Justin Bieber and the End of Western Culture

As I noted previously, Justin Bieber’s Baby ft. Ludacris is the most watched video on YouTube with over 630 million views—200 million views more than the next most watched video, Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, which I will come back to shortly. The thing is, I really had no idea who Justin Bieber was. I am not exactly on top of pop culture. When I happened to see a few minutes of TMZ, I never know any of the people they feature. If I go to the trouble of finding out who someone is, I am usually disappointed; it doesn’t take much to be a celebrity today (and maybe it never did): being the girlfriend of the sax player of a band that once had a song that dipped into the Top 40 for a week seems more than enough. I knew, however, that Justin Bieber was more than that.

So I decided to listen to this song.

Wait. Really. Just a minute. I need a drink to steady myself.

First things first. When this song was released Bieber was 15 years old. Packaged to look 12. Singing lyrics that are adult in concept, if not in any other way. The verse lyrics? If I had a five-year-old who wrote them, I would encourage him to work on his math skills. The chorus lyrics work better—or at least they would if sung by someone who had to shave more than a couple times a year. “And I was like; Baby, baby, baby no; I’m like baby, baby, baby no; I’m like baby, baby, baby no; I thought you’d always be mine mine.” Could Barry White makes those lines work? Of course. He could make anything work. At the same time, he didn’t depend upon it. Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe is a great song in its own right. And the lyrics are hardly complicated.

It was horrible listening to what sounded like a child sing these lyrics, and prance around provocatively. Is our shame limited to female children who populate our stages and screens behaving inappropriately for their ages? (Not that most people have any shame about that, either.) I understand that 15-year-olds are sexually mature in a biological sense, but they are not in a cultural sense. This is why they can’t drive until they are 16, vote until they are 18, and drink until they are 21. This is why 18-year-olds go to jail for sleeping with 17-year-olds. Is this right? Probably not. But it is the deal we’ve accepted.

All of this is minor.[1] From the first syllable out of Bieber’s mouth, I was assaulted by the worst technological innovation since the atomic bomb: pitch correction. I hear it everywhere. It first came to prominence in Cher’s hit Believe (You know: “Do you believe in love after love?”). The effect on Cher’s voice is pitch correction used at a high level. But it was an effect. It wasn’t being used because Cher (1) couldn’t sing in tune or (2) had a very weak voice that required some help. After that song, the effect became a fad. It finally died away, but afterwards, there was this residue of the stuff. I could always hear this effect used on some (many) singers’ voices. It wasn’t as strong as in the case of Believe, but it was there nonetheless. And then it hit me: these people (e.g. Taylor Swift[2]) couldn’t sing in tune! Why not? That makes the job of record companies much easier: find someone cute who can move. The pitch correction works in real time, so these tone-deaf savants can even perform live. Ladies and gentlemen: Island Records recording artist Justin Bieber!

A couple of notes. The production on the song is first rate. The Ludacris section is quite good. But there are always professionals for hire to do professional work.

Lady Gaga does not, in general, use pitch correction. She can sing. She can dance. But have you noticed: she is not cute.

The end of western culture came some time ago. I just hadn’t noticed.

[1] Andrea points out this is an excellent pun. It never occurred to me, of course.

[2] Have you seen the Taylor Swift Covergirl ads? She does her own talking and not a hint of pitch correction!

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