Justin Bieber giveth, and Justin Bieber taketh away.
He gives us Purpose, a legitimately great pop album full of adventurous orchestration, earworm hooks, and, in a first for the menacing moppet, actual artistry. “Hey, I like Justin Bieber,” we all start to whisper, until enough join in that we feel safe to actually state it at an audible volume. Or at least make it official on Twitter.
Then he gives us…well, he gives us Justin Bieber. He keeps posting self-aggrandizing photos of himself in underwear, most recently grabbing his Lil’ Bieber—actually, not-so-Lil’ Bieber—in one. He gets that asinine dreadlocks hairstyle. He performed with all the energy of someone sleepwalking on Ambien at a recent awards show.
And he gets into a fistfight outside of a hotel.
In a new TMZ video released Thursday, Bieber is filmed in what the site describes as “an all-out street brawl with a guy much bigger than him” while in Cleveland Wednesday night. The video is grainy but it looks like “the guy” instigates things by sort of slap-punching the side of Bieber’s head. In response, Bieber explodes with the fervor of a wind-up toy that’s just been unleashed.
Who won the fight? Bieber’s bouncers intervened before it got that far, though TMZ rules that “Justin held his own, though he ended up on the bottom of the pile.”
It’s too early still to figure out how the incident is playing out in the greater Bieber narrative in the press—whether it’s being ruled another cautionary tale in the possible meltdown of a pop star behaving badly, or merely a “LOL Bieber got in a fight” sideshow.
The most striking thing about the video, though, isn’t the fight itself. It’s the text caption emblazoned on the video by the bystander who took it—“Justin Beiber (sic) getting his ass kicked!!”—and his audible commentary towards the end of it: “Shit! I’m gonna be on TMZ!”
There’s a gleefulness on both counts: To watching Justin Bieber be antagonized into a fist fight and then to the almost instantaneous realization that footage of the fight was going to go viral—that is, that we were all going to be just as gleeful to watch.
It’s partly a fault of his own and partly a byproduct of our lecherous lust for celebrity comeuppance—particularly from a figure with a head inflated to max capacity with braggadocio—that there’s a certain giddiness that accompanies any news item hinting at a Justin Bieber downfall.
Squeals and riotous laughter accompanied the first viewings of the video when it was discovered by editors in our newsroom, as if watching a WWE fight that was specifically crafted for our entertainment. Personal celebrity scandal as entertainment, though, is pop culture’s most successful and reliable enterprise. “Bieber Scandal” is its own subset of the genre, and arguably the most fruitful…or at least most voraciously consumed by normals procrastinating their workdays in their cubicles. (Hi! Chief culprit right here.)
Our morbid curiosity for the lives of the rich and famous, specifically for any details of those lives not being as gilded as they may seem, isn’t good or bad, really. It’s inevitable, and maybe even intrinsic.
But maybe it’s gone a little too far when that curiosity manifests itself in actually causing and participating in the drama that we feed on, like when an antagonizer hits an agitated Justin Bieber on the side of his head, starting the same fight that would happen if a person hit any of us on the side of our heads. Pulling out a phone and recording a Snapchat video of such an altercation isn’t even a decision anymore as much as it is a reflex, as natural as when the doctor knocks that hammer on your knee.
It goes without saying that Bieber’s very public, very obnoxious come-at-me-bruh personality only fuels all of this. It’s hard to feel empathy for Pop’s Most Hated Star when he seems to relish in all of this. But it doesn’t hurt to try!
Bieber was in Cleveland to attend Game 3 of the NBA Finals. He was in the stands wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers shirt when his face was put on the arena’s JumboTron, inciting a loud chorus of boos. Bieber had done everything right—gone to the team’s hometown and worn its jersey—and the pack mentality that thrives on Bieber hatred still reared its ugly head.
And so Justin Bieber got in a fist fight on Wednesday night. He probably shouldn’t have. He probably should’ve known that a camera was around somewhere ready to film it. He probably is a normal human, deep down, and in the moment of rage after being clocked in the head, didn’t care.
It’s likely he’s resigned himself to the end result anyway. When it comes to Justin Bieber vs. the media and public perception, he always loses. TKO.