear, in an apparent attempt to remind everyone he’s going to be doing some modeling…or something.

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Of course, this is fairly tame compared to Bieber’s typical antics of late. Maybe it was his Believe documentary’s poor performance in late December of 2013, but ever since 2014 kicked off, Bieber has been a consistently ridiculous person.

In early January, his neighbors accused him of vandalism, leading cops to raid his house and arrest his friend Lil Za for cocaine possession. Later that month, Bieber himself was charged with DUI and resisting arrest, letting everyone know right off the bat that he was stepping away from the little kid stuff, i.e. peeing into buckets, sleeping with prostitutes, and leaving his monkey in Germany, and into big boy transgressions.

Then, this summer, video surfaced of the pop star making racist remarks, prior to getting in a very public fight with Orlando Bloom while vacationing in Ibiza. And earlier this month, he was arrested for dangerous driving and assault after he crashed into a minivan with his ATV. Although, he was just let off the hook for beating up his limo driver (seriously, what is it with this guy and cars?), so that’s something!

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Basically, if you were on the fence about Justin Bieber before, he’s all but given you permission to hate him now. It’s gotten to the point where the guy can’t even catch a break from other celebrities. To suggest that he has an image problem is like suggesting that the Pope might be Catholic.

However, Hollywood loves a comeback (especially if you’re a dude) and so does the Internet, which where it all started for the Biebs. Luckily, he’s got plenty of time to write a second chapter. All he needs to do is go online and look up a few of his fellow celebrities to figure out how.   

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1) Follow Drew Barrymore’s lead and find help if you need it.

It’s not entirely clear whether Bieber actually has a substance abuse problem, or whether his follies have been more related to youth and an inflated ego. Either way though, his DUI marked a turning point, where it began to feel like he could be going down a dark path.

The most famous example in recent history of a celebrity bouncing back from addiction is probably Robert Downey Jr., who not only conquered his demons, but has gone on to become the highest paid actor in the world. However, the best comparison where Bieber is concerned has to be Drew Barrymore.

Another case of being exposed to too much, too young, Barrymore’s famous family made her a part of Hollywood royalty from the time she was born. Her big breakthrough came in the form of the Steven Spielberg classic E.T., when she was just six years old, but her troubles started not long after that. She first entered rehab when she was 13, and after continuing to struggle with sobriety for several years, has since gone on to become of the most consistently busy actresses in Hollywood, as well as a successful producer and director (her next project is 2015’s Miss You Already, from Twilight and Thirteen director Catherine Hardwicke.)

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In 2009, Barrymore talked about how her past influenced her critically acclaimed performance in the HBO film, Grey Gardens, at W Magazine, casually mentioning, “I got institutionalized as a kid, and I felt like I was back there. A lot of times I found myself unhappy and isolated, and the only other time I felt that way was when I was in there. It was absolutely trying to relearn to live. You are learning to become someone else.”

As for Bieber, whether he needs to learn to be “someone else” entirely is up for debate. The point is that this stuff is real, and it’s scary, but that people can also get help if they need it.

2) Pull a Neil Patrick Harris and reinvent yourself (again and again and again, if necessary).

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Bieber has actually sort of hopped on the reinvention train already, with compilation album Journals, in which he tried to shed some of his kiddie pop image for a sexier R&B vibe. The results actually captivated some, despite Journalspoor performance on the charts.

But if Bieber really wants to know how to do reinvention, he needn’t look any further than Neil Patrick Harris. Also famous from a young age, Harris was trapped for years by his role as kid doctor Doogie Howser. It wasn’t until he played a drugged out, totally insane version of himself in the 2004 stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Do to White Castle that people started to realize his full range. Soon, his “legendary” role as the womanizing Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother followed, and no one has seen him as the guy who used to be Doogie Howser ever since.

