Ready or not, “Bieber fever” hits Taiwan this weekend. Pop sensation Justin Bieber performs at Taipei Arena (台北小巨蛋) on Sunday night and tickets are still available as of press time, but according to organizers, 80 percent of the 10,000 seats have been taken. That’s a lot of screaming teenagers.
At 17, Bieber is the classic teen idol, touting babyface looks, formidable vocal talent and a rags-to-riches narrative: He was raised by a single mother in Stratford, a small town in Ontario, Canada, where they lived in low-income housing. He played soccer and hockey, took drum lessons and taught himself guitar and piano.
But Bieber’s fame is also marked as a product of these times — it was YouTube that gave him his big break. Videos of Bieber singing at a local talent show at age 12, among other homemade clips, went viral. Bieber was already an online star by the time he was “discovered” by his manager Scooter Braun, who stumbled upon the videos by accident, so the story goes.
Braun took Bieber under his wing and the music industry caught on, particularly R ’n’ B singers Usher and Justin Timberlake, who reportedly engaged in a bidding war to get Bieber to sign with their respective labels. Usher won, and Bieber signed with Island Def Jam.
It’s been a rapid climb for Bieber, as he made a big splash in the pop world and became a household name last year. Both his debut EP My World (2009) and full length album My World 2.0 (2010) went platinum in the US and Canada, with the latter release debuting as the No. 1 selling record on the US Billboard charts.
Bieber was the most searched-for person on Google in the US last year, beating out even Lady Gaga. And his appeal reaches beyond the US and Canada, at least according to Google. The largest number of searches for Bieber came from Indonesia and the Philippines, where the singer performed on Tuesday.
In Taiwan, pop fans are starting to catch on. My Worlds: The Collection, a two-CD set that combines his two major releases, has hovered high up on the top 20 list for the past 13 weeks on G-Music’s Western music charts (www.g-music.com.tw).
With the rapturous reception he has received at public appearances, it’s no surprise that Bieber the pop phenomenon has been compared to Michael Jackson. It’s too early to tell to whether the young Canadian’s musical legacy will match Jackson’s, but Bieber’s personal life is certainly attracting the same level of media scrutiny.
Lately, he’s been getting attention for some bad boy behavior. While on tour in Australia last week, Bieber reportedly received a scolding from a Quantas Airlines flight attendant for getting out of his seat during takeoff. And then the teen heartthrob took some flack after a guest appearance on the popular television crime show CSI. One of the show’s stars, Marg Helgenberger, called him a “brat” in an interview and shared a story of Bieber locking a producer in a closet and putting his fist through a cake meant for the cast.
But if there’s anything that’s actually fascinating about Bieber, it’s not his public missteps, his immaculate, side-swept hair or his legions of “Beliebers,” the nickname for his die-hard fans.
Rather, it’s the fact that his rise to fame has been televised, so to speak, from the very beginning.
One only needs to visit YouTube to glimpse the different stages of Bieber on his ascent to stardom. There’s footage of him, age 12, busking on the streets of his hometown of Stratford (search for “Bieber before he was famous”); the handful of homemade videos of him singing Chris Brown and Ne-Yo posted by his mother and re-posted by fans; a somewhat odd appearance at age 14 on a Christian talk show before he landed his record deal (Bieber doesn’t speak, but only sits quietly while his mother is being interviewed). And then there are today’s slick and glossy videos, such as the one for Baby, Bieber’s biggest hit and an infectious tune that combines dreamy bubblegum pop and rated G hip-hop.
Whether or not you’re a Belieber, there’s no denying the excitement that surrounds the world’s latest teen idol. Last week, Bieber posted on Twitter his impressions of Australia just after finishing a run of shows there. He raved about his time there, writing that the “Energy was and is nuts.”
Perhaps the end of that tweet perhaps says it all about his fast rise to fame. “It’s a long way from Stratford.”