TORONTO — Justin Bieber is on a campaign of contrition.
After a few months of unusually serene behaviour from the nearly 21-year-old pop star, an image rehabilitation effort seemed to launch in earnest last week.
On the heels of posing for a Calvin Klein underwear campaign and consenting to endure “The Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber,” the singer made an uncomfortable appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” in which he conceded with humbled posture and tone that he had “done some things that might not have been the greatest.”
He elaborated via a dimly lit smartphone soliloquy later, explaining that for the past year or so he’d come off “arrogant or conceited.” He pledged: “I’m not who I pretended to be.”
The full-court PR press appears to have been carefully co-ordinated, but is it contrived?
“It’s very difficult for Justin Bieber to seem genuine,” opines Roz Weston, a host on Global’s “ET Canada.”
“That video, it could have been genuine. It could be somebody who’s looking to turn their thing around. Or it could be somebody who had a really devastating conversation with their lawyer about a pending court case.”
Either way, it seems the majority of the video’s audience was willing to take Bieber at his word.
According to social media data provided to The Canadian Press by analytics firm Brandwatch, Bieber’s confessional video generated 10 times more positive mentions than negative.
In the day following the video, the company found that the hashtag #WeDontJudgeYouJustin generated more than 27,600 tweets and retweets (and nearly 100 million impressions). Overall, 69 per cent of Bieber mentions on Twitter came from women.
“He came across to fans as genuine and sincere, and at least on social media, his fans rallied around him,” said Brandwatch company spokeswoman Dinah Alobeid.
One in five active monthly Twitter users follows Bieber, according to numbers supplied by analytics firm Next Big Sound, whose data informs the Billboard Social 50. Bieber’s is the second most-followed account on the social networking platform, just behind Katy Perry. But Next Big Sound’s numbers show his engagement level trumps hers. He averaged roughly 55,000 retweets per tweet in December, for instance. Perry managed around 6,800.
And on Instagram, Bieber’s posts average roughly twice as many likes as Perry’s, Next Big Sound account manager Jay Troop said in a telephone interview.
Even as his public image was deteriorating, Bieber’s audience was growing. Troop’s numbers show Bieber’s engagement levels roughly doubled from December 2012 to December 2014.
“Despite not having quite the same tempo of releases of some of the other artists that share his place right at the top of social media, he’s kind of more influential than ever there — and still growing,” Troop said.
So if Bieber’s core fans remain staunchly loyal, the people he wants to win over, perhaps, are the rest of us.
“The roast and video and everything else on ‘Ellen,’ that was not for fans. That’s for everybody else,” says Weston.
“What he has left is that core fanbase, and when it comes to his music, they’re the people that spend money. (But) nobody else is spending money on Justin Bieber except Justin Bieber superfans.”
Bieber is working furiously on a new album, which he hopes will be out this year, says his musical director, Toronto-based Dan Kanter.
He went all of 2014 without releasing a single, and his last widely heard artistic statement — 2012’s platinum “Believe” — was released only months after his 18th birthday. The record felt more transitional than transformational.
Bieber is in the studio “24/7,” testifies Kanter, and the young singer’s priorities are now straight.
“I know Justin like a brother,” Kanter says. “People forget that Justin is first and foremost a musician. He plays guitar, piano and drums. He’s an absolutely exceptional songwriter. Right now, he’s really in the right direction because he’s focusing all his attention on music. There’s nothing he cares about more than making music and sharing that music with his Beliebers.”
Kanter is one of a few seemingly steadying voices in Bieber’s life. If Bieber has seemed like he was heeding no one’s advice, well, the recent apology could be an indication that that’s changed.
“The fault with Justin Bieber has always been two things: one, he has really terrible people around him; and two, Justin Bieber has never looked at adults as anything other than a source of income,” says Weston.
“I’ve never met someone at a young age who had less respect for the adults around them, whether it be managers, producers, whoever it is. Even back when he was very young, Justin Bieber has always been the boss. (And) maybe he’s becoming an adult and he’s seeing that his place in the world isn’t where he thought it was.”