Ironically, the roles Harris was getting attention for could not have been more at odds with his personal life. Since coming out in 2006, Harris hasn’t just reinvented his own career, he’s reinvented what it means to be a gay man in the entertainment industry (as it happens, he got married to longtime partner David Burtka last weekend). New York Magazine actually dubbed him “Hollywood’s First (Openly) Gay Breakthrough Star” earlier this year.

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Moreover, Harris didn’t reinvent once and then move on. Instead, he continues to take on projects that challenge what people think of him. Having previously appeared in revivals of Assassins and Cabaret, Harris returned to Broadway this summer in John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for which he won a Tony and earned rave reviews. Coming up next, he has a supporting part in David Fincher’s highly anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The lesson is to keep reinventing, over and over again. Bieber could learn something from Harris’ ability to always keep people guessing. Even if the bedroom R&B of Journals isn’t ultimately where his career takes him, he’s still young enough that there’s no reason his music can’t go in numerous other directions too.  

3) Grow up and get serious, like Matthew McConaughey.

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It wasn’t that long ago that Matthew McConaughey was known as the guy who smoked pot and played the bongos in between making mostly terrible romantic comedies. However, if the McConaissance has taught us anything, it’s that you can come very far in a few short years. And the funniest part? It’s not like McConaughey has even changed that much. He still has his signature catch phrase, after all. It’s as if all of a sudden, the guy realized, “Oh, wait, maybe I don’t want to be known just for smoking pot and playing bongos and making mostly terrible romantic comedies.”

Perhaps for Bieber, getting his career on the right track will simply take a little maturing and some extra focus on his music. Whether he has to turn his whole life around remains to be seen, but he doesn’t necessarily have to become a completely different person to make people like him again. Perhaps all he has to do is tone down the attitude and concentrate on making better music.

4) Take a page from Britney Spears’ book, and stay out of the spotlight.

At her peak, no one was more famous that Britney Spears. But like Barrymore and so many others, excessive fame at a young age led her to rehab, amidst the infamous head-shaving incident, which caused many to cry, “Meltdown!”

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However, Spears must have eventually realized that her presence in the public eye was fueling her issues, because in the last few years, she’s repeatedly avoided the limelight. And since doing so, reports about erratic behavior have subsided. Instead, Spears has continued to put out album after album, persisting with her career while ceasing to be a tabloid fixture.

Her 2007 effort, Blackout, arrived during her well-publicized “bad” years, but starting with 2008’s Circus, Spears has shifted the attention away from her personal life. She also gave us 2011’s Femme Fatale and last year’s Britney Jean, thereby effectively churning out a steady stream of music which has turned her back into, in the best way, just another pop star (not that that’s stopped anyone from paying attention to her personal drama).

It’s impossible not to concede that the absurd amount of scrutiny which celebs like Britney and Bieber face puts them under a crazy amount of pressure. While that doesn’t necessarily excuse their worst behavior, it makes it slightly easier to understand why they sometimes act out in irrational ways. Bieber doesn’t yet have a family, like Britney did when she got out of the spotlight. But for his own health and well-being, he would be wise to consider less high-profile trips to the club and more time away from the watchful gaze of the media.

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5) Just go away for awhile, a la Anna Chlumsky.

Anna Chlumsky may not be as famous as some of the other people on this list, but her trajectory from child star to today is still worth taking a look at. After starring in the popular My Girl movies, she struggled to transition into more mature roles during puberty. She ended up going to school, as well as pursuing other interests, and didn’t act between 1998 and 2005.

But she never shook the acting bug entirely and came back in a big way when famed English satirist Armando Iannucci cast her in his 2009 movie, In the Loop, and then in his critically acclaimed HBO series, Veep, for which Chlumsky has earned two Emmy nominations.

