Friday, May 18, 2012

Justin Bieber: Not Just Another Pretty Face!

Bieber PixlrLove him or dislike him, there's much to be said about a kid who sells out Madison Square Garden in 22 minutes before he's even reached the age of majority (18)!

There's also something to be said about a young adult Christian who before age 18 started reciting the Shema (the holiest prayer in Judaism) prior to his performances.  He recites it in Hebrew, and although some may think he's just doing it out of respect for his Jewish staff (including manager/discoverer Scott "Scooter" Braun and music director/guitarist Dan Kanter), Justin Bieber seems sincere about the whole thing.

More info on this later in the article, but I just learned that a national gay newsmagazine in 2011 reported that Justin might be an "emerging ally" for the LGBT community. 

As I write this, the Biebs is in the Number 2 spot on Twitter (according to Twitter Counter), and is just a few thousand followers shy of the Number 1 position, currently held by Lady Gaga.  He has also logged over 15,500 tweets, so he might need a carpal tunnel surgeon before he turns 19 next March.

Even Forbes magazine has taken interest in Bieber and they are featuring him in their June 2012 edition. The photos and a four-minute video of the partial interview are available on Ryan Seacrest’s website.

I also recently learned that he's a huge belieber in the "pay it forward" concept of asking that a good deed be repaid by having it done for others instead.  I never heard about the concept until recently when I stumbled on the 2000 film "Pay It Forward," starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and a very young Haley Joel Osment.  If you haven't seen it, don't miss it!

Not a Brat; Truly Sincere!
I recently posted on Twitter that Justin is a cross between Michael Jackson, Tim Tebow, and Claude M. Bristol (author of "The Magic of Believing," 1948).  He has the talent of Jackson, the faith of Tebow, and the positive thinking concepts of Bristol (whom the late Liberace happened to admire).

Justin thus far doesn't appear to be some type of snot-nosed rich kid.  My months of "research" (all for educational purposes, mind you) has convinced me beyond all reasonable doubt that he's the real deal when it comes to being positive, giving to others, reaching for the stars, and achieving what some of us only dream of.

His sincerity is evident in the "My Worlds Acoustic" (2010) digital booklet, where he thanks his fans.  It reads, in part: "So this album is taking it back to how we started together on YouTube - me and my guitar just singing.  You took a boy from a small town and made dreams he didn’t even know existed real.  So thank you, thank you, thank you.  This one is for you.  And we are just getting started!  Love you - Justin."

"Belieber!" Book is a Great Bieberpedia!
Belieber Book
Before I go any further, it is important to note that this blog article started out as a lengthy e-mail "letter" I spent weeks drafting to Cathleen Falsani, the author of several non-fiction books that deal with religious, spiritual, and cultural issues.

Her tour de force is "Belieber!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber" (2011).  I get no money for this plug, but her book is available from Amazon in paperback, audio CD, Kindle, and Audible formats.  The book is like an encyclopedia for everything Bieber and one will also learn about other musicians and some interesting insight about the author.

It is very important to note that "Belieber!" is not one of those trashy tabloid-type books that are often written about celebrities.  This is a well-written and thoughtful book that should interest every JB fan, no matter their age, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and so on.

My draft correspondence to Falsani was was a very comprehensive account about my evolution in coming to appreciate Justin Bieber (hereinafter "JB"). I concluded it would be more beneficial to share my thoughts and feelings in this article to reach a wider audience (all five of you).  So, with all due respect to Falsani, I scrapped the correspondence to her altogether and instead incorporate much of it herein.

My Journey to Bieberland
At 51, I really have little interest in young boys or girls that sing "bubble gum" music so I never really gave much thought when I kept seeing the name "Justin Bieber" in the news.  I rarely watch live television, and he wasn't on any of the political-oriented podcasts I watch/listen to regularly, so I wasn't even sure what he looked like until recently.  I recall laughing out loud after seeing some headlines about his "old and new hairstyle," but now I understand what that is all about.

