That special time in young Justin Bieber’s sparkly life seems to have arrived, folks: the time when the superstar teen becomes a man, and proves it to us by publicly undergoing a series of traditional rites of passage. While the following steps must all be performed, the order is not as important as their completeness or the sheer volume of publicity they generate. They include: a breakup with a fellow teen star to be endlessly dissected by tabloids; reports of random bad behavior, also in said tabloids; sexy shirtless photos; a confessional breakup song that hints at the previously mentioned breakup; and a Saturday Night Live hosting gig.
In other words, the Sacred Steps of Timberlakian Transition. All of these are meant to say to the world: Hey, look, I am now done with puberty and legally allowed to do some things and soon legally allowed to do all things and am certainly old enough to stay up past 11 p.m. I am more than a Disney-friendly teen idol!
Bieber, now 18, has checked off all of these traditional stages of bringing his career into adulthood in the last six months. The process seems to be culminating this very week with the release of his Believe: Acoustic album, which includes a buzzy new breakup ballad, “Nothing Like Us,” and his Saturday Night Live stint this weekend. As Bieber checks off his steps to adulthood, it’s hard not to think about that other Justin: Ten years ago, Timberlake cemented his place as a respected musician with his Britney Spears kiss-off anthem “Cry Me a River” and surprised the world by showcasing his deft comedy skills on SNL. A decade later, the man has the world panting for his next album and playing his one new single, “Suit and Tie,” on repeat until then.
How close is Bieber to similar adult-world success, and what does he have to do to nail it? A few thoughts:
Court the tabs’ attention only by courting famous ladies. This isn’t the kind of advice one gives to just anyone, but surely there are a few other nice girls in Hollywood besides ex Selena Gomez who would be up for dating the Biebs. Timberlake surely hasn’t escaped tabloid-dom altogether, but most of his coverage has been because of his history with famous women — not egregious bad behavior. (Movie-star Cameron Diaz, in particular, really bumped up Timberlake’s showbiz stock. Not that we’re advocating using your dates just to get ahead, but …) It’s time to find your Cameron Diaz or Jessica Biel, Mr. Bieber.
Save your abs for some big, artsy, tastefully-buff photo shoot in a classy, major mag. In other words, you do not need to tweet yourself half-naked from the gym. That’s for creepy politicians, not future Timberlakes. A Rolling Stone cover is the traditional forum for this. Timberlake’s 2003 cover was smokin’. We’re a little surprised you didn’t do this for that cover story last year. (“Hot, Ready, Legal” as a coverline perhaps was pushing it far enough, though.) Vanity Fair might be a good alternative — you’re much more mature now than Miley was when she caused all that fuss there a few years back.
Oh, and one more thing: Be awesome. Yeah, this is the tricky part. Your music is definitely maturing, and no one has ever doubted your voice. But “Cry Me a River” was a sonic breakthrough in addition to being gossip fodder; it was an artistic vision solidified in Timberlake’s massive next album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. “Nothing Like Us,” while heartfelt, isn’t quite there yet. And Timberlake can rock Saturday Night Live so effortlessly that many of us still remember where we were when we first heard/saw his “Dick in a Box” sketch with Andy Samberg. No pressure or anything.
The good news: You do that last one, and all that other stuff won’t matter much. Good luck. We’re rooting for you.
Hollywood.com correspondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of two forthcoming books, Sexy Feminism (due out in March) and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (due out in May). For more information visit JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong