in praise of justin bieber's all or nothing style
Writer Gemma Sieff has been told she resembles Justin Bieber. But most of all, she enjoys his unrestrained approach to getting dressed.
Photography Jeff Kravitz via Getty Images
Our favorite writers muse on their muses as we bring back the "My i-Con" essay series for the third year in a row.
A couple of years ago, I was on an Internet date with a short, energetic man when conversation sort of ground to a halt. He had already told me about the work he did (branding), the type of bike he rode (a Kestrel), and the niece in his profile pictures. I had told him about the work I did (writing), the type of exercise I did (walking), and the reason I had only one profile picture (pride). He suggested we play a round of celebrity doppelgänger, a game I’d not heard of.
“It’s where you say which celebrity I remind you of, and then I say the celebrity you remind me of,” he said.
This sounded less like a game than fishing for compliments, for which I am always hungry, so I agreed and told him he was a ringer for Tom Cruise. “Everyone always says that,” he said.
“We should all be so lucky.”
“Well, I hope you won’t be offended if I say that who you most remind me of is Justin Bieber.”
Offended? On the contrary. I told him he’d made my night, my month, maybe even my year. That year, 2015, was the year of the Biebs’s Purpose album full of irresistible hits, and I had just discovered the darling fellow’s music.
Did Jeremy, the name of my Internet date as well as, FWIW, Justin Bieber’s father, see in me emanations of Justin thanks to my hairstyle? At the time, I sported what a young friend of mine calls a fuckboi haircut—shaven on the sides, coiffed on top, and in my case bleached the color of hard-boiled egg yolk. Did I seem to be the sort of person who, full of bladder and navigating a barren city block in the dead of night, relieves herself in a yellow mop bucket? Perhaps he thought I possessed the baby-faced voice of an angel, though he had yet to hear me sing. I’ll never know; I quickly changed the subject and signaled for the check, lest he ruin the magic with a deflating explanation.
Before 2015, when I heard the terms “Bieber fever” and “Belieber,” they glided right past me. Justin was just some beige Canadian boy band of one. He was beloved and mocked for his song “Baby”; his album Boyfriend; his brown bowl-cut; his purple hoodie; his off-and-on puppy love for Selena Gomez. It would have been unseemly to have shown much interest in this as it was going on.
At 17, Justin began embroidering his body with an extravagance of tats and became, as it were, a man. The first, on his left hip, was the tiny outline of a bird from a children’s book he read as a boy, “about a seagull who wanted to be more than just a seagull.” The last (to date) took 26 hours over three consecutive days, “the most I've ever tattooed anyone in my 13-year career,” Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy wrote on Instagram, of the architectural columns, angels, and rays of light that darkened the singer’s midsection. In the five-year interim, Bieber’s body has seen too much ink to spill it all here; suffice it to say that he has the word “patience” needled on his neck.
What I like about Bieber’s style is its whole-hog sensibility, and dare I say its sense of humor. Arrested for drag racing a Lamborghini in Miami, he smiled for his mugshot. He attended a Christmas party in balmy West Hollywood in a coyote fur coat with a full hood. In a move the poet Wilfred Owen called “an ecstasy of fumbling / fitting the clumsy helmet just in time,” Bieber wore a gas mask to obscure his identity in the streets of London. Like an eager eight-year-old, he played pickup basketball wearing a full Steph Curry uniform. Holidaying in Bora Bora with a model named Jayde Pierce, Bieber took off all his clothes to enjoy nature, greatly exciting a paparazzo with a very long-range lens. (“what do you feed that thing. #proud daddy,” Jeremy Bieber flatly asked in a since-deleted tweet.) In a segment of “Carpool Karaoke,” Bieber takes the comedian James Corden shopping at an emporium stuffed to the gills with high-priced streetwear. “I wanna make you look sleek but not too over the top,” Bieber says, selecting a pair of heavily distressed jeans and a snakeskin snowboard. Like a crusty hippie, he took off his shoes and socks to feed squirrels on the common in Boston, and with his Purpose tour finally over, a weary, devil-may-care Bieber was spotted shuffling along a sidewalk in Beverly Hills in a pair of soft-bottomed, terry-cloth hotel slippers.
Bieber took the pristine canvas that was his body and scuffed it up. Looking plushly normcore in mesh shorts and non-prescription eyeglasses, $355 Gosha Rubchinskiy x adidas sneakers, a riot of Supreme gear, and/or a white Gucci sweatshirt featuring Donald Duck, he falls somewhere between DGAF and up for it, whatever it is. On tour in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, he slept like a little lamb next to a leathery groupie, who posted a video of his inert form on YouTube and sold her story to a British tabloid (he was well-endowed, which we knew already, and good in bed, which was good news).
And while I’ve never surrendered an exotic pet to German customs agents, nor (to my knowledge) sent the mother of a love interest into mild cardiac arrest at the news that her heir and I might be getting back together, nor proven the intensity of my Christmas spirit by transforming my Mercedes G Wagon into a sleigh decorated with a snowman and a penguin, nor pierced any of my body parts nor doodled on my skin with indelible ink (regrettable red tape around a Jewish cemetery), I do wear my heart on my sleeve as well as a lot of ill-fitting athleisure. Were it not societally scorned, I would probably spend more of my time shirtless. The research I did for this article included texting a fashion-savvy friend to ask what he thought I had in common with Bieber.
You are sometimes blonde and very absent minded.
You are both the size of pocket pets from the 1990s.
You both like drapey hand-me-downs from much larger men (or garments that appear that way).
You both weigh between 89 and 120 pounds depending on your training regimen and degree of despair.
You’re both self-employed colonials.
You’ve probably both been robbed by people living in your houses.
These are all true or true enough. They suggest a totally larkish disposition, so I was astonished to discover, via a skincare tutorial Bieber posted on his Instagram, that unlike me he is a habitual wearer of sunscreen. How grown-up. The Biebs and his trendy pastor Judah Smith have a pact to be “Better at 70,” and lucky for us, he is getting a head start.