If you use the internet, you've seen the above photo this week. For context: the humans pictured are Stratford, ON-born Prime Minister of Pop Justin Bieber (left), dressed like a hip-hop version of an Oakie farmhand, and actual, literal Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right), dressed like a bread-faced conservative any-dad in a freshly pressed International Clothiers suit. The two met on the occasion of Bieber's receiving the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
The photo crackles with all the uncomfortable mock geniality of the famous scene of Nixon meeting Elvis, except even more benign in that drained, sadly Canadian way. And also probably nowhere near as historically significant, unless Harper goes absolutely insane and kickstarts a nuclear weapons program and becomes a famous historical tyrant, or if the two cut a novelty single together. Nonetheless, Bieber's dressed-down, don't-give-a-frig-chic style was enough to cause a micro-stir on the web, with Entertainment Weekly even declaring it "the last straw." Really? Wearing half-undone overalls is "the last straw" for a corporately tooled pop confection whose beaming boy wonder mythos was propagated by a 3D concert movie/biopic called Never Say Never?
Bieber took a bit of a beating from people thick enough to expect more (i.e. anything) from him. For his part, he defended his wardrobe saying that the photo-op was arranged at the hockey arena where he was rehearsing, meaning the Primer Minister of Canada had to schedule his time around trekking down to the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa to teenaged Justin Bieber's schedule, giving a pretty good sense of the relative value of their time. But here's the thing: it's also hilarious.
Bieber is 18. If he's like most other small-town Ontario teenagers-which obviously he is not, having been hawked into the media circus like at age 13-he's probably up to his eyeballs in adolescent disdain for authority. While most kids his age were listening to pop-punk and running safety pins through photos of George W. Bush (is that still a thing?), Bieber was riding around on prop BMX bikes singing about neutered cutesy relationships with imaginary teenage girls, and dating super models. When kids his age were fashioning ad hoc bongs out of apple cores and hollowed-out Bic pens, Justin Bieber was sitting on expensive motorcycles for GQ photo shoots and singing songs with Ludacris.
This isn't to say anyone should feel bad for Justin Bieber, who is a zillionaire über-teen. (Though it was kind of dumb when he got booed at the Grey Cup, a gig well beneath his degree of celebrity, likely taken only out of something halfway-noble like national pride.) The point is that when Justin Bieber gets a chance to stick it to Stephen Harper in his own aww-shucks, "lol wut?" way, we should take a second to appreciate it for what it is: a troll. And a pretty good one, too.
As if the wispy smile creaking across Harper's face isn't enough to signify it, it's easy to imagine steam shooting out of the PM's ears, absolutely baffled at the teen icon's contempt for standards of dress and circumstance during a medal-exchange ceremony. This contempt reveals something sly, stupid, and kind of funny about Bieber, whose actual persona is so focus-grouped as to be wholly elusive.
Like the guy in that Rush song "New World Man"-has Rush ever received a Diamond Jubilee Medal?-Bieber's old enough to know what's right but young enough not to choose it. For that, we should all tip our fitted backwards caps to him. Now just hurry up and slouch into your mid-20s in some reverse-ugly duckling way then reinvent yourself as a throaty Edwin-style alt rock singer, Justin Bieber.