The Justin Bieber brand hasn’t grown up nearly as gracefully as the Miley Cyrus brand, the Taylor Swift brand, or the Justin Timberlake brand. While those stars have successfully navigated their way from teen sensation to legitimate pop star, Bieber has struggled to gain respect and credibility.
How do teen idols evolve?
Miley Cyrus did it by being safely dangerous. She appeared in suggestive photo shoots, but stopped short of pornography. She smoked pot, but was never caught with hard drugs. She took nude selfies, but did so in the name of the Free The Nipple equality movement.
Justin Timberlake did it by showing off his mature versatility. After Nsyc, he had a string of solo hits. Then he showcased his singing, dancing, and acting on Saturday Night Live, earned some major acting roles, and teamed up with artists like JayZ to reinforce his credibility.
Taylor Swift evolved from teen star to pop culture phenom through transparency. Because she wrote personal songs about her experiences, he fans felt like they watched her grow up, start dating, enter serious relationships, and feel the heartbreaks when they failed. She remained very wholesome and true to her brand through the evolution.
But Justin Bieber has stumbled repeatedly.
Instead of the “safe danger” of Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber has been arrested for drunk driving and drag racing. His home was raided and police seized cocaine.
Instead of the true entertainer that Timberlake has become, Bieber has yet to score any respect for his talent beyond being a teen idol.
And instead of offering fans the transparency of Taylor Swift, Bieber spends plenty of time denying allegations. The drugs weren’t his. Bad milk made him vomit on stage. He wasn’t drunk while drag racing. And instead of being human and real, Bieber has done strange things like travel with a pet monkey and wear a gas mask shopping.
But perhaps Justin Bieber is about to turn a corner.
March 7 he’ll appear as the guest of (dis)honor at a Comedy Central Roast. Previous roastees include James Franco, David Hasselhoff, William Shatner, and Bob Saget. They have also roasted troubled celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Pamela Anderson.
By appearing on a Comedy Central Roast, Justin Bieber is now being mentioned in the same breath as these established celebrities, as opposed to being lumped in with other teen stars. He is going to be given an opportunity to laugh at his missteps and be laughed at for them. He will have a chance to come face-to-face with his own public image, and possibly through humor grow beyond it.
Once people develop a set of opinions about a brand, overcoming them can be nearly impossible. But as Miley, Timberlake, and Swift have proven, it can be done.
Whether Justin Bieber can use the Comedy Central Roast as a catalyst to growing his brand remains to be seen.
But it is a positive step in the right direction.
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