It's not often Justin Bieber makes me think of Meat Loaf. In fact, it's not often Justin Bieber makes me think of anything. But his announcement, via Twitter, that he had "officially retired" put me in mind of something Meat Loaf said when I interviewed him before his retirement from touring earlier this year. I suggested to him that he had retired several times before. "This time," he replied, "they're not going to rope me back in."
As long as you're making money for someone in the music industry, they will always want to rope you back in. I very much hope, for his own sake, Bieber can stay retired, but I'd be very surprised if a young man who fills arenas and sells millions of records isn't going to be roped back in. After some polite interval – I'd give it until 2 January – the feelers will be put out. Hey, Justin, you had a good break? Recharged the batteries? The album's doing just great! You gotta get yourself out there. Have a look at this schedule – six months on the road, big rooms, big grosses. Then maybe back in the studio in the fall? You're gonna be bigger than ever, Justin – and that retirement stunt? It's just made them want you even more! You can't let those kids down, Justin – you gotta give them what they want!
Bieber was signed to a major label when he was 14. You may very well say that he did so of his own free will, and of course he did. But how many 14-year-olds, offered a major label deal, courted by an artist they admired (Usher, in this case) would be likely to say no? When you're promised the world, settling for a Saturday job in the local supermarket can't seem all that attractive an option. We all know about the exemplary record the music industry has in looking after the best interests of those it choses to make stars while they are still children – and I bet the courting of Justin Bieber did not encompass offering him case studies of those who have been taken up, burned out and discarded.
For the past five years, Bieber has had his adolescence – the time when he should be lying in bed late, telling him mum "I didn't ask to be born", and hanging around bus stops with his mates trying to make two cans of beer between four last a whole evening – taken from him. In return he's become very rich – Forbes estimates he made $58m between June 2012 and June 2013 – but he's been turned into a public freakshow.
Bieber's existence has been defined by the existence of the internet, which has been both his singular good fortune and his singular misfortune. The former, because it is what made him a star: it's how he was spotted, and how he gained a fanbase. The latter, because it's what's opened him to so much scorn. Thirty years ago, you'd have been able to read about him only in teenage magazines or see him on TV music and chat shows, and that would have been it. Nowadays, his every move – and especially his every misdeed – is all over the internet in seconds – discussed, mocked, condemned. Is Bieber going off the rails? Is Bieber the world's most obnoxious teen? It is all but impossible not to have an opinion about Bieber, and among all but his fans, those opinions tend to the negative. I'm a 44-year-old man, who couldn't whistle you a bar of Bieber, but I have opinions about him. It's ridiculous – and it makes me pity him.
Look at this year's raft of Bieber-in-new-low stories, which have promped the reams of speculation about whether he's going off the rails, whether there's some dark secret in his life. An alternative reading suggests they show little more sinister than a teenager being a teenager. The only thing that separates what he's done from any other kid is scale – in the number of people who heard about the incidents, the level of condemnation, and the amount of money involved.
So he pissed in a bucket in a restaurant, and said "Fuck Bill Clinton"? Is that any different from my teenage mate who puked in a pub sink, then did a runner, or me at the same age pissing on the handles of posh parked cars, because I could? Or from us defacing Tory election posters? It's a kid being a prat; it's what many kids have always been and many kids will be in future.
So he annoyed his neighbours by speeding around the neighbourhood? There's a reason why teenage boys have the highest insurance premiums, and it tends to be related to their belief that the accelerator pedal exists only to be pressed down fully. The only thing that separates it from the lad at the end of your street is that Bieber was doing it in a Ferrari, rather than a nine-year-old Fiesta with 78,000 miles on the clock.
So his tour bus was searched for weed? And "teenage boy may have smoked weed" is shocking in which parallel universe? His fans may be prepubescent, but Bieber isn't, so why is it surprising when he doesn't behave like a 12-year-old.
We could go on – getting in a spat with a paparazzo? Who, in their heart of hearts, doesn't feel a little sympathy for him there? And if he engaged in some teenage posturing before running off, well, he is a teenager. Writing that he hoped Anne Frank would have been a "Belieber" in the Anne Frank Museum guestbook? How appalling that a teenager might be self-centred and insensitive – I certainly can't recall being a self-absorbed arsehole myself at that age. And 90 minutes late on stage? All those who, as teens, never delayed anyone else just because they could should leave the room now. What? You're all still here.
These are all pretty prattish things to do (and that business with the monkey in Germany? Well, there's no easy way to defend it), but they are not uniquely and appallingly prattish things to have done. No one died. No one was hurt. The worst things that happened were that someone had to clean up some urine, and some children got home later than their parents were happy with. And yet people who have never bothered listening to Justin Bieber find his retirement a matter for celebration. By all means, that's your right. But maybe have a think about what might have driven a kid with the world seemingly at his feet to feel that retiring from music was the best option open to him. And then we should all thank goodness our own lives haven't been subject to such minute scrutiny.
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