Rob Smith Can’t Say No: Justin Bieber, “Never Say Never”

These are hard times, people—difficult days lay behind and before us, and in these, our most desperate moments, there’s little joy to be found. This trickles down to our kids, whose innate prescience hips them to the fact that something is amiss, that the grown-ups done fucked something up again. We’re all but unable to protect them from images of war, the aftereffects of economic distress, or the nation-splitting cacophony of our loud and loutish political discourse. They should be worrying solely about the missing piece of their Lego set, the fact that it’s too cold to go outside for recess, or the difficulties they’re having mastering “Sex on Fire” on Guitar Hero. They shouldn’t have to hear Daddy wish aloud for Mitch McConnell to engage in sexual congress with a cattle prod. The young’uns deserve some modicum of joy in their lives, don’t they?

It was with all that in mind (plus my desire to sew up “Dad of the Year” honors early this year) that I acquiesced to my 11-year-old son’s request to see the Justin Bieber movie, Never Say Never, on opening night. My kid is hooked. Knows the words to all the songs, has the poster in his room, can do some approximation of Bieber’s dance moves. We even have the same kind of argument I used to have with my parents, over haircuts—it’s just that, instead of a mullet, we’re arguing about the tousled, windswept, Simple Jack ‘do Tha Biebs has perfected.

Now, I got no quarrel with Bieber or his fans. The stuff’s not made for me to like. I detest Creed and Matchbox Twenty and Daughtry and Josh Groban and Nickelback because I do not like their music and they’ve been marketed to people my age for, shit, 10 or 15 years now. Bieber’s music is sweet, disposable pop, and there will always be a need for that, if only to give kids ages 9 to 15 something to shake themselves to when their parents aren’t looking.

Never Say Never is aimed directly at that demographic and, judging by the t-shirts and screams and well-mannered mayhem at my viewing of the film, it hits the mark, repeatedly. Interspersing the 16-year-old’s biography with 3-D concert footage, Never Say Never‘s only real sin is that it preaches to the converted, and not so much their parents, whose presence had to be accounted for in the making of the thing—after all, 11-year-olds can’t drive, except in their dreams. And if Tha Biebs is about anything, he’s about kids going for their dreams.

We see that in the Bieber bio—the tale of the precocious Canadian lad, raised by a smokin’ hot single mother (wowsers, Pattie Mallette) and her parents. Through the years, he gradually devoted himself to music, teaching himself several instruments, jamming on drums at home and at church functions, and busking for coins outside a coffee shop in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario. He lost a talent competition to a young lady who is obviously proud to have taken down Tha Biebs (she’s on camera for about two minutes, shortly before being gunned down, gangland style, by the Bieber Mafia), but his smokin’ hot single mother posted a video of his performance (of Ne Yo’s “So Sick,” which I’d never heard before seeing the film) on YouTube, where it got mad hits and likes, and where she posted more videos before Li’l Justin caught the attention of budding Svengali Scooter Braun. Braun moved Tha Biebs and his smokin’ hot single mother down to Atlanta, where he brought the kid before Usher and LA Reid, then took him out on a tour of fairs and malls and radio stations, building the buzz that eventually led to a sold-out Madison Square Garden show, the climax of the film and the proof offered of Tha Biebs’ super-dee-duper stardom.

Along the way, we meet Bieber’s entourage, which, in addition to Braun and his smokin’ hot single mother, includes his bodyguard Kenny; his road manager, Ryan Good; and his guitarist/musical director, Dan Kantner, all of whom get to let their inner 16-year-old freak flags fly while touring with the kid. Voice coach “Mama Jan” Smith has the unfortunate role of being the sole adult on this whole thing. She seems to be the only one on Team Bieber who won’t fist-bump him or slap-fight with him or pick him up and deposit him in another location several feet away. She’s the only one who refuses to cater to his occasional bouts of the whinees, the “Why Me’s,” or pop-star “who’s-the-boss-here” moments. Their debate on whether a voice-weary Biebs can order McDonald’s McNuggets is one of the film’s highlights.

The energy is amped during the performance footage, where we get to see Bieber’s smooth, mannequin-like skin and scream-inducing dance moves up-close and personal. The stagecraft is Arena Pop 101, and, not that the kiddies will realize it, almost entirely lifted from Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and HIStory tour videos, from the statuesque posing to the pop-’n’-lock choreography. The 3-D filming is largely unnecessary, unless we really needed to have Bieber pointing in our faces or a confetti cannon going off into our eyes. The depth of field trickery makes the audience seem deeper and farther away from the stage (cool), but it also occasionally shrinks the performers into thin, distorted cutouts (not cool).

