At age 17, Justin Bieber has 17 million followers on Twitter, 40 million fans on Facebook and more than two billion video views on YouTube – the most ever for any one person. His 2010 record “My World 2.0” was ranked number one in America and certified platinum. He sold out Madison Square Garden and was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2011. Yet just four years ago the world had never heard his name.
Born to an 18-year-old mother Bieber was raised in the midsized suburban town of Stratford, Ontario, Canada. He played basketball with his friends, hung out at the YMCA in the summer and sometimes sat in front of the local Avon Theater playing his guitar and singing for passersby. He’d never had a guitar lesson in his life but could play the instrument with great skill – the same went for the piano, drums and trumpet, which he mastered at an early age without lessons. Putting his natural abilities to use, Bieber entered a talent competition in 2007 and won second place with his rendition of “So Sick” by pop-artist Ne Yo. Bieber wanted to share his win with extended family members so he uploaded a video of his performance on YouTube. By a stroke of good fortune, Scooter Braun, former marketing director of So So Def Records, stumbled across the video just weeks later and was struck by the boy’s talent. He contacted Bieber’s mother, and after prolonged convincing, the boy wonder and his mom were on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia to meet Braun.
In the 2011 documentary “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” Braun explains the difficult road that the new singer faced. Most radio stations refused to play Bieber’s music because he was only 14, but that didn’t stop him. Bieber began making trips to radio headquarters and playing him music for them live in order to gain their approval. Under the direction of Braun, Bieber eventually met with famous pop artist Usher and impressed him so much that Usher took the budding star under his wing. Usher and Braun signed Bieber with RBMG Records. Eventually, Usher introduced Bieber to LA Reid, executive of Island Records, who offered him a recording contract.
Bieber’s steadfast dedication to achieving success and his social media savvy are both important factors in his celebrity status. Utilizing virtual tools like Twitter, Bieber informed his growing fan-base of his non-stop appearances resulting in growing numbers of groupies arriving at each location. The world was catching “Bieber Fever,” a term coined in 2010 by fans suffering from the illness.
So what made Justin Bieber an instant celebrity and not just another YouTube sensation? Many have set out on a quest to find the answer, though a concrete one has yet to be determined. The Vancouver Observer turned to its Twitter fans who responded with variety. Some view Bieber’s small-town roots and related catch phrase “Never Say Never” as an inspiration to anyone with a dream; others can’t resist his innocent looks and signature hairstyle.
Charisma aside, Bieber’s success can certainly be attributed to the Internet. Julia Allsion, a columnist for Time Out New York, explains the concept of Internet fame on her blog. “The web, in a sense, has created billions of heretofore nonexistent opportunities for people to become famous in their own niches – whereas before they were limited to real world communities.” Bieber’s online presence allowed him to reach millions of people without travelling across the globe to gain support. But being known on the Internet is only half the battle.
Clay Shirky, a Distinguished Writer in Residence at NYU and expert on the social effects of Internet, believes that Bieber’s success truly lies with Scooter Braun and his connections in the music business industry. “It wasn’t just that Braun could recognize that Bieber was cute and talented in a way that would resonate well,” Shirky said. “It was also that he could get Usher to take his phone calls.” Without Braun’s ability to bridge the gaps between the Internet and real world, Bieber would not have been afforded such opportunities for success, Shirky said. However, the fate of Bieber’s career ultimately rested in his ability to transition from YouTube to live performances, which was clearly not a problem for the charismatic teen.
His charisma, too, may be what keeps Bieber in the spotlight for years to come. Andy Morris, the author of “Justin Bieber: Up Close and Personal,” sees no end in sight for Bieber’s fame. “[Bieber] is the kind of person, and human being, and entertainer that is approved of by parents as well as young people,” Morris said, who believes this duality to be an integral part of Bieber’s fame. “He’s the kind of person that mothers would want their daughters dating.” And many fans do hope that they will one day be “Mrs. Justin Bieber,” according to Morris, “however unlikely.”
His continued humbleness is a major factor as well. Bieber, who identifies as a Christian, was photographed praying before his show in Madison Square Garden with his entire entourage, and thanking God for the blessings he has received. It seems that his international celebrity is often a surprise to him, when is YouTube video with Usher went viral, today having over 700 million views, Bieber tweeted to his followers “what is goin on with the BABY video on youtube is crazy…i started on youtube so the support…well i just need to say thank u.” Self named “Beliebers,” fans of Bieber think his acknowledgment of their support to be a way to connect with the star.
Whether or not their disillusion will wear off as they mature is beside the point, what matters is that today Bieber has captured the hearts of millions around the world, shattering music and social media records and his fame doesn’t appear to be fleeting.
“I cannot see any way that his fame is suddenly going to go away. In another 12 months or two years we will definitely still be talking about Justin Bieber,” Morris said.