Juno recap: In defence of Justin Bieber

Booing Bieber says more about us than it does about him
SPECIAL PRICE APPLIES. Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber photographed in London. EMBARGOED IN ITALY UNTIL 31ST JULY 2012

Well, those were the Junos. Chris Hadfield – remind me, who is he and what has he done? I’ve never heard about him – appeared at a major event yet again. Since just one performance with a backing chorus would be too few, two songs from the night enjoyed choral support. Serena Ryder’s Harmony was nominated for album of the year – just one year after it was nominated for a Juno for best adult alternative album. Robin Thicke, the son of a man with dual citizenship who sang a catchy summer tune with questionable lyrics, was set to perform to some controversy – but he conveniently backed out, citing vocal rest, sucking even that crisis of faith out from the itinerary.  CTV’s own “top moments of Junos 2014” featured this salient line: “No JUNOs is complete without a Jim Cuddy!”

And that’s all you need to really know about an award show that was the expression of a mutual-admiration society (albeit a warm, affectionate, genuine-seeming one) that painted within the lines and hit all the expected Canadian touchstones. With last night’s Junos, time was a flat circle – or, at least, a laser-engraved glassy statuette.

The one moment that did stand out, did so for all the wrong reasons. Justin Bieber’s hordes of fans lifted the bad-boy teen to an expected victory in the Fan Choice category, but when his name was announced by the Olympic gold-medal-winning women’s curling team, it was met by an equal smattering of cheers and boos.

Forget for a minute the easy joke, which is to shake our heads at how un-Canadian this is. What happened here? The world media has snapped up the story, charging Bieber’s home country with finally giving up on the 20-year-old, but the reality is that it’s been probably four full years since the Stratford, Ont. native has registered as a truly Canadian star; his move to the U.S., coupled with the smash sophomore album World 2.0 that launched him into the pop stratosphere, makes him feel like an ex-pat. Four years ago happens to be the last time Bieber made the time of day for the Junos, with this performance of K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag, as part of the Young Artists for Haiti project:

So all that feels like a betrayal, yes, and it might have been nice to reward an artist who was actually in the crowd. (Drake, for what it’s worth, shields himself from these claims by hosting an annual hip-hop festival in Toronto and shouting out his city at every turn.) But it’s likely, too, an indictment by the hoi polloi of how Bieber has embarrassed us with his off-hours antics: he’s been charged with graffiti in Brazil and arrested on a suspected DUI; he’s allegedly egged an L.A. neighbour’s house, and recently turned himself in to Toronto police on charges that he assaulted a limo driver.

It’s not great, and it’s certainly nothing to endorse. But booing, in this instance, amounted to a simpering act of pettiness.

Back in the days of the Ancient Greeks, booing was the right and realm of the audience, but it was in response to performance – a gladiatorial match, a theatrical show. But there was no performance to cast judgment on here, though; what some Juno attendees booed was the announcement that someone they did not care for was recognized for his ability to make his targeted demographic vote for him online. So the booing we heard at the Junos felt of the sort we get in sports: the unbridled, partisan, reason-damning boos by the home crowd of a referee for daring to choose a side that wasn’t theirs.

Unfortunately for them, those are the breaks. Like it or not, being a pop-music artist means being a big personality – that’s just the nature of the beast. Elders would like to believe that their time was better, it’s always been the case. The rock of the 80s were fuelled by drugs and alcohol; the laconic folksters of the 70s were rampantly sexual; Madonna is the ur-figure of this kind of behaviour; even the thrusting Elvis and the Beatles, with their fervour-inducing coifs, were censured, prejudged and hated on thanks in large part to their teeny-bopper fan base. Every era has had their version of foam finger feel-ups and DUI arrests, though the actual signifiers themselves have been different.

Booing a pop singer winning an award tells us that, unable to accept his accept his success, we will instead do all that we can to make him feel bad. Some might claim the booing came from a place of concern, that Bieber needs a shake and a wake-up call. Really, it suggests a frustration with the fact that someone whose personal life is in shambles, whose music can be dismissed as vapid (even though it’s actually gone to more interesting places on his most recent effort, Journals), can be rewarded. That, despite the fact that the best way to make your voice heard, as arts consumers, is still choosing what you wish to consume. 

It’s perfectly normal and well within one’s right to wish Bieber was less of a boor. But booing, that one-dimensional phrase of derision, only tells us that people cannot fathom that someone like that could be rewarded. And that says a lot more about the boo-er than it does about the boor.