The Buzz

Note to Bieber: take lessons from Bowie and Smith

Categories: Celebrities, Music

Bowie, Bieber, SmithIn this composite image, music icons David Bowie, left, and Patti Smith flank pop sensation Justin Bieber. (Reuters, Getty Images)

It was the week that shall live in infamy... in the minds of Beliebers, at least.

Justin Bieber's performances at London's O2 arena were supposed to cement his status as the world's biggest pop star. Instead, it was one disaster after another: a late appearance leading to disgruntled fans, a near-fainting spell onstage, followed by hospitalization and then a scuffle with the paparazzi.

The Stratford, Ont- singer's camp is staying mum as usual, so we can only speculate as to what really happened to the new 19-year-old. One thing's for sure: the fast pace he's been keeping likely did not help.

The ultimate star of the social media age, Bieber is constantly on overdrive: touring, recording, talking to press, tweeting. It's ALL the time and has been for a few years now.

Meanwhile, in another part of the musical universe with a very different fan demographic, two 66-year-olds have been having a fabulous March so far.

David Bowie's first album in 10 years, The Next Day, is out today, after he stirred up unbelievable anticipation for several weeks with teasing singles and videos. The reviews are almost universally glowing.

Bowie's musical peer, punk godmother Patti Smith, has nothing to complain about either. Her photography exhibit now at Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario has been a stellar success. The accompanying concert sold out in minutes, with tickets resold on Craigslist for close to $1,000 -- prices she couldn't have fetched even in her career heyday of the 1970s.

What do these happening sexagenarians know that might help young Biebs swim into his 20s, 30s and beyond -- and still have a story to tell?

1) Slow and steady wins the race

Bowie waited a decade to release his newest album. Patti Smith told me that one of the best things she did was taking the entire 1980s "off" so she could devote herself to being a mom.

These artists take their time. They show up with new work when they have something to say. They have the confidence to know these absences from the public eye will merely enhance their enigma and allure.

Note: I am aware we're comparing apples and oranges here. Bowie and Smith are artists who have always had unique artistic voices -- both as songwriters and performers -- and cultivated their sound over time. Bieber has a team of pop-geniuses churning out ditties of adolescent love, lust and loss.

But if those around the Biebs -- like his Canadian musical director Dan Kanter -- are to be believed, the young star wants to write more and to develop his voice as an artist and a songwriter.

For that to happen, he may need to take some time to himself. There are only so many songs you can write on the ride between concert arena and hotel, while flanked by your bodyguards. We've already got Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive.

2) When your art is good, people (mostly) move past bad choices and indiscretions

Let's face it: in the '70s, neither Bowie nor Smith were the kind of artist you'd bring home to meet mom. Between the two of them, they did the kinds of drugs Bieber would probably have to Google.

Bowie, in particular, has been open about his substance abuse. Peers have said he consumed "mounds of cocaine" and he himself admitted his drug use could have ended his career.

The reason it didn't was that -- behind the veneer of sex and drugs -- the music was still good. It had lasting power. It not only allowed the Thin White Duke to stay relevant to his audiences, it gave him a reason to clean himself up: so he could continue making music.

This is why we're still talking about Bowie today -- and probably won't be talking about Lindsay Lohan in 2043.

So, if the reasons behind Bieber's recent erratic behaviour are of the controversial variety (too much partying, for instance), this is an important lesson: people will forget your bad moments if your music can stand the test of time. It's your responsibility to ensure it does.

3) Don't let yourself be badgered into overexposure

Who are "they?" They're managers, agents, publicists, perhaps even a parent hawking a new book. They are people on Bieber's payroll who stand to profit from the teen phenom's omnipresence in pop culture.

Ever notice how we don't talk of "them" when we discuss the David Bowies and Patti Smiths of this world? These two also had tour managers, record labels, producers and other parties interested in pushing them to produce as much popular music as quickly as possible.

When I spoke to Smith recently, she dismissed the notion of artists being on a treadmill against which they struggle, helpless. She said she had never felt that way.

"We do have the ability to make our own choices. We have the ability to decide when we're going to tour. We have the ability to decide how much our ticket prices are," Smith told me.

In other words, Bieber - it might be time to "man up." And we don't mean by taking off your shirt in photos. You grow up by proving to all those at Bieber Corp. that there is no Bieber Corp. without the Biebs.

And there'll be no Biebs at all if you burn out.

Tags: career longevity, David Bowie, Justin Bieber, Patti Smith

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