Lately, the topic of Justin Bieber has been coming up quite often amongst my friends; myself included if I choose to get involved. The main subject is whether or not he’s legitimate or if he “sucks”. Before I go any further in my defense of the Biebster, I will say that I definitely don’t consider myself a fan. He’s not my musical cup of tea. With that said, I don’t think he sucks. Why? Because he’s good at what he does.
To say someone sucks is to say they don’t do well in what their aim is. If I were to go snowboarding today, I would probably break my neck. If I were to host a show on the Comedy network, I’d be laugh off the show (instead of on). If I were to make a rap album, it would likely get me shot. These would be examples in which I suck. However, if I were to write and arrange a song, make you a latte or just plain speak english, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t suck. So why would someone say I sucked on account of something that I’m not even attempting to do? I feel like that’s what people do often when they throw out the phrase “[he/she/they/it] sucks!”
Applying this to Justin Bieber, because this is where my inspiration has come from. Justin is a 16-year-old pop singer whose target audience mainly consists of teens and tweens. As a singer, he’s pretty good. The songs he sings are pretty catchy. What he doesn’t do is write, sing songs that are lyrical engaging or thought provoking or otherwise deep and have meaning. That’s because his target audience doesn’t look for that stuff. He’s marketed to do exactly what he’s doing and in doing so, he’s bringing in a lot of money for himself and the team that backs him up. So why are people so threatened by him?
Bieber definitely isn’t the first of his kind either. For as long as music has been associated with pop culture (as opposed to being an art-form), there have been pop singers. Today’s generation sees the Jonas Brothers, Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus, among others, as having the same target. People my age view acts like ‘N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, B*Witched, and many others as being the bubblegum pop singers of our youth. And a lot of my friends admit to liking them when they were younger. They are a symbol of our youth. We know they sang pointless pop songs that ultimately didn’t go anywhere but we enjoyed them because they were fun, catchy and what we wanted from them. Nobody expected the Backstreet Boys to suddenly start recording thought provoking political songs or trying to somehow push music in a whole new direction. And for us, the Backstreet Boys also were nothing new. Go back a decade to the New Kids. But they were ours.
I’m a firm believer that it depends on the purpose and the target of the music in question that determines whether or not it sucks. Pop music is essentially for the purpose of entertainment and comfort. The familiarity of hearing a catchy song on the radio, or have some fun music to listen to on the beach, or on a roadtrip, or at the club. It’s all about context. You can’t go to a club and expect to dance to lyrically-deep, thought-provoking songs that don’t have a beat. Pop music has its purpose.
In fact, one of my pet peeves is when people are quick to dismiss music because of its purpose and genre and the people behind it. Just because someone writes or sings pop music, it means they “untalented” and are considered to be taking the easy way out. It doesn’t make sense to me. Most of the hard work of a pop singer includes often-endless touring and performances, getting things just right and ensuring that everyone in attendance at a concert is entertained. Sounds difficult to me. If that act can succeed in doing that, why do they suck?
Take for example seeing Bob Dylan in concert versus seeing Justin Bieber. It’s definitely not an equal comparison. First of all, they have completely different demographics. I’m not going to go to a Dylan concert and expect to dance and sing out loud to every song nor am I going to go to Bieber and listen attentively while I digest the lyrics and meaning behind his words. I bet there are a VERY small group of people in the world that has chosen to see both in concert and if you were to ask which one they thought was better, chances are they would answer with a “so-and-so was better, HOWEVER…” because you can’t compare.
But ask who people think is more talented and the automatic answer is Dylan. Why? Because he’s a legitimate artist. Writing is always a step above dancing and vocal abilities. But if you were to judge who’s a better live performer, based on what I’ve heard, Dylan is likely not going to win that one.
It really just depends on what you look for in music. Music snobs seem to think that what they look for in music is the be-all-end-all of what music is all about, while everything else sucks. Pop music sucks. Anything mainstream sucks. Anyone that “sells-out” sucks. (Don’t even get me started on people that use the term “sell-out”!) But why must everything be so black-and-white? Why can’t music serve different purposes? Some songs are made to give an opinion or perspective or tell a story and thus are lyrically based. Some songs are made to show off vocals and lyrically are probably pretty cliche (love songs?). Some songs are out purely to provide an audience with a crazy beat to dance to with repetitive lyrics. I just don’t think you can compare a slow country ballad to an underground techno club track. They both have VERY different purposes.
It also frustrates me when people say, for example, that Eminem sucks. Yet these same people likely rarely listen to rap music. So on what grounds does he suck? He’s definitely not a bad rapper. How can one understand when someone sucks as a rapper if they don’t listen to or like rap music anyway? They’d appear more credible if they said he sucked as a writer (although I’d also disagree with that). To me, those people saying Eminem sucks is the same thing as saying Daft Punk sucks because their lyrics lack depth.
So why does all of this bother me? I think it’s mostly because for me it’s a perspective-based issue. I hate when people refuse to see perspective. I have my musical likes and dislikes but I’m not going to discount their relevance because of it. I’m not going to say that Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift or Freddy Mercury don’t have any talent because I personally don’t like most of their songs. For what they do, and for their success, they must have something. Maybe it’s the optimist in me but I really don’t see how anyone could get very far in the music industry without at least displaying SOME sort of talent. I don’t think record companies have the funds these days to put money into someone that lacks talent. It’s too big of a risk in today’s record industry.
But maybe I’m just too sensitive when it comes to this topic. There has always been pop music. There has always been that crowd of people that say everything “sucks”. And there has always been that small group of people like me that defend everything because everything has a purpose. No matter how much each of us complain about the other, it will likely go until the end of time.