Justin Bieber has been having a weird couple of weeks. He apparently had a very bad 19th birthday. Then he was booed by his loyal legions of fans for showing up late to a London concert. Then he fainted backstage at a different show and went to the hospital. Most recently, he canceled a gig in Portugal. These bizarre incidents might add up to the typical Hollywood signs that another of its teen celebrities is on the fast track to disaster. But in a social-media rant to his fans today Bieber insisted that he will survive—not least in part because of his social-media fans. If the cult of Beliebers is in fact a cult, he may be right. And this may have nothing to do with Lindsay Lohan.
The pop star lashed out on Instagram with an emotional statement that garnered even more emotional reaction:
Here's part of the message:
Everyone in my team has been telling me, "keep the press happy" but I'm tired of all the countless lies in the press right now. Saying I'm going to rehab and how my family is disappointed in me. My family is beyond proud, and nothing's been said by them, my grandparents wouldnt know how to reach to press even of they did want to so that was a lie and rehab cmon. if Anyone believes i need rehab thats their own stupidity lol I'm 19 with 5 number one albums, 19 and I've seen the whole world. 19 and I've accomplished more than I could've ever dreamed of, i'm 19 and it must be scary to some people to think that this is just the beginning. I know my talent level and i know i got my head on straight. i know who i am and i know who i'm not My messege is to to believe...
...Letting u know first hand how I feel rather than have these story linger. I'm a good person with a big heart. And don't think I deserve all this negative press I've worked my ass off to get where I am and my hard work doesn't stop here... All this isn't easy. I get angry sometimes. I'm human. I'm gonna make mistakes. In gonna grow and get better from them. But all the love from you guys overcomes the negativity. I love u. Thanks
Per media reports, Bieber originally ended the post differently and included a dig at Lindsay Lohan as a kicker, in which he made a joke about her "tax statements." You can see that post over at TMZ, which takes Lohan's side, insisting that Bieber's Instagram message translates, in TMZ speak, to: "Lindsay's a loser because she doesn't have any money and he does so he's better than her." That's probably true, but it's also true that Bieber says he's afraid of ending up where Lohan is—rock bottom.
But the Lohan dig was ultimately deleted. The message was reposted with the alternate ending: "all the love from you guys overcomes the negativity." And it's a telling edit, even if it was the work of a publicist: Bieber seems to know how to use his millions of followers to insulate himself from bad press. Even without the edit, he addresses his fans directly, "letting u know first hand." Indeed, Bieber seems intensely aware of how tabloid media attention can manipulate celebrity images for good and bad—if only because it's a trait that might run in his generation. In Manohla Dargis' review of Spring Breakers, which stars Bieber's ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez, she notes that in the movie Gomez and crew "have the chance to simulate the behavior that feeds the tabloids without the humiliations and career-crushing price paid by the likes of Lindsay Lohan." Looking back at Vanessa Girgoriadis' landmark 2008 profile of Britney Spears, following her notorious self-destruction, you get the sense that Spears—however much she teased and fraternized with the paparazzi—never knew what all the attention was doing to her. She also seemed to suffer from a debilitatingly bad self-image.
Bieber's biggest crime so far seems to be a rotten case of douchebaggery, rooted in a classic case of celebrity self-centeredness. Only this particular case of self-centeredness is buoyed by unprecedented legions of fans who hang on every word, tweet, and Instagram caption—who have the social-media ammunition to challenge him and his haters. Olivia Wilde recently used the Beliebers' hate aimed at her as a talking point on The Tonight Show, and all she did was tell Bieber to put a shirt on. Bieber relies on these fans—retweeting their support to make himself feel better, manipulating them to get on his side—someone like Spears, whose problems began in the early 2000s, never had a chance to build that base. She first tweeted in 2008. Just look at the responses Bieber got on Instagram:
Throngs of people throw themselves at Justin Bieber. We know this. What not enough people may have considered—perhaps because he's just some 19-year-old pop star—is that Bieber might actually manage to keep himself together because of the too-adoring fans, not in spite of them. Insulation by way of adulation might just be part of a very modern plan; Bieber may have built a cradle of love to shield himself... from himself.
None of which is to say you should feel too bad for him, or that he won't be getting drunk soon enough—we've seen him smoke weed already—or that he'll do particularly loathsome things like wear this hat again.
Or we could be wrong. It could all be a cover for something really bad. But the jerk will probably survive, because the jerk's got Beliebers.