Bieber the Protagonist

I’ll go ahead and say it: Justin Bieber’s latest album, Purpose, is actually pretty good.

I have no shame in admitting that I share the musical taste of a teenage girl. A few songs in Purpose are particularly infectious, including “Love Yourself,” “Sorry,” “Where Are Ü Now,” and “What Do You Mean?” These earworms burrowed their way into my brain, cursing me to spontaneously hum their siren songs for all eternity. If you’re reading this, please send help.

There is one song, however, that I don’t hum. This one song that rips me away from all the Skrillex-produced pop music bubblegum bliss that is Purpose. This song’s message reminds me that the Biebinator is the self-indulgent, vain, entitled jerk that everyone except for his most loyal followers thinks he is. What is this song? I’ll show you.

In his song, “I’ll Show You,” Justin Bieber opens with the line, “My life is a movie and everyone’s watching.” As soon as I hear that line, a record screeches to a halt in my head and all I can do is analyze it. Sure, it’s a cheesy ballad line, but these eight words say a lot about Justin depending on how you interpret them.

He could be referring to his life which can be broken down into a series of internet videos, news stories, and movies. From his on-screen roots as a YouTube sensation all the way to his theatrical documentaries, Justin’s life can be viewed as a movie that many people are watching. In this case, the line doesn’t bother me. Justin has been under the media’s microscope for most of his life—it has certainly shaped him into the person he is today.

However, we can also interpret this line in a different way. What if Justin actually feels like the main character in a movie? Every decision he makes, no matter how big or little, would affect the world in some way. Everyone else would be a supporting actor, background extra, or audience member. All eyes are on him.

Most people listening to this song would probably relate more to the above interpretation. Just as we focus on ourselves in life, a movie focuses on the main character. Some main characters are written in such an astrological way that the audience can’t help put themselves in their shoes.

Why am I pointing out this song lyric and analyzing it to death? Let me answer this question by asking you a question: have you ever felt like the main character in a story and every decision you made affected the universe in some way? If you answered “yes,” you may be showing symptoms to a disease.

Don’t bother looking this up in Web MD—you won’t find an answer. The good news is this disease is non-lethal and can actually be curable. The name of your ailment is Protagonist Disease.

In small doses, this disease is harmless. After all, everyone is the protagonist of their own lives and it’s not uncommon for us to think of our lives as a narrative. We often make sense of world through stories, adding context and order to information we receive. If our lives are stories—and we often recall our past as a story—that makes us the main character. But sometimes we forget that others are the main characters of their own stories. Hence the disease.

Let me make this clear: there’s nothing wrong with focusing on yourself. In fact, you should focus on yourself if you aren’t doing so already. No one else can think, act, or advocate for you more effectively than yourself. Just keep in mind that you should respect others who do the same for themselves.

All the background characters in your life are the protagonists in their stories too. In fact, the realization that everyone you see experiences an intricate life story such as yours is called sonder. Just as they’re a background character in your life, you’re a background character in their lives. The next time you feel self-conscious in public, think about this: if someone did something hilariously embarrassing, would you laugh? Of course! But you wouldn’t think about that person five minutes later because you have your own life to worry about. This is how people think about you.

No, I am not promoting nihilism. I’m also not saying that you should stop caring about what other people think of you. I’m saying that you shouldn’t let people’s opinions of you shape your life. Their feelings about you are fleeting and temporary because they’re too busy thinking about themselves. You’re probably the only person that remembers that embarrassing thing you did seven years ago that’s keeping you up at night. Do yourself a favor and let it go.

As for Justin, I have no beef with him. I don’t care if he’s a narcissist that loves himself or if he’s truly sorry about his past. He’s the protagonist of his own story and I’m just a background character. But I hope he keeps doing what he’s doing, especially if he keeps delivering records like Purpose.

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