Last night, teen heart throb/doughy-eyed-hormone-vortex Justin Bieber swept the board at the American Music Awards, taking home four awards, including best male artist of the year. This is bad news. In my mind, Bieber is the musical equivalent of the four horsemen: it is with his coming – and lamentable success – that the final nail is being driven into the coffin of popular culture. I’m not even going to try and remain impartial on this one. In fact, I think that to do so would be criminally dishonest and contrary to the public interest of everybody over the age of sixteen.

One eminent name among ‘la résistance Bieber’ is Greg Leuch, a web developer from New York. Leuch’s downloadable plug in, ‘Shaved Bieber’, blocks all online mention of him from your computer. As you might expect, the Bieber hordes quickly mobilised to face the threat. Leuch has been kind enough to post all of the Belieber’s (they actually call themselves this) empty threats and criticism on his blog. It’s well worth a read.

If, at this point, you’re wondering who Justin Bieber is and why we should fear for the minds of our youngest and most vulnerable, then let me get you up to speed:

  • Bieber is the most Googled person on the planet.
  • 3% of all activity on Twitter is in some way Bieber related.
  • He’s left handed and his favourite cereal is Captain Crunch.

But, whilst it’s all well and good cracking jokes at the expense of someone who has amassed more power and support in his 17 years than I could over the remainder of humanity’s term on Earth, this rampant Bieberism actually raises an interesting issue.

Bieber has an almost singular ability to polarise opinion. You are either a Belieber, or a ‘Beloather’ (I’m seriously considering copyrighting this, by the way). There is no middle ground. The reason for this is that he has been so impeccably shaped and marketed to cater for his captive audience. And it’s this complete lack of authenticity that alienates him from anyone that doesn’t fall into his key demographic.

Bob Terry (as distinct from Robert Terry, the ASK head honcho), author of Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action, defines authentic leadership as:

Knowing, and acting on, what is true and real inside yourself, your team and your organization and knowing and acting on what is true and real in the world. It is not enough to walk one’s talk if one is headed off, or leading one’s organization, community or nation, off a cliff.”

The part of this that is particularly relevant to this post is: “what is true and real inside yourself”. I’d describe this as someone’s strength of character: an integrity that is made clear through their actions, rather than explicitly communicated. It is this quality that so many of these modern popstars lack, because while they’re perfectly marketable, they seem to have no intrinsic substance. Granted, it is possible to tip the balance too far in the other direction (cue joke about Amy Winehouse and intrinsic substance abuse), on some level we all have to maintain a public/professional image, but that public image has to be balanced against, and validated by, an incommunicable sense of ‘self’ that can be registered by others. It may seem paradoxical, but in being too diplomatic, you can run the risk of alienating yourself from the people whose favour you’re trying to garner.

Edit: Oh, and just to drive home my point about fearing for the minds of our “youngest and most vulnerable”, look at Justin reducing this poor three year old to tears.