Becoming-Belieber: Girls' Passionate Encounters with Bieber Culture
Two Beliebers in homemade fan tee shirts.
On sidewalks, in the backseats of cars, and behind bedroom doors, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and many other after-school and unsanctioned spaces of girlhood, young girls across the world are in the throes of a love affair. Some might say that the object of their affection is Justin Bieber, a Canadian pop sensation whose music emerged on the scene in 2009. This affection for Bieber, or “The Biebs” as he is sometimes called, manifests itself in a variety of ways. “I just love pretty much everything about him. He’s cute, he’s awesome, and I just love him so much,” exclaims one girl, approximately eight years old, who waits outside a concert venue in Toronto, clutching a handmade sign that reads, “I [heart] U, Justin: I’ll Be Your ‘Baby’ 4-ever.” At a different concert, thirteen-year-old Ali wears a purple tee shirt covered in intricate puff paint; she spent the week before writing her favorite Bieber song titles in bright neon colors on the front and back. “Being a Belieber is important,” Ali tells me, “because there are people [like Bieber] who when you talk to them or listen to them, they just make you feel happy.”
A constant Twitter stream displays messages of unity and love from fans who call themselves Beliebers. “Why am I Belieber? He never gives up on his fans. He always has faith in us. He believes in us and we believe in him. That’s why,” reads one tweet. “Thumbs up if you have ever cried for Justin or wish he’d just walk into your room and hold you,” reads another. These Beliebers make and use materials and technologies—including signs, posters, clothing, smartphones, and social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—to create ways in which they may passionately engage with the ideas and objects associated with Bieber culture. In this article, I draw on French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s (1987) notion of becoming to consider the ways in which these encounters with people, materials, and technologies are productive, creating space for Beliebers to come into relationship with one another and with popular culture in ways that are new and that I never could have anticipated during my more carefully organized and school-curriculum-driven interactions with girls during my six years as an elementary school teacher. Through my current research into young girls’ after-school fanaticism, I have been able to come to know girls differently than I knew them in schools. I will argue that these after-school girls are engaged in passionate interactions that enable them to experiment with what it might mean to interrelate with other bodies, materials, and ideas to create new and exciting possibilities for themselves.