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Chlumsky spoke to The Guardian about her time off from the entertainment industry last month. “When I went to acting school, I thought, I’m going to give myself a year of trying and if it doesn’t happen, then it’s not meant to be,” the actress said. “The first day I get to the Atlantic Theatre and we play out scenes and I really learn what it’s all about – that it’s really about communicating text, and telling a story—I was like, oh, holy shit! I’m not just going to give this a year! I’m going to give it everything. I knew it.”

Right now, Bieber’s musical career is at a low, even if he is one of the biggest pop stars in the world. That isn’t to say he couldn’t put out an an album or go out on tour next month and make an obscene amount of money. However, if Bieber does continue to suffer from his bad reputation, it wouldn’t hurt the guy to take a few years off, before reminding people who he is again. Because without a doubt, part of the reason people hate Justin Bieber is the current level of Bieber-saturation.

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6) Or just call it quits altogether and do something else, like many child stars have done.

Okay, this one is obviously pretty unlikely. With $80 million in the bank from the last year alone, Bieber clearly isn’t struggling the way many other child stars have. However, with all that disposable income, there’s no reason he has to stick to singing. Why would he give up millions of fans and the potential to earn more millions of dollars from making music? Who knows. But if Bieber does get sick of the recording industry, it’s not like he wouldn’t be able to do something else.

Plenty of stars who got famous at a young age have dropped out of Hollywood altogether, only to thrive in other career paths. Shirley Temple Black, née Shirley Temple, the original “child star,” went on to work in politics. Jeff Cohen, aka Chunk, from The Goonies, didn’t completely leave the show business behind but did trade in acting for a successful career as an entertainment lawyer. And how can one forget the Olsen Twins, who are worth $300 million freaking dollars from a lucrative fashion line.

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So Bieber can take comfort in knowing that if he no longer wants to be a pop star, he still has a ton of options.

7) If all else fails, give reality television a try.

The rest of this list has focused on actors, but this one is specifically applicable to musicians. It might sound a bit desperate at first, yet when you look at the evidence, the results are definitely there.

American Idol started this trend, by resurrecting ‘80s singer Paula Abdul for their original judges panel, which Jennifer Lopez and jazz man Harry Connick Jr. also appeared on, following some time away from the spotlight. Heck, even Britney dipped her toes in the reality pond at one point.

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But it’s NBC’s The Voice that perfected this practice, choosing to sell the audience on the celebrities rather than the contestants. Whether looking to branch out from their established audience like Blake Shelton, capitalize on a major hit like CeeLo Green, or merely revive their late ‘90s-early ‘00s fame like Christina Aguilera, Shakira, and Usher, The Voice is undeniable proof that Americans love to see artists talk as much as they love to see them sing.

More successful than anyone at parlaying their time on the show into a reinvigorated career has been Adam Levine. If you look at his band Maroon 5’s biggest hits, they all coincide with the period after The Voice reminded people Maroon 5 was still a thing. Since hopping on the show, Levine has scored a number one album, been crowned People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” (much to the chagrin of some), guest-starred on American Horror Story, hosted Saturday Night Live, and gotten some of that sweet, sweet ADHD money.

Reality television won’t guarantee that you’ll stay on top, especially if you screw up and burn all the good will you’ve built down to the ground once you’ve left it, like CeeLo decided to do. But for pop stars looking for a way to make America care about their brand again, singing competitions are proving to be a good deal. So if people start to throw around the phrase “washed up” to describe Bieber in the near future, he should think about marching over to NBC and negotiating his spot in one of those fancy, swiveling chairs.

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For now, there’s no way of knowing for sure what will put Justin Bieber back on top, or at least back in the public’s good graces. Sure, he’s got the Beliebers on his side, but ostensibly no one else. If there’s one thing America loves more than seeing someone fall though, it’s watching them get back up.

For Bieber, there are many roads to choose from. Let’s just hope he doesn’t stick with the one he’s on now. Considering his driving record, it’s bound to land him in on the side of the road eventually.

Photo via Stephen Eckert/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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*First Published: Sep 12, 2014, 11:00 am CDT