Oh, and there are guest stars aplenty. Usher, of course, is in the house, as are Jaden Smith (Spock to Bieber’s Kirk on the song “Never Say Never”), Boyz II Men (Pips to Bieber’s Gladys Knight on “U Smile”), Sean Kingston (Hutch to Bieber’s Starsky on “Eenie Meenie”), and Ludacris (Mr. Mxyzptlk to Bieber’s Superman on the film-closing “Baby”). Miley Cyrus (Linda Lovelace to Bieber’s Harry Reems) adds the skank factor during a run-through the duet “Overboard.” There were three separate times during the song where I thought Bieber was going to grab her tit in front of all those girlies in the audience, and I’ll lay odds Ms. Salvia 2010 would have let him.

But it’s not about the guests or the backstory; it’s not even about Bieber himself, or how many of his 15 minutes he’s burned through. It’s about joy—the pure, uncut stuff; the priceless stuff. It’s about the family who gets a ticket upgrade, from the nosebleed section to the fourth row. It’s about the one young hottie plucked from the audience each show to go onstage and feel the Bieberness up close. It’s about the kids in the arena, dancing with abandon, screaming themselves hoarse, singing along with every word. It’s about the kids in the theater watching those kids, feeling every song like they’re feeling their first crushes, feeling that first need for freedom from home and parents, that initial thought that there’s breadth and depth outside their own suburban existence.

It’s about the kid sitting next to me—the excitable, sensitive 11-year-old whose favorite things in the world are the sounds coming out of his iPod; the one I watched come into the world and who I hope to one day see make some significant improvement to that world. It’s all about his love, his palpable thrill, his voice raised in song with the rest. It’s about his joy, a joy he shares with others, but which is inextricably his own. I’ll sing the praises of anything that brings that out of him, even a singing doll-boy like Justin Bieber, or a piece of pure pop product like Never Say Never.




  • http://thesixonefournine.com/ judd6149

    .@EightE1 Rob, some day in the future your music loving boy is going to read that and say thanks – and truly appreciate why he is saying it: for letting him live out that R&R fantasy moment and for the pop-induced pain you endured.

    “..inner 16-year-old freak flags fly…”

    I think all freak flags start waving at 16 and never age. Good one.

    (I assume this was “the assignment”)

  • EightE1

    Sadly, no. The assignment comes next week, when I skip a week of power balladry to tackle Jefito’s evil request in another “Can’t Say No” column.

    Thanks for your comment. I hope your first paragraph comes to pass.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    I have no comment on Bieber’s music because, as you so rightly stated, it’s not meant for me. But I have to say that the marketing angle behind the movie makes me queasy. The kid grew up in less-than-ideal circumstances I guess, but what monumental hurdles did he have to overcome along his path to super stardom? What inspiration are we supposed to draw from his story of signing a record contract and making millions as a friggin’ teenager?

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    This is poetry, Rob — especially that last paragraph. May you never say no.

  • EightE1

    Thanks, man. I appreciate that.

  • EightE1

    Thanks, man. I appreciate that.

  • EightE1

    I don’t know how to answer that. The drama in the movie is manufactured — he supposedly comes down with a throat infection a couple days before the big MSG show, though I’ve read things online that indicate he wasn’t that sick.

    Does there have to be a monumental struggle? The kid is talented — he can sing, dance, and play instruments — but he also got lucky. Nothing wrong with that.

    It’s really just a piece of product — a chance for the kiddies to see him perform on the big screen, in 3-D. Nothing more, nothing less. I understand what you’re saying, but I think that his struggle — or in this case, the lack thereof — is beside the point.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XFYCHNKEEEY7CIJBFGT3W73LEM ShannonB

    What bugs me about this guy is every time I turn on a regular TV show that happens to be about entertainment this is the only music they ever talk about along with the clip of that song that goes baby baby oh baby (are there any other words to that?) I mean if I was watching the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon or something I would understand but I don’t. I’m talking about the today show or the nightly entertainment shows. It’s like Clive Davis is holding a gun to the head of the producers of Access Hollywood because seriously no one cares! I wish they would go around and ask people what they are really listening to and pay some attention to the fact that nobody discovers music thru radio anymore its all about the internet and the blogs and it seems like Beiber sells a lot because the only ones who buy cds are parents who get it to play in the minivan the real music fans are getting it other ways.

    I don’t recall being 12-ish and having the quality music of Stacy-Q dominate shows like Entertainment tonight every single night but hey maybe my memory is faulty.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    No, there doesn’t have to be a monumental struggle. But given the tagline in the movie, I was really curious to know if there was any struggle at all. One where Justin might have had to give up on those big dreams of his.

  • EightE1

    Ubiquity has its detriments, and I’m sure the burnout factor will claim him before his budding maturity does, unless he shows a propensity for some other aspect of the entertainment industry (acting, perhaps, or producing, or hosting). And yes, putting him on Access Hollywood or some show dedicated to adult viewership is indeed firing at the wrong target, but I’m sure there are some kids who watch the shows, too; as any comic will tell you, you’ve got to play to the whole room.

    And as for how we find new music — well, that’s a whole other sandbox. If the record industry could figure that out, we might be seeing Number One debuts on Billboard bigger than 40,000 copies.

    Stacey Q was hot. Disposable pop rarely looked so good.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • EightE1

    Ah, I getcha. Yeah, that’s all manufactured, too.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Bieber is in that catbird seat where what he does need not be good, it just needs to be.

    I commend you though. While I’m sure you’re properly attempting to “infect” him with “the good stuff,” the fact that you will graciously be with your son there will mean more to him than the movie will one day.

  • KingP

    There was a lotta crap on the tube back then too. Only it was our crap. The crap we were familiar with and can wax nostalgic about today, even if we hated it.

    As per Grampa Simpson: “I used to be hip and with it, now what I’m with isn’t it and what’s hip is wierd and scary.”

  • Anonymous

    Rob,

    This is tremendous. A lot of laughs along the way. I chuckled when I saw the multiple references to the “smokin’ hot single mother.”

    That last paragraph though is touching. Hopefully, your boy still thinks it is cool to hang out with Pops in public. From what I’ve gathered from my friends with sons heading into teenage years, you may be teetering on the precipice of being the unhip old man despite your postings on this site that reaffirm that nothing could be further from the truth.

    Paco

  • Anonymous

    Rob,

    This is tremendous. A lot of laughs along the way. I chuckled when I saw the multiple references to the “smokin’ hot single mother.”

    That last paragraph though is touching. Hopefully, your boy still thinks it is cool to hang out with Pops in public. From what I’ve gathered from my friends with sons heading into teenage years, you may be teetering on the precipice of being the unhip old man despite your postings on this site that reaffirm that nothing could be further from the truth.

    Paco

  • EightE1

    Oh, I don’t know, Paco. Instead of goodbye hugs in public, I get two-fingered peace signs and “See ya.” It’s easy to hang with Dad when Dad’s paying for the tickets, the popcorn, and the Icee.

    So here’s one thing I didn’t mention in the piece. I ordered the tickets online, but of course, I had to go to the box office anyway, to get actual tickets (not just my email printout) and the 3-D glasses. We get there 50 minutes before showtime, and there’s a line snaking around the lobby. So I tell D. to get in line, while I get the stuff. He gets in line. I get the stuff. I also get the popcorn and drinks. I’ve left him alone somewhere around 10-12 minutes. I find him in line, and he’s chatting up these two 13-year-olds, one of whom is obviously wearing a push-up bra. They’re exchanging Bieber trivia. He says something to them and they kinda chuckle, all three of them very much at ease with one another.

    And the first thing that comes to my mind is, “There is Smoove D-Smitty, mackin’ on the ladies.” And suddenly, the 40-odd bucks I shelled out for the whole adventure was very much worth it.

    Glad you liked the piece. Thanks for adding to the conversation, man. We gotta talk soon.

  • EightE1

    Oh, I don’t know, Paco. Instead of goodbye hugs in public, I get two-fingered peace signs and “See ya.” It’s easy to hang with Dad when Dad’s paying for the tickets, the popcorn, and the Icee.

    So here’s one thing I didn’t mention in the piece. I ordered the tickets online, but of course, I had to go to the box office anyway, to get actual tickets (not just my email printout) and the 3-D glasses. We get there 50 minutes before showtime, and there’s a line snaking around the lobby. So I tell D. to get in line, while I get the stuff. He gets in line. I get the stuff. I also get the popcorn and drinks. I’ve left him alone somewhere around 10-12 minutes. I find him in line, and he’s chatting up these two 13-year-olds, one of whom is obviously wearing a push-up bra. They’re exchanging Bieber trivia. He says something to them and they kinda chuckle, all three of them very much at ease with one another.

    And the first thing that comes to my mind is, “There is Smoove D-Smitty, mackin’ on the ladies.” And suddenly, the 40-odd bucks I shelled out for the whole adventure was very much worth it.

    Glad you liked the piece. Thanks for adding to the conversation, man. We gotta talk soon.

  • Rocknoggin

    It’s beautiful kids are embracing someone as wholesome as Beiber, but it’s also a sad commentary that this type of sugar-sweet bubblegum is the order of the day. OK, so I can see girls going for this type of candy pop, but I have to question the musical tastes of boys of ANY age going for this. While the girls were clammoring for Teenbeat magazine and screaming for Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, me and all the boys I knew were listening to The Beatles, The Stones–and even the Jackson Five had enough soulful edge for 10-14 year-olds of both genders to enjoy. Beiber and Hanna Montana and anyone else seen on the Disney Channel pretty much represents what a lot of kids listen to and that’s a sad commentary on the musical tastes of today’s youth.

  • EightE1

    I wish I could agree with you, but like I say in the article, there will always be a place for disposable pop, whether it’s “1-2-3 Red Light” or “Rock On” or “Mickey” or “Baby” or any of the other confections of this or any other day. And as was the case with those earlier candy-coated hits, there are plenty of boys who dig Bieber (granted, they’re outnumbered by the girls in the audience, but they’re still out there). So don’t weep for the future quite yet; it’s just a silly phase they’re goin’ through (hey—there’s another disposable pop song).