It’s not sex, it’s “swagger”

bieber.jpgThe cover story of this weekend’s New York Times Style Section was a profile of Justin Bieber, the fifteen-year-old Youtube pop sensation who had four Billboard top-100 hits in 2009. The article focuses on his relationship with his single mother, and also with the unique challenges of being an international pop sensation before you’re old enough to have a learner’s permit. It covers his mentor-mentee relationship with R & B singer Usher, as well as with his image management team, which includes a “swagger coach.” But it also focuses quite heavily on the reactions Bieber inspires in his young female fans.
His hordes of female fans, some of them as young as ten, are described by the Times reporter as pouncing, shrieking “screamers,” and while their support is clearly crucial to Bieber’s success, their high-pitched omnipresence is depicted as a major challenge for the young star and his mother. On stage, Bieber is described as strutting, sauntering and smirking, and when he sprays a bottle of water on a crowd of screaming audience members, the reporter calls it a “rockstar move.”

I’ll be the first to admit that a crowd of shrieking pubescent girls
is annoying (though frankly, it’s only slightly more annoying than
Bieber’s music). But the article seems to imply that Bieber’s fans and
their high-pitched obsessive fandom are alarming, or even threatening.
Their harmless crushes on a pop star merit the kinds of words usually
reserved for cougars and other threatening forms of female sexuality.
“Pounced?” Come on.

Bieber, on the other hand, can strut and saunter as much as he
pleases. This is simply described as “living the tween idol dream,” of
which a horde of screaming fans is clearly a crucial component.
Bieber’s budding sexuality isn’t threatening; it’s simply a part of his

If we turn the equation around and make the pop sensation a young
woman, female sexuality is still a threat; witness the furor around
then-fifteen-year-old Miley Cyrus’ Vanity Fair cover shoot, in which she appeared, wrapped in a bedsheet, revealing an entire shoulder.

So the lesson here is that female sexuality, whether you’re
“screamer” or a starlet, is always cause for alarm. But if you’re a
budding male pop star, then Usher, the man whose most popular song is
about knocking up his mistress, is a totally appropriate role model.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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