06/03/2013 15:02 | By Tom Townshend, contributor, MSN Music

Is this the slippery slope for Justin Bieber?

Tom Townshend wonders whether Justin Bieber's bad week is a sign of things to come...


Justin Bieber (© Splash)

Justin Bieber out and about in London

The news of Justin Bieber disappointing fans and angering parents by arriving late on stage for his gig at London’s O2 Arena has a sickening familiarity about it.

In a few years’ time, if the young superstar appears on the front of the world’s tabloids, shaven-headed and attacking a car with an umbrella, we’ll look to the events surrounding his 19th birthday and know that this was where it began.

Because we’ve seen this before, haven’t we? The moment the crack in fame’s façade first appears. And the moment the most recognisable face in the western world begins to show the strain.

It’s a scene in every music biopic or fictionalized account of rock stardom. The singer won’t go on. The singer can’t be found. The singer is incapable of performing (due to a self-sabotaging binge on the vice of their choice). Those charged with maintaining the illusion begin to panic.

They’ve seen it all before too. And they know the train is coming off the tracks sooner or later, and all their pleading, shouting and banging on dressing room doors is in vain.

It’s a cliché because it’s true. Human beings weren’t built to stand the scrutiny of millions of strangers. The price of fame is insanity. An insanity its sufferers fight against with irrational behaviour, destructive bids for freedom, and self-medication. For the lucky ones it’s temporary; rehab’s success stories. But for others it ends in an obituary full of hindsight and déjà vu. We can all name the names. And we all watched it happen.

Is Justin Bieber insane? No, despite his somewhat paranoid conviction that the media are to blame for his current woes. Is he at the stage in the film of his life where shady characters hand him shady substances on which he begins to be dependant? No, despite photographs of the teenager with a suspiciously shaped roll-up pinched between his fingers (he was holding it for a friend, remember). Has the expectation of his fans and the incessant press attention become too much for him to handle? Not yet.

Nothing permanent has happened. Justin – a pop star who, until recently, we’ve known almost nothing about except that he loves his mum and has terrible taste in trousers – has had a bad week.

It’s such a poignantly economical expression of teenage angst

We haven’t seen the statistics but we wouldn’t mind betting that “worst birthday” has become the most retweeted phrase in Twitter’s history. Even those of us who couldn’t hum a bar of Baby if our cat’s life depended on it reached for a sad-face emoticon. It’s such a poignantly economical expression of teenage angst.

Whether we believe the story that The Bieb was refused entry to his own birthday party, at the Cirque du Soir club in Soho, because his gang included the 14-year-old child of Will Smith, or whether we accept Justin’s explanation that the venue’s staff lied to cover up for the fact he was dissatisfied with the facilities and left immediately, what is certainly true is that Justin’s special day did not go according to plan.

And that can’t be something he’s used to, living in the bubble of immense wealth and popularity.

Justin Bieber (© Rex)

Bieber on stage at the O2

JB has since claimed his Eeyore-esque tweet was in response to the way his fans were pushed and shoved by paparazzi, who he referred to as “dummies”. And that may be true. Justin loves his Beliebers and is vocally appreciative of their unconditional, fanatical, soggy cake making adoration. And, like so many who rise to a level of fame where simply sporting a daft hat can result in a front page photo that sells thousands of newspapers, he hates the press.

But being late for a gig is a far more worrisome occurrence than a few scuffles on a night out.

It’s actually very difficult to be late for a gig. You have to really want to be late.

A pop tour on the scale of Bieber’s 2013 outing is run with military precision. It has to be, since it involves so many people, elements and contractually agreed requirements. The only person in a pop star’s entourage who isn’t a compliant, fawning sycophant is the tour manager. Because their job is to make everything happen on time and on budget and nothing, not even the artist themselves, is permitted to get in the way of that. We’re fairly certain that Justin Bieber’s late arrival on stage at the O2 was not in the tour manager’s iPad plan.

It’s significant that Justin’s apology for his delayed appearance makes little attempt to explain it.  

“I was scheduled after 3 opening acts to go on stage at 9:35 not 8:30,” Justin tweeted. “Because of some technical issues I got on at 10:10.”

Audience members reported that he actually came on stage at 10:23 - nearly an hour late, seven minutes before the gig was advertised to end and well past most fans’ bedtime. But it’s not the details that matter, it’s the lack of them.

What are we not being told?

What “technical issues”? And why were they not announced to the crowd? What are we not being told?

Bieber disciples may well leap to his defence but we’re older, if not wiser, than them. All this has happened before and will happen again. We’ve watched other stars stagger down a path that began with professional slackness and public bust-ups, and the journey rarely ended well. It’s a road that currently bears the footprints of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. More will follow.

Maybe we’re overreacting. We hope we are. It’s not like he makes a habit of disappointing his fans. But wilful lateness is an attempt to wrest control of your life when you feel you have none. When your daily existence is owned by everyone else, as Justin Bieber’s is, how can it not drive you crazy? How can it not provoke pop star petulance, tantrums and tardiness? Why wouldn’t such unbearable pressure drive a person to drink and drugs and chaos? When we’re trapped, our instinct is to escape by any means necessary – even if we harm ourselves in the process.

Justin’s bad birthday and curtailed concert may simply be small flaws in the previously perfect sheen of the Bieber machine, but they’ve given us a troubling glimpse of what may be to come.

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