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Grace Dent: I could criticise Justin Bieber. But I'd rather not be monstered by his 35 million Twitter followers

Plus: Wasn't that nice of Miriam Clegg's God to sort out a place at one of London's best state schools? And: why home printer ink refills are the new champagne...
  • @gracedent

An almost palpable glee can be felt from British grown-ups right now over pop star Justin Bieber’s ongoing catastrophic British PR drive.

Bieber, no longer that cheeky pop chipmunk with the horizontal hair and undescended balls, is nowadays a lumbering, petulant man-boy displaying levels of brattish conceit which Roald Dahl would tone down in a second draft.

“Worst birthday,” the poor pop-twink harrumphed last week to his 35 million Twitter devotees – the Beliebers. Shortly before, he’d been presented with a very expensive Batman-themed customised motorbike, to sit alongside last year’s $100,000 Fisker Karma sports car.

“Bieber’s Terrible Birthday” – and I can already envision this in paperback in the children’s section, illustrations by Quentin Blake – consisted of a tour of several opulent London venues, most of which Bieber was either asked to leave or flounced from, for a variety of reasons which were NO FAULT of his own. It was the media, the club-owners, the restaurant-owners, the world conspiring to thwart his simple needs.

So I’m not entirely certain who we blame for Bieber traipsing on stage at the O2 on Monday at 10.35pm, two hours late, to perform to an audience of mainly 11-year-old girls at a venue miles from anywhere, which a Belieber could only attend if some poor chump grown-up waited outside in a Volvo until after midnight. But I’ll guess it wasn’t Justin’s.

Maybe big boys tricked him into thinking it was earlier than it was? Maybe a family pet ate his tour schedule? Perhaps his trousers – which he now wears so hysterically low they display the entirety of his underpants – prevented any sudden movements, making his long knock-kneed shuffle to stage a Herculean venture? But why would adults slightly relish a minor Bieber backlash? It’s only pop music.

Sure, being incarcerated over a long drizzling British summer break with a six-year-old intending to play Bieber’s global hit “Baby” upwards of 897 times – occasionally stopping dancing to look one dead in the eye and say, “I need to tell you something… I’ve got the Bieber fever”… – might be vaguely sinister, but I wouldn’t wish the boy harm.

However, I will say that there has been something rather disconcerting about the very modern rise of Bieber, buoyed by his internet army. For a long time now, among writers, the first rule of discussing Justin Bieber has been: Do Not Criticise Justin Bieber. It’s not worth the stress. At the merest hint of a slur, Bieber’s Twitter followers will make one’s life sheer unmitigated hell, submerging one’s inbox and Twitter stream with boggle-eyed abuse, threats of death, reasons why you are a “5uckin Uglee Hore” and other less affable bons mots.

As an adult, I finds this wearisome and a bit worrying. I remember back in 1983 being infatuated by John Taylor from Duran Duran, but I contained my affection to weeping in a back bedroom over a copy of Seven and the Ragged Tiger and at no point upped the ante to threatening to kill Mark Ellen at Smash Hits for mocking my beloved John’s burgundy mullet. My mother was besotted with Frankie Vaughan in the 1950s. At no point did she pen a number of short vitriolic personal messages threatening to rip the face off his fellow fans, unless she’s kept this side to her very quiet.

But the haste in which Bieber fans form twitchfork mobs and turn on each other – demonstrated this week when 15-year-old Courtney Barrasford had a Twitter message to the star retweeted – is quite fascinating. Crucially, there is no set precedent in pop for what the Bieber camp has created. This is a wholly modern tale of pop’s global reach in the age of social networking, spurred on by erratic hormones, major marketing and a largely silent leader who rarely tells his devotees to pipe down.

Bieber’s record company, minders and staff are completely ill-equipped to deal with the trolling and abuse carried out every day on their star’s behalf. In fact, just like Bieber flouncing out of Cirque Du Soir last week, they take no responsibility. So please let me have a little good-natured chuckle at Bieber’s “Worst Birthday”, because I’ve watched this phenomenon growing and there’s not a lot to smile about.

Wasn’t that nice of Miriam Clegg’s God?

Congratulations to Nick Clegg on managing to secure a place for his child at The London Oratory, an exemplary state school delivering education which “at all times serves as a witness to the Catholic faith”. Clegg’s wife Miriam is a Catholic, Clegg is an atheist. Gosh, Miriam’s God certainly smiled down on them the day they filled out those forms. What were the chances – in a city as vast as London and with only 160 places on offer –that Clegg’s child would get a place? Praise be! God is great!

Ok, Clegg’s God isn’t great. He doesn’t believe in God, but let’s not fret about details. The school clearly doesn’t! However, having myself attended a staunch CofE infant and primary school, I do wonder if Nick Clegg has any idea how much biblical wotnot this sort of education hard-wires into tiny minds.

Thirty years later – rarely ever setting foot in a church – my brain is still cluttered with parables, psalms, hymns and a curious urge to make pacts with an omnipotent invisible friend. I can’t do quadratic equations but by Christ can I fashion a Christingle light from just an orange, a candle and some leftover ribbon. If Clegg is planning on biting his tongue in the face of all this Godliness and mumbling, “That’s nice, son”, he may have a harder slog than he thinks.

Printer parties will be the next big thing

Ink refills for home printers are so idiotically expensive these days – a report this week says – that printer ink costs far more drop for drop than the best champagne. Oh, and we’re not imagining that cartridges die quicker than before. The best-selling HP300 has just 5ml of ink, sells for £13 and can print only 200 pages.

Gone are the days when Bollinger and diamonds were the drippings of the mega-rich. These days, I’d be impressed by anyone who invites me over on Saturday night to watch them rattling through a ream of A4 – double-sided, full-colour, high-res.

Twitter: @gracedent