Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Adorno and Horkheimer: Heretics or Beliebers?

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Justin Bieber is a 19-year-old Canadian pop-star. Originally a Youtube sensation, Bieber was discovered in 2008 by Usher and signed to the Raymond Braun Media Group. Bieber has since released three best-selling albums, including My World (2009), Under the Mistletoe, and Believe, and has sold over 15 million copies in total. Bieber has a devoted teen fan base known as “Beliebers,” has over 40 million followers on Twitter and has racked up a number of awards including Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album. “Never Say Never” the Justin Bieber biopic, was released in 2011. He has earned more than $55 million in the last year and was named in 2012 by Forbes as the third-most powerful celebrity in the world. His style is characterized by a pure pop, boyish sound and his lyrics primarily focus on the theme of teen love, or as Rollingstone describes his style: “snuggle-fresh and butterfly-light, luxuriating in R&B bubblegum and first-blush puppy lust.”

Justin Bieber’s music is formulaic and repetitive. It doesn’t take a Belieber to predict the musical structure, style and content of a Bieber tune. “Once the trained ear has heard the first notes of the song, it can guess what is coming and feel flattered when it does come” (42). Listening to “Baby” will certainly flatter the listener (Bieber says ‘Baby’ 56 times in this 3 minute song). Bieber’s songs are not only similar to one another, but highly derivative. He liberally borrows from other pop/R&B artists, most clearly seen in his song “Boyfriend,” which copies N’Sync’s “Girlfriend” in musical structure, lyrics and in cinematography and content of the music video. The songs and videos are so similar they are easily and seamlessly “mashed-up,” as shown below:

This blatant reproduction of the same material demonstrates the “ruthless unity in the culture industry” (41). The music industry “authoritatively subjects [listeners] to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same” (41). By filling radio waves with an unceasing supply of repetitive and derivative music, the music industry maintains social authority by dictating and restricting people’s musical tastes to what is conformist, easy, and uninspiring. Justin Bieber does not challenge his audience, he serves only as a pawn of the music industry in their desire to keep the masses opiated. Bored from work and school, but too tired to spend time understanding and cultivating complex musical taste, Beliebers escape into the fluffy pleasure that is a J.B. song. Listening to a Bieber tune on their iPod on the bus home allows the confused, troubled teenage girl to escape contemplating the challenges of her school work, her family life, her social status. “Pleasure always means not to think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown. Basically it is helplessness” (Blue, 67). The consumption of Bieber’s repetitive music “confirm[s] the world as it is,” repressing any instincts to rebel against the status quo (Blue, 67). Surrendering herself and her own individual thoughts, questions and protests, this teenage girl enters the vicious circle of boredom, temporary distraction and conformity that characterizes the life of a Belieber.

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