Liz Smith: Is Teen Dream Justin Bieber on the Right Track?

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And more from our Gossip Girl: Showtime’s hot new series … Barbra’s got a gimmick — “Gypsy” looms closer

“EVERYTHING IS important. But, you know, my sanity is important, too. Even if I am angry I’ll just put a smile on my face and fake it … I know I have to give up a lot of myself, or a lot of private life … And I want to be normal. Well, not normal, but I want to have some sort of normalcy. I don’t want to go crazy.”

That’s teen dream Justin Bieber, ending his Vanity Fair interview with Lisa Robinson. At 16, Bieber might be the youngest person ever to appear on VF’s cover.

Now of course I have to admit, I’ve never sat down and listened to a Justin Bieber song. I saw him perform once on a televised awards show sometime last year. He looked 12 (he still does) and appeared to be relying heavily on a lot of pre-recorded backup and supposedly sexy moves. (I found his little grinds and tentative crotch-grabbing silly.) But the girls in the audience were delirious.

For a long time, Bieber’s popularity seemed forced, a sort of faux stardom. But perhaps that’s how it always seems when the star is very young and the observers not so young at all. In any case, the boy does seem to be “somebody.”  Let’s just hope this rush to the cover of VF doesn’t spoil it. Sometimes being on the cover of VF is like winning an Oscar too soon.

As for Mr. Bieber keeping his sanity: from his mouth to God’s ear. In all likelihood, Justin will go the way of Ricky Nelson, Fabian, the Cassidy brothers, David and Shaun, Leif Garret, Bobby Sherman, most of N’Sync and The Backstreet Boys, Hanson, etc.

That’s not a bad thing, if Justin’s estimated $100 million fortune is reliably handled by his parents and managers. But, it’s hard to predict. He is so babyish-looking right now (unthreatening for his little-girl fans) that it is hard to imagine him as a more sexually assured older teen or young adult, with facial hair. Lisa Robinson cites Leonardo DiCaprio as one of the teen idols who escaped being typed, but Leo did not sing; he had extraordinary acting talent. (She also mentions Michael Jackson, as having survived the transition. But then — kaboom!)  There’s an entirely different relationship between a singer and his audience.

Also, Leonardo DiCaprio was never convincing as a “teen idol.” Something in his face and manner. He was clearly meant to be an actor — and not one who was going to rely on his youth. He’s certainly not pretty anymore.

So here’s to Justin Bieber. He’s just a child, and I can only wish him well in what can be a horrible business.

I won’t be attending any Bieber concerts. But if he gets into acting, I’ll most assuredly take a look.

* * *

FIRST, MICHAEL Riedel broke the story of Barbra Streisand doing a new screen version of “Gypsy.” Then the New York Times followed up, with a few more comments from Arthur Laurents, who says if it comes to pass he will direct the film — at age 91. In between, this columnist put in frantic calls and e-mails to Barbra’s press rep, a guy with whom we have always had a fair and honest relationship.

He said, “What I know is, there have been conversations.”  You might think this is not significant, but I read it as, “Okay, I’m not telling you to dress, but … think ahead on a gown.”

Barbra as Mama Rose in the musical Frank Rich once called “The American Theater’s answer to ‘King Lear.’” It really could happen.

* * *

SEVERAL MONTHS back, I told all of you about a wild Showtime screening I attended. The network showed us two of their coming series (which air this Sunday) –“Episodes” and “Shameless.” The one-two punch of these two wildly disparate shows left the audience reeling. Most people loved both, but many were unsure. There was a lot of head-holding and drinking to recover.

Well, now critics have seen both, in the privacy of their living rooms, and the reviews are smashing. The Hollywood Reporter — my new favorite magazine — raves over both. “Episodes” tells the farcical (but not too far removed from reality) efforts to launch an Americanized version of a witty British series. The show’s creators, played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, are appalled to discover that the erudite professor of the series will be acted in the U.S. version by washed-up sitcom star Matt LeBlanc, who plays himself. (With marvelous self-deprecating wit.) The whole thing is a riot, and spot-on about show biz.

“Shameless” is something else — a blue collar Chicago family struggling to get by, despite grinding poverty, youthful sexual identity issues, and a drunken lout of a father (Bill Macy). It’s comedy, it’s drama, it’s mesmerizing. Emmy Rossum will be a great big star after this, and the guy who plays her maybe shady boyfriend, Justin Chatwin, sizzles. There’s also a very funny recurring character, the sexed-up next door neighbor whom you’ll recognize as Steve Howey, who played Reba McEntire’s son-in-law for six seasons on “Reba.”

Fair warning on “Shameless.”  Not for the prudish or faint of heart.

And later this year on Showtime?  My heart beats faster as “The Borgias” bear down, with their daggers and poisons and religious hypocrisies. (The popes back then were libertines, more or less, and hot for gold, jewels and power.)

* * *

“I don’t want to set the world on fire; I just want to keep my nuts warm.”

That’s the great Ernest Borgine’s motto, as told to Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire. The 93-year-old icon is happily married (“Finally!” he says) to the beautiful Tova, for the last 40 years, and he is still working. When VF asks, “What is your favorite occupation?” he replies: “There’s something besides acting?”

6 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Linda Myers says:

    The seven year-olds in my life, grandson and granddaughter unhitched from Hannah/Miley’s wagon this last year and became fans of Justin’s, with my grandson even sporting Justin’s hairstyle for many months. Realistically, though probably not if he holds this baby of a fan base through the next ten years he could be around for awhile unless he makes some really bad choices which bring on the parental controls. He is cute and can sing somewhat, though I have not seen a real interest in him from the high school side. They seem to identify more with the 20 something singers. I really do not care to have a DVR set for years to pick up a Disney show of him, so I hope he sticks to singing for now.

  2. avatar Lila says:

    I find Justin Bieber a little… creepy, and I think it has to do with the fact Liz cites, that he still looks about twelve years old.  I guess I am having some kind of cognitive dissonance or something.  One does not expect to see kids who look about twelve as teen idols, which is essentially a sort of sex symbol for budding young libidos.
    Leonardo DiCaprio is indeed in a different category.  He was always talented (by talent, I mean, he could really act, as opposed to just look good on camera), and has matured well.
    As for Ernest Borgnine,  wish we had more like him!  Wonder what he thinks about all the changes he has seen in Hollywood over the course of his career.  He is, after all, one of the Greatest Generation.  Lived it!

  3. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Mr. Wow came up in the era of the Cassidy brothers, David and Shaun. (Although, truth be told, I was rather too old to be paying attention to teen idols by the time Shaun arrived.)  Those boys–and many of the other lightning fast attractions of the late 60’s/early 70’s sold sex, no matter how “cute” they looked.  Maybe it was the fashions of the times–pants were much tighter.  Mr. Bieber?  I guess he’s selling sex also, but I have never seen such an immature-looking teen idol. 

    Oh, wait–wrong.  Michael Jackson was a big deal even before he hit his teens.  Then again, Michael had real talent. In fact, he was a genius.  I don’t know what Mr. Bieber has, except for the world’s most annoying hairstyle.

  4. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    I have a nephew who is being touted as the “Black Justin Bieber” and even in the early stage of his success, it’s interesting to see how fame can affect young people. Record deals, agents, hangers on,  people making promises and not following through….I can see how being placed up on a pedestal can be difficult for young people.
    Justin is a cutie, and he has all the right aspects to be a success. The pouty lips, great head of hair, beautiful skin, he can sing and dance….he’s the perfect teen idol. And his #1 crush is Beyonce’, so he has great tastes in women! 🙂 I’ve seen interviews of his mom and grandparents, he has a stable support base in them, let’s hope and pray its enough to keep him grounded. If he can manage to stay away from drugs and excessive alcohol he’ll be fine. Given his mentor is Usher, if he follows his lead the worst that can come from anything will be a distorted view of women and fidelity.

  5. avatar Briana Baran says:

    My younger son is thirteen. According to him, a great many of the young ladies in his immediate age range are quite entranced by Justin Bieber. He is confused. I don’t blame him. At thirteen, he appears more mature, and more of a potential…interest…than Bieber. So do his friends. And they have better haircuts, despite being of the slightly science/math/brain-boy variety.
    Justin Bieber is not a talented singer. Maybe when his voice finally breaks…but I kind of doubt it. The Cassidy Brothers and Bobby Sherman were revolting (I never listened to teeny bop pop…I was of the right age, but the wrong mindset. More of a Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd sort), but at least they sounded like they might have a clue what girls were actually for…not to mention that peculiar stuff in their pants. I was always convinced that N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys (and George Michaels and Wham) were all gay. Fine by me, as many of my friends were as well, and I am bi, and Queen was beyond awe-inspiring…but heart-throbs? Ah, no.
    As for Leif Garret, he’s sexier now than he ever was as a teen wannabe bad-boy…but he’s also a self-deprecating, and totally self-aware, epic failure who can’t stay away from drugs. Despite the fact that I do find Bieber sort of Japanese-anime/manga-lolita-porn creepy (a lot of moms my age and just a bit younger seem to find him awfully attractive. Too weird) I wouldn’t want him to have a Leif, or Danny Bonaduce type meltdown.
    Leonardo DiCaprio is in a class by himself, and can’t really be compared to any of the others. Neither can Michael Jackson, who was a musical genius, but was clearly deeply disturbed, had the emotional and moral sense of a 10-year old child (and an undisciplined and unbounded child at that), suffered from self-alienation and apparently severe body dysmorphia, and was allowed to ruin his life by sycophantic star-sucking leeches whom he considered friends.
    I won’t hold my breath waiting for Justin Bieber to prove me wrong. But I have to wonder what happened to all of the true musical talent…

  6. avatar D C says:

    My daughter is far beyond Justin… and my teenage boys would like to beat him up.  I almost bought a Justin T-shirt for my 4 year old grand neice… but then I decided not to and gave her glo-sticks and sticker books and dress-up stuff.  No reason to push sex on a 4 year old. 

    I was a devoted Bobby Sherman fan, but didn’t buy the magazines — just watched Here Come The Brides all all costs. 

    Kind of funny, to me at least, is that all the stuff my older brothers were listening too that I couldn’t stand, I really liked as I got older.  When Metallica first came on the scene, I thought they were horrible, and later I really came to appreciate them.  I was in the doctor’s office one day when my phone went off — Metallica ring tone — the intern who was handling the first part of the appointment was early 30-ish… and he looked surprised and said, “Is that Metallica???”  I said, “Yes!  I’m the cool mom!” 

    We made a point to raise our kids with exposure to a really wide variety of music, and they are always surprised when something comes on that their friends have never heard and say “that’s really good” when they’ve been listening to it all their lives.  Last year at the high school choir “Pop Show”, my son’s varsity choir did an outstanding tribute to Queen with a clever light show (including hand-held flashlights) while they sang Bohemian Rhapsody.  The band plays it now too. 

    I believe MY generation (graduated high school in 78) has made the world a much better place because we never stopped listenting to new music.  My 18 year old son said the other day that he felt he had been cheated a bit in the rebellion department, because they have no music that makes their parents angry.  We love everything.