It’s been a busy few weeks for Justin Bieber.
His pet monkey was quarantined in Germany, he attacked a photographer, got kicked out of a Paris hotel and rolled up two hours late for his opening night at the London O2, leaving thousands of “Beliebers” to stagger home at midnight on a school night.
All in all, that’s pretty standard stuff for a pop star coping with adulation and adolescence. Teen idols, after all, occupy an entirely different universe. Shenanigans are in the script and colossal egos make them the entertainers they are. Stay tuned to see Justin shave his head, smoke a tropical cigarette and book into rehab.
But in the eyes of many, this once wholesome starlet has transformed from Cliff Richard to Keith Richards in under a year. Now, it seems, he can’t do good for doing bad.
The 19-year-old’s latest blunder took place in the unlikely setting of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam last Friday. After touring the museum for an hour, he wrote in the guestbook that he hoped the Jewish teenager (who died in 1945 at Bergen-Belsen, aged 15, from typhus and malnutrition after hiding from the Nazis with her family for two years) “would have been a Belieber” – a fan of his.
Cue the collective Twitter cringe.
Yes, it was a crass, silly, self-obsessed thing to write. Using Anne Frank’s memorial book to self-promote requires a rare brand of teenage arrogance. And yes, Justin probably deserves much of the stick he’s getting on Twitter (“Justin Bieber also believes Primo Levi would have really enjoyed ‘One Less Lonely Girl’… thanks @Jeffrey Goldberg).
Justin’s words may not have been particularly inspiring or sympathetic, but they certainly weren’t malicious. They were simply the clumsy thoughts of a young man lacking the eloquence to write or sing anything more profound than, “Baby, baby, baby, oh, like baby, baby, baby.”
Thanks to his 37 million devoted Twitter followers (he recently overtook Lady Gaga as the site’s most popular user), Justin has unintentionally become the best thing to happen to Holocaust awareness since Schindler’s List. Thanks to a self-centered teenager’s inane comment, 37,569,749 young people around the world are learning a little about the life of Anne Frank – a true teen idol if there ever was one. (Bieber’s Twitter following has increased by more than 10,000 in the hour I’ve been writing this).
Had she been born at the turn of this century, Anne may well have been a Belieber. She was certainly a pop culture fan, (“I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free”). Last month, aged 84, she may have been seen hurrying with her grandchildren to catch the last Jubilee Line train from the 02, thanks to Justin’s rock ‘n’ roll tardiness.
Sadly, all we are left with is her diary, which stands as a testament to what youthful spirit can overcome.
Perhaps, thanks to their hero’s silly words, a handful of Beliebers will download her diary and begin to appreciate how only time and good fortune separates them from Anne’s fate.
We’ll never know what Anne Frank would have thought of Justin Bieber. But today, 68 years after her death, young people are clearly still profoundly touched by her story – however ineloquently they express it.