A young man wore a band shirt, and the internet got upset. That is about the sum truth of the recent reactions to Justin Bieber wearing band tees by both Metallica and Nirvana. For fans to be protective of their chosen musicians, and the mythical long standing rivalry between rock and pop, are both good reasons why we shouldn’t really be surprised at twitter’s displeasure. But why should something like this cause so many “fans” to be up in arms?
True, Bieber was born only a month before Kurt Cobain’s death. And regardless of his suppositions about Anne Frank(!), it does seem unlikely that Cobain would have been a Bieleber. But oddly enough, I doubt that Kurt Cobain would have been too bothered about it either. Why is it so bad? Nobody cares when I wear a Nirvana shirt. Am I protected by my anonymity, or am I simply a more likely candidate to be a fan of the band?
Justin Bieber may be famed for pop music, and his particular brand may seem like the antithesis of grunge, but is that any reason why he wouldn’t enjoy other genres? Growing up in the backwash of Nirvana’s tragic demise, it’s unlikely that Nevermind at least never reached those lovely ears. If nearly the entire world can sing along to Smells Like Teen Spirit, it seems doubtful that it passed Bieber by, despite his young years. Though to be honest, it doesn’t seem to be that the internet is surprised by Bieber’s choice of artist, more that his pop status somehow precludes his worthiness to associate with an artist like Cobain. One Ben Thompson summed it up via his tweet “Justin Bieber doesn’t have the right to wear a Nirvana shirt.”
So what gives me the right (aside from my right as a consumer to purchase and wear the garments available to me)? Well, I did “discover” Nirvana age 13, through the appropriate medium of an older brother. I played in bands, I listened to acceptable grunge friendly genres like rock and metal. I used to wear too much black eyeliner. My teenage CD collection read like an issue of NME, with Marilyn Manson, The Offspring and Placebo. But I have a confession to make. The first ever CD I bought was… Aqua. It’s true. And I didn’t stop there, I owned 5ive, Madonna, Spice Girls…!
Shockingly, I enjoyed both genres. And it isn’t just me, rock fans the world over are coming to terms with the fact that they enjoy pop music. So why can’t it work the other way? It is a sad fact that the music world is fraught with unfounded prejudice. The days of mods and rockers are gone, yes the origins of genres often grew out of specific cultures and classes – who often were at odds. But surely we should have moved past this by now? For that matter, what’s to say Bieber hasn’t always liked Nirvana? And even if he has only just discovered them, why can’t he where a shirt about it?
Karla Welch, Bieber’s stylist, came to his defence in a recent interview with Esquire. Though you could tell that even she was a little bemused by the need for a “defence”.
“Actually, it’s not the first time he’s worn a Nirvana tee. We just have a nice collection of vintage tees, and then the tee he wore yesterday was actually Jerry Lorenzo’s from Fear of God. Jerry takes vintage tees and re-cuts them. But yeah, of course he’s a fan of Nirvana. I think it’s so funny that all these people are up in arms. I’m sure Kurt Cobain would be like—I mean I can’t speak for him, obviously—but I don’t think he was so snotty or that he would diss anyone who appreciated his music. I think he understood that that is like the antithesis of music appreciation. It’s so funny. But you know, fans are fans!”
Fans are fans, and if you are truly a fan then you should relish the remembrance of your favourite musician. You should want to share their music and everything you love about them. And if you’re still not convinced then there are two entities who support Justin Bieber, who I wouldn’t recommend messing with. Cobain’s widow Courtney Love gave Bieber her blessing via twitter in a message saying “You’re cool in my book @justinbieber xc”. And let’s not forget all those Bielebers. Between Love and an onslaught on teenage girls ready to defend Bieber to the death, I’m not sure which I’d choose.