When he turned 18 on March 1, 2012, that was of interest to me since my birthday is also in March.  I then learned his favourite colour is the same as mine (purple), so that also piqued my interest. 

logo-twitterI then heard a story on an ABC News podcast about him posting a partial phone number (presumably his) on Twitter with the last digit missing, and young girls were dialing the phone number by filling in the missing digit, thinking they would eventually reach JB himself.  At least one elderly lady in Texas was not amused when she received calls from lots of girls asking for Justin.  I thought that was a scream! (JB is quite the prankster, and if you don't believe me, check out the Punk'd episode he hosted on MTV.)

It was probably shortly after BieberPhoneNumbergate that I made a conscious decision to find out what all the fuss is about this kid, so the first thing I did was check out all of his professional music videos that were available at no charge on Vevo via my former Xoom tablet. 

I'm more drawn to rebels such as Eminem and Rise Against, but after watching a few JB videos, I decided that even though it's not my preferred type of music, he definitely is talented and I now appreciate why he is a huge sensation and young girls can't stop screaming when he is in their presence.  In fact, even as an agnostic, I am very drawn to the song (and video) "Pray," which further demonstrates his commitment to changing the world.

What may have impressed me the most from watching the Vevo videos was the range of talent he has teamed up with in his musical numbers, which introduced me to musicians and singers I never even heard of (or rarely listened to in the past).  For example, I learned that actor Will Smith's son Jaden is a very talented young artist.

As a former longtime clarinet player in public school and short-time choir member in my synagogue, I could also appreciate JB's extensive musical history dating back to age 2, the range of his voice, and some of his dance steps remind me of the late and great Michael Jackson (who I later learned JB very much looks up to).

watch-justin-bieber-never-say-never-online_136060892I have viewed the Bieber-sanctioned documentary "Never Say Never" (both versions) and was just mesmerized from beginning to end.  The director's cut does include about 10 minutes of clips not shown in the regular version.  There's also a very cool thing only available in the director's cut involving creative captions of the lyrics while JB performs one of his songs.

My first impressions were, "This is not just another pretty face; this kid is amazing talentwise, personalitywise, you name it."  It was then that I also came to the conclusion that this isn't a talent who is here today, gone tomorrow; he's definitely here for the long haul.

I watched two biebermentaries on iTunes which were informative and then I managed to find a bunch of radio interview podcasts via iTunes (including two with Ryan Seacrest) and those were interesting.  The one with Seacrest is also available in video format on YouTube, as are numerous other interesting radio interviews he has done around the globe throughout the years.
It-Gets-Better-ProjectAfter watching the three documentaries, I continued my bieberquest on YouTube where I viewed his "It Gets Better Project" public service announcement and was really really thrilled  to see that.  Evidently, he was bullied as a kid, and to have someone of his caliber involved with that important anti-bullying project is very important.

Justin-Bieber-BookAfter viewing his anti-bullying PSA, YouTube had recommended clips to me of interviews he did with Ellen DeGeneres on her TV program, so I watched those and that was when I believe (oops, I meant belieb) I first learned he wrote a book, since he autographed one for her during the program.
"Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever: My Story," by Justin Bieber, isn't available at (my preferred format), so the next best thing was purchasing a copy from iTunes and using the text-to-speech feature which works okay since it isn't a lengthy book.

I was shocked Audible didn't have the book available and told them as much.  They were kind enough to respond, in part:
"Based on our research [the book] is currently unavailable in a digital audio download. However, I have forwarded your request to our Content Team. While we can’t guarantee a positive result, we are always working hard to expand our catalogue, so your suggestion is very valuable."

More on "Belieber!" Book
It was Audible that lead me to Cathleen Falsani's   book.  When I was looking for JB's book, I simply typed "Bieber" in the search field and her book title appeared in the results.  In fact, it is the only book to appear when using that search term.

When I first saw the words "faith" and "religion" connected to Falsani's book, I thought to myself:  "I don't know.  I want to read it, but as a Jewish gay agnostic, I wonder if I just might not appreciate the author's perspective on JB." (I know that was a close-minded thought, but it was my initial reaction.)
In the end, I decided to practice my lifelong mantra of being open-minded (easier said than done), and bought "Belieber!" from Audible and am really glad I did.

I nearly fell out of bed when Falsani starts the book with a quote from the Talmud (her book cites the Talmud at least one other time).  In fact, there is stuff about Judaism in her book I never learned (or at least do not recall learning) in my many years in Hebrew school, so that was a nice nugget. 

Her tidbits about things she learned from two rabbis she befriended, and her statement that Christians would benefit from learning more about Judaism is very cool.

Most important, her "Belieber!" book is clearly written from her heart and soul.  She definitely succeeds in offering a very unique and thorough perspective about the new King of Pop.

While it would have been interesting for Team Bieber to have participated in Falsani's book (they declined her offers), in the end I think it actually may have worked out better without them because it's easy to get influenced one way or the other by personal interaction with celebrities.  Without their direct input, she simply wrote what she observed, researched, and what her heart told her to write.  That is enough authenticity for me!

Falsani is to be commended for being inclusive of many faiths (and various social issues) in her book, which isn't always an easy thing to do.  After listening to the book, I have found that there is no doubt that JB has values that are lacking in many celebrities today, many twice his age or even older. 

I have to admit that when I hear people pray or talk about faith, I often jump to the conclusion they are going to be preachy hateful types (since I was surrounded with that growing up in Orange County in the 1970s).  As a result, it is often very challenging for me to not jump to that conclusion.  Falsani happens to reside in Laguna Beach, California, which is one of my old "stomping grounds."

Bieber an Ally to Lesbitrangay Community?
It's no secret that JB is a belieber in faith and Christianity, but he doesn't shove it in people's faces.  Also, he clearly isn't one of those redneck, right-wing, anti-gay fundamentalist types, or he'd never appear on Ellen, nor would he have participated in the "It Gets Better Project."  He seems to be rather open-minded; probably always has been. 

According to a 2011 report in the national LGBT news magazine, The Advocate, JB has been publicly supportive on LGBT issues.  It's a very interesting article that I just discovered while doing research for this article.

Charity Begins With Bieber
Near the end of "Belieber!," Falsani  lists numerous  organizations (some or all of which JB supports, if I recall correctly).

ProductRedThat list of organizations is very impressive and includes ProductRED, which is fighting AIDS globally.  I first learned about them on Twitter years ago, and as a result purchased a custom-made pair of Converse ProductRED tennis shoes (purple, of course, with my name embroidered on the sides).  It was so cool that I could design my own shoes and help fight AIDS at the same time.

charity-make-a-wish-foundation-justin-bieberJB, who is active with Make-A-Wish Foundation, has visited underprivileged, ill, and dying children during his travels throughout  the globe.

Help-support-Pencils-of-Promise-throughour-Schools-4-All-campaign-justin-bieber-21103178-411-368He's also active with Pencils of Promise (PoP), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world.  The organization was founded by Adam Braun, the brother of Scooter Braun (the man who discovered JB and helped put him on the map).

Many clips available on YouTube with JB on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show further demonstrate his commitment to giving back to the world, which he can do in a huge way because of his name recognition and financial success.  Just the same, the little people (like me) might be inspired by him to do our part (financially, or by volunteering, or just spreading the word).

My Make-A-Wish!
After listening to Falsani's book, I learned that JB has a custom-made Cadillac with "Batmobile" emblazoned on the trunk and the Batman bat insignia on the front grill (and the trunk).  A very cool ride, to be sure.  So cool, I challenged JB on Spacebook that if we would give me a ride in the Batmobile, I would be happy to loan him my purple tennis shoes (since I know he's a huge collector of sneakers)!  Short of being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, though, this will be something I will just have to keep dreaming about.  Or maybe I will just need to belieb more?

Official (and Unofficial) JB Websites
Justin Bieber Believe Charity Drive

Justin Bieber Music

The Official Justin Bieber Fan Club (Bieberfever)

Lesbian Who Look Like Justin Bieber