Much like the average 17-year-old, Justin Bieber finds himself at a critical juncture. Although he's reigned as king of bubble gum pop for the past three years, usurping three brothers in a coup not without its parallels to viking mythology, he must now make a decision. Shall he continue onwards as a highly polished, squeaky clean star, risking loss of interest as his audience ages, or shall he follow in the path of another Justin Timberlake and forge forward in an edgy direction that retains a link to his past? This is Justin Bieber, a combination documentary and music film that will air on TLC Wed., Dec. 21, seems to focus so much on what the image of Bieber is right now that it overlooks his future path, and even the subject himself really isn't the focus of the film, although it does show that for all the vitriol spat at the lad, he does have true talent in his core.
The special can't seem to decide if it wants to be a filmed concert or a documentary about Bieber's trek to date, splitting itself between polished performances and a brief history stitched together from archival footage. The documentary focuses on Bieber's discovery through his manager finding his clip on Youtube. Quickly, the films progresses from showing a three-year-old Biebs being already quite adept on the drums to him stepping out onto the stage of a packed stadium.
But, the documentary pieces continually point out what we already know. There are dozens of shots of Bieber's adoring fans, how he has to be helicoptered to performances and how he has sold millions of records--but, we don't need convincing that Bieber is famous. We already know that he's one of the world's most recognized figures.
With every stadium shot, we lose the chance to sit down with Biebs one-on-one and see what he really thinks. Certainly, the star's life is most exceptional, so hearing what he thinks would be a new experience to almost any one of us. But, instead of allowing us to get inside Bieber's tousled tuft, the camera pushes us away with long range shots, and somewhat disturbingly, almost beatifies Bieber. He urges his adoring fans to "never give up on your dreams." But, Bieber's story isn't one presented as a long term struggle met with end success, but rather as a rampaging juggernaut of fame.
But, even such a story has its potential. Just as an unfettered interview with Erik the Red would be a fascinating look into the man who ravaged Scandanavia leading to enormous riches with little opposition would be inimitable, a chance to sit down with Bieber and ask what is like to have always been famous would be priceless (as well as an opportunity to learn from the past and avoid the mistakes of other young music stars). But, just when Biebs is handed an acoustic guitar and strums a note, the camera cuts to his thousands of fansā?¦
However, while the film fails to paint a picture of Bieber, it does an excellent job of illustrating why he has been able to rise above the ranks. The live music portion features the star performing mostly contemporary cuts of classic Christmas tunes. "The Little Drummer Boy" starts with a classic choppy take only to break into a hip hop break. "Mistletoe" blends pop-reggae with neo-soul. To Bieber's credit, his voice is clear, able to fly up and down the scale with seeming little effort. As he gets older, he is also developing the lower end which is so essential to R and B.
As he continues through his performance, though, the choice he has to make becomes increasingly prominent. While the stock videos show a cute kid with just a touch of baby fat, the live 17-year-old Bieber is taller, more slender and more "handsome" than "cute." Even his dance moves seem to be influenced by the innovations of the king of pop and Justin Timberlake's take on the legend. While he is growing, the songs on this set, while adequately performed, don't suggest the thoughts and growth going through the mind of a 17-year-old, famous or not.
Bieber has literally months to decide what he's going to do with the rest of his career. If he misses the jump to the next level, he will not get another chance. Yet, it's possible he could jump and miss. He has the technical talent, as exhibited by his ability to mix dancing with fairly advanced singing techniques with ease.
The Ragnarok that all child stars face is rapidly coming down on the blonde wunderkind, and indecision is not a choice when the ice giants of adulthood are kicking down the gate. But, despite the layers of gloss in This is Justin Bieber, a few times the personality of Biebs does shine though, such as when he cops a phony English accent to rag on his U.K. host. Perhaps, Bieber isn't so much pausing as he is allowing the blades of fate to bring themselves to him before he strikes...