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Sweet sixteen

Tomorrow South Africa turns 16. And what a pimply, moody teenager we’ve turned out to be. If it’s not screaming matches with our admittedly shady parents, it’s one identity crisis after the other coupled with a maudlin fixation over what people think of us.

Ah, to be a teenager. The bad poetry, the unhealthy crushes, the vacillation between hyper excitement to depressed lows and the complete lack of perspective. We have it all.

Some may wish we were more like other 16-year-olds — Justin Bieber for example. The man-child makes millions and last night riot police had to be called in to one of his concerts. Again. At the Canadian pop sensation’s first performance