HitFix's experts weigh in on the teen star's future and his need for an older audience
Justin Bieber has yet another concert documentary on the way, as it was announced over the weekend that new "Believe" will be shopped during the Toronto Film Festival later this month.
"Believe" -- titled after Bieber's platinum-selling album -- will be released by Open Road Films, on the heels of highly successful "Never Say Never" documentary from 2011. Director Jon M. Chu, who also shot "Never Say Never" will helm "Believe."
Below, three HitFix entertainment experts Melinda Newman, Gregory Ellwood and Katie Hasty sound off on three questions on Bieber and the doc. Will you be seeing "Believe" when it hits theaters? Sound off by voting in the poll below.
1. Is there still an audience for a Justin Bieber concert doc?
Melinda Newman: Absolutely. The Biebs has 44 million Twitter followers, more than any other creature in the Twitterverse. Even if only a tiny portion of the Beliebers show up for opening weekend, “Believe” will be a success. They haven't all switched their loyalties to One Direction. His 2010 doc, “Never Say Never,” just missed joining the $100 million club. Bieber’s appeal has waned, but his 15 minutes aren’t over yet. The bigger question is how will this doc advance the story from “Never Said Never” since the same director, Jon M. Chu, seems to be tracing much of the same territory in the concert/behind-the-scenes doc.
Gregory Ellwood: Depending on the budget, maybe? It's notable Paramount, who produced "Never Say Never," is not behind "Believe." Sure, they were burned with the "Katy Perry 3D: Part of Me," but "Never Say Never" made $73 million. Why wouldn't they jump at the chance for a sequel? Instead, mini-major Open Road will release in the U.S. Not a major studio, but Open Road. The industry and Bieber fans should have much lower expectations this time around.
Katie Hasty: Yes. There are still so many fans who want to see Justin Bieber graduate from teen idol to grown-up pop star, and this concert doc may be the message and the vantage point they’ll happily push, even if it’s the last time. During this “Believe” tour and promoting his album, Bieber tried very (very) hard to showcase the kind of dancer he can be, jumped behind different instruments and guested with a variety of artists who could amplify his talents as a star any pop lover could embrace. Fans would rather have a new album, but as a performer, this doc could be an easy stop-gap measure. Y’know, like an acoustic album.
2. Is this part of a concentrated effort to deal with Bieber backlash?
Newman: No doubt, but it’s a misguided one. Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, believes there’s a “witch hunt” going on against Bieber. That notion seems a bit reductive and paranoid: There have always been backlashes to teen idols and their haircuts and Bieber is no exception, but it’s hard to believe that people are actually gunning for the young star. Still, there’s no denying that Bieber’s star seems to have dimmed lately, but it’s hard to tell if that’s because he’s between album cycles or his era is coming to an end. The bigger point is that films of this kind are for the die-hard fans— they aren’t meant to make new converts— so with the “Believe” tour having recently concluded (and grossing $94 million, by the way), there was probably no shortage of footage to get out there and to help build the story for the next album, and chapter, of Bieber’s career.
Ellwood: Absolutely. And it's way to obvious a move. Bieber is on the verge of entering Chris Brown territory with the gossip rags. He can't escape controversy and unlike contemporaries Miley Cyrus, Demi Lomato and ex Selena Gomez his fan base may be starting to lose interest. An artist controlled "documentary" will allow Bieber and his management to try and refocus his image on his music and not his personal life. At this point, however, it may just be too late.
Hasty: Totally. Bieber, a 19-year-old, has gotten guff for essentially acting like a 19-year-old kid. Which, let’s be honest, is still fairly insufferable and threatens to worsen with each Grammy snub, each tabloid headline and each paparazzi scuffle. The best revenge is living well, and in Bieber’s case, performing well: if he shows up in his film and at premieres like a professional who keeps his nose clean, it could help his imaging as he transitions into his 20-somethings.
3. Two years ago many were saying that Bieber would be around for the long run. Do you still believe that?
Newman: No, simply because the shelf life for any teen idol is depressingly short and we can count on two hands those who have made the transition to adult artist (including Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson). It’s hard to tell if his latest antics have simply been growing pains or if he’s committing self sabotage and he's ready to move on. Regardless, Braun keeps referring to Bieber’s next song cycle as “music journal” and that the release plan will be different than for a traditional album. Much more than how the new project is delivered, the music for the next album will show whether there is a game plan beyond teen idol for the 19-year old Bieber.
Ellwood: Looking like a "no." Bieber may have had some crossover success with "Boyfriend" and "Beauty and the Beat" (meaning: people over 18 bought it or thought it was cool enough to dance to), but 2013 has been a PR disaster. Oh, and did we mention the "Believe" album sold less than his Christmas album the year before? If he can't dominate the charts like he did previously, the fall may come very, very fast.
Hasty: Justin Bieber needs to tread lightly. It won’t be his talent that holds him back, but his responses to criticism and to fame. People aren’t sending your singles to No. 1? Make a better single. Haters booing you at an awards show? Thank your fans and win the rest over at a later date. You’re getting wasted on your weekends and racing your car? Don’t let people see you, and dial it back. Fame means giving up on a childhood or burning out on the thing that brought fame to begin with. Bieber can play the long game if he earns it beyond having a couple of hit records when he had every privilege as a youngster, the new kid, dance chops and a pretty face.