Justin Bieber was in town Tuesday, promoting the soon-to-be-released movie about his life—all sixteen years of it. There was a press conference yesterday afternoon in the ballroom at the Royal York Hotel. Torontoist was invited, of course.
The ballroom at the Royal York would be a pretty lavish backdrop for a state dinner, let alone a publicity stunt. There are painted ceilings in there, and chandeliers. The dour, stylishly dressed writer seated next to us theorized that Bieber’s handlers had simply over-prepared, in case of an unexpectedly large turnout. But Bieber is famous on such a galactic scale, at the moment, that his publicists probably could have pulled the same or better number of media outlets if they’d held the presser in a public washroom.
Though even the public washrooms at the Royal York are really nice.
Bieber was late, and the assembled crowd of journalists began to get restless. A paper placard with his name on it was perched (somewhat needlessly, what with the galactic fame) on top of a red-velvet-fringed table on a dais at the head of the room. A reporter for TVO Kids was the first to succumb to the temptation to get her picture taken with the placard, which would have been maybe a slight breach of decorum had she not been ten years old. Then Steve Murray from the Post did the same, but he’s a satirist, and so not always taking himself seriously is kind of his job. Then half-a-dozen other reporters, none of them children or satirists, did likewise.
So yes: Even Justin Bieber’s name, printed on a folded piece of paper, has more personal charisma than most of humanity.
The first indication that His Biebness had entered the building was the arrival of his security retinue: a cadre of men built like refrigerators, wearing suits and Secret-Service-style earpieces. (They might have been employed by the hotel.)
Then, almost forty-five minutes after the scheduled start of the presser, Justin Bieber took his seat on the dais, alongside a few members of his entourage (his security guy, his stylist) and Jon Chu, who directed the Bieber movie.
Up close, the first thing that impresses itself upon one about Bieber is how small and very authentically kidlike he is. Next to the full-grown adults on the dais, he looked like a doll. And yet he had a way of taking control of the entire situation.
“Hey, where my fans at?” said Bieber. “We have so much room in here. Why don’t we bring them in here? Yeah, yeah, yeah. That makes more sense.”
Perhaps twenty adolescent girls filed in from the hallway and took some of the seats that weren’t occupied by members of the press.
“I’m not really good at press conferences,” he continued. “I’m not really sure how this works. If you guys could inform me how this works, that would be great.”
Fans react to Bieber’s answers during the Q-and-A session.
CTV’s Richard Crouse, who was moderating the press conference, asked Bieber when it first dawned on him that he was “really famous.”
“Um, I don’t know. I still don’t really notice it. I’m still just, like, a regular teenage boy,” said the guy with a security detail and, now, a personal cheering section of twelve-to-fourteen-year-old girls. “And I mean, my fans have been here since day one, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
The twenty girls let up a unison “Woo!”
Crouse asked if Bieber still cleans his room. “I do clean my room,” said Bieber. At another point, he spoke about living in geared-to-income housing in Stratford. But that was years ago. Like, at least two.
Bieber had a way of projecting an appealing humility. It may have been false, but the point is that he knows he needs that image—knows that it’s a defence against backlash and a key component of his appeal to the core Bieber demographic.
And he seems to know his demographic.
Talking about the movie, he said to the assembled reporters: “Some of you are probably a little surprised you liked it, right? Be honest.”
Then he singled out the dour, stylish writer sitting next to us. It was as though he’d read the room already, and had picked out the one person most likely to be hostile to the project.
“You liked it, right?” asked Bieber.
“Yeah, I enjoyed it,” said the writer.
Bieber cut him off: “You enjoyed it. It’s a good movie whether you like me or you hate me.”
Twenty minutes into the conference Bieber interrupted a lineup of journalists waiting at a microphone for their turns to ask him questions, and gave the cheering section a chance to pose one of their own. He called on a girl. She took the mic and laid out her query: “Will you marry me?”
“We get that question at least once a day,” said Bieber. “The answer is: never say never.”
Never Say Never is the title of the movie. And so in one breath he’d reassured a fan that he wasn’t beyond her reach, romantically—that he was just an ordinary teenage guy—and had also plugged the 3D theatrical extravaganza that he stars in.
The conundrum of Bieber’s fame is that, to keep it, he has to be at least nominally ordinary, otherwise the legions of fans who’ve turned him into the hottest shit on all the internets might no longer consider him boyfriend material. He needs to oscillate between extremes of celebrity and banality so quickly that all we see is a blur. The fact that he was able to do this in a room stacked with skeptical adults made him seem uncommonly smart.
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