NORMAN — He played to more than 50,000 fans twice in one weekend — in the same building. He sold out Madison Square Garden in a day. There was such madness for his concerts in Australia that some wanted him deported.
Girls screamed with every smile. Fans trampled one another to get near him. He sold millions of albums. You couldn’t go anywhere in America and not see his face.
Justin Bieber ... was not his name.
His name was David Cassidy. He once fronted a TV band called the Partridge Family, he was a decent singer with some decent talent and he constantly wanted to be taken more seriously, even though at one brief point in the 1970s, he was arguably the biggest solo act in the nation.
He wound up, as the years passed, in musical theater, milking his dwindling fame overseas, writing autobiographies about being a teenage star and, more recently, doing a stint in rehab. And he’s one of the success stories.
So you’ll forgive us if we merely sigh at Justin Bieber and his current delight in acting like, as the Brits might say, a prat — or as TMZ recently chided, “an oblivious, self-important little twit.”
In case you’ve missed it — and why wouldn’t you? — Bieber, the Canadian teen heartthrob, who is all of 19, has been on a tear of bad behavior. In the last several months, he has thrown F-bombs while threatening photographers, been two hours late for a concert, signed the guestbook at Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam with “hopefully she would have been a Belieber,” skipped out on a $1,600 bill at a Las Vegas amusement and urinated into a restaurant mop bucket, then cursed out former president Bill Clinton.
This, on top of reckless driving in his Ferrari and a small meltdown at the recent Billboard Music Awards, where he was booed after being given a major honor.
“Basically, from my heart, I really just want to say, it should really be about the music,” he complained at that event. “It should be about the craft that I’m making, and … this is not a gimmick. This is not a gimmick. I’m an artist, and I should be taken seriously. All this other bull should not be spoken of.”
I can’t tell you what “bull” he was referring to, unless it’s his own. But I can tell you this: His cry for being taken more seriously has an echo over the years, through acts like Frankie Avalon, the Monkees, Vanilla Ice, Menudo, New Kids on the Block and the Jonas Brothers.
And in the end, none of it mattered. Gravity took over.
Because what most of those performers didn’t understand — and I don’t think Bieber does, either — is that the hysteria isn’t really about them.
It’s about being a teenager.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.