Justin Bieber is the most notable twenty-two year old of our time. Everyone everywhere is exposed to him, and he is, for better or worse, exposed to us. But of all the people writing and talking about thinking about Justin Bieber, the people who have the least to say about him are often his contemporaries: twenty-two-year old boys. I spoke with five fairly different twenty-two-year olds (with names changed) about their recollections and opinions on Justin Bieber throughout their adolescent and young adult lives.
Noah (writer): I didn't like it when it came out, and I don't think any of my friends did either. It's some Radio Disney shit, right? I see a lot of people retroactively pretending like it's a good song, and it's definitely not, at least compared to some of the stuff he does now.
Gabe (current college student, studying theater): I hated "Baby." I didn't think it was catchy or sounded good.
William (recent college graduate, applying to graduate programs in art history): Two weeks after the release, I could be found vehemently admonishing Bieber's music while being able to sing every word of "Baby" and utilizing its lyrics in everyday conversation ("She woke me up daily, don't need no Starbucks" was a personal favorite).
Blake (recent college graduate, soon to be teacher): This was my favorite song and music video probably of all of high school. "Baby" was the first song I was ever able to remember completely. I feel like most people have a fond recollection of the first song they knew every word to. Ludacris's line about "she woke me up daily, don't need no Starbucks" is gold.
Aidan (recent college graduate, soon to be consultant): It was catchy, immature, and, most of all, fun to hate. The defenders of "Baby" were tween girls who vehemently and almost militarily loved Justin. Among fellow sixteen-year-old dudes, "Baby" was something we could reinforce our feeble senses of masculinity by making fun of.
Aidan: Bieber's recklessness was about him recognizing that he had enjoyed unbelievable fame and fortune in his young age, had been the subject of intense love and appreciation by millions, and now he was being a real dick about it. The sparkling mugshot was the manifestation of his arrogance.
Noah: I was too busy to do stuff like this. I don't really think acting out while being in a seat of extreme, immense privilege is "bad boy" behavior.
Blake: I engaged in some similar activities, but in the significantly safer confines of a college campus. Doing the same things on a bigger scale (because Bieber was rich as hell) surrounded by grown adults and groupies (because Bieber was famous as hell) was always going to be a recipe for disaster. I always loved the mugshot — it's legendary.
Gabe: It was hard for me not to laugh at the mugshot at the time, almost as a, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen" sort of way. But it also made me realize that he's just a teen growing up and going through the same bad phase we all did.
William: I basically said "I told you so" to every single person I spoke to when Bieber began going through his bad boy phase. The satisfaction of seeing someone so self-involved implode at such a scale was delicious. It seemed almost comical how self-destructive he behaved.
Gabe: Yeah, I egged my neighbors. They didn't even notice.
William: God, no.
Noah: No, but I once TP'd someone's house on Mischief Night in high school. The cops got called! Maybe I can relate to bad boy behavior, actually.
Aidan: Around the time that Bieber was making these shifts in his appearance or a little before, I was beginning to realize that no amount of hard work would ever make me look right in a flat-bill hat.
Blake: I definitely did not experiment with my look as much as Bieber has the last few years. I love all the goofy stuff he does with his hair. Hair can be grown and cut so easily. I'm trying to take a page from his book and play with my hair a bit these days.
Gabe: I recently bleached my hair because I needed a change. I think we all like to mess with stuff about ourselves in our twenties because we can. I had always wanted to bleach my hair, but was too afraid for whatever reason. Now that I have this hair, it feels like I could change anything about myself.
William: I pierced my ear during study abroad because I wanted to be wild. I think the fantasy of customizing my body became a reality in my early twenties as I began to feel more comfortable with myself. I bet Bieber probably experienced a similar power in taking control of his image.
Noah: No, whenever I've tried to get attention, it has been through the admirable and moral pursuit of comedy writing.
Aidan: Didn't know this happened, but yes, very bad.
Blake: I would say dreads were one of his worst style choices.
Gabe: JUSTIN'S HAIR WAS BAD. IT DID NOT LOOK GOOD, AND IT WAS MESSED UP THAT HE DID IT.
William: No words.
Noah: Fuckin' Ras Trent-ass dunce.
Aidan: Earlier in college, I definitely went through a phase where appreciation of good music that happened to be of indie or alternative genres meant shunning pop music. I'm wholeheartedly over that. "Love Yourself" is like a sassy John Mayer song. "Sorry" is a triumphant, sexy Disney song with dancey undertones. And "Where Are U Now" is a bizarrely, delightfully unique and hard-hitting banger.
Gabe: I don't think any of those songs are my favorite, but I'll admit they are catchy.
William: I think that the singles on this album are the best Bieber has ever released. The music videos have also been quite good (I really enjoy the "Sorry" music video in particular. The girl in the polkadot Adidas outfit stole my heart). I wanted to like this album as a whole so much more than I do, but so much else of it is forgettable.
Noah: The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. That "what about the children" song is the most embarrassing thing ever. But all the singles, other than "Love Yourself," are so good. I think it's a pretty good album that could definitely have been trimmed down.
Blake: I love Purpose with two major caveats. First, his most popular singles all had major outside help in writing, producing, and instrumentation. Second, Purpose has led to a whole group of people who "don't like him as a person but like his new songs" (this is the music equivalent of a young person being "socially liberal, but fiscally conservative," pick a goddamn side!). I wish we could all just appreciate good pop music and this goofy guy named Justin Bieber.
Gabe: I couldn't stand him when I first heard him. But now I don't really have an opinion. I have matured a lot since I was in high school, and I also have different hair now. If you like Justin, if you hate Justin, I don't care. It's your taste in music.
Aidan: I like Justin Bieber's new music. I don't know if I have enough information to like the new Justin Bieber, but I also don't dislike him. I've watched Bieber's performance of "What Do You Mean?" and "Where Are U Now" at the VMAs many times (mostly because my girlfriend went through a phase of watching it as an almost daily ritual) and at the end, he cries a little. I've thought about that crying, and it seems to me that Bieber's overwhelmingly thankful. It remains to be seen if that gratitude is real.
Noah: I think he kind of sucks as person? I'm definitely on board with his music, probably for a while, if he continues doing stuff similar to the best of Purpose.
Blake: He's a professional in his field, pumping out successful songs, music videos, movies, concert tours, etc. for millions of rabid fans. I believe in his work ethic and his talent. Props to him — he's a workhorse.
William: I think he is still maturing and has the potential to hone his craft more. I wouldn't call myself a Bieber fan, but I also wouldn't say I hated him. Something about him doesn't feel genuine, and that is hard for me to ignore. Maybe it's because he has been doing it his whole life, but it feels as if the Bieber we know was entirely constructed from scratch. He doesn't exist as some person in the world, but as this character that performs.
Aidan: "What Do You Mean?"
Blake: "Sorry." [ed. note: Blake sent a ranked list of his top 5 songs with 3 honorable mentions so I picked the one he ultimately ranked first.]
Gabe: Favorite song has to be "Sorry." Super catchy.
William: I am going to have to go with "Sorry." I think both the song and the music video are extremely fun and silly.
Noah: My favorite Justin Bieber song is that song with Migos. [ed. note: It's called "Looking For You."]
Aidan: No, they need new material.
Blake: I don't care if they're together — just make sure that sexual tension exists for the sake of their music.
Gabe: Justin and Selena are meant for each other. He thinks about her every night. He will always think of her as the one that got away. Hang in there, my dude!
William: You have to pick your celebrity reunion battles, and I am still rooting for Heidi Klum and Seal.
Noah: No. Selena deserves the best, and that is certainly not Justin Bieber. Maybe, just maybe, that person is none other than yours truly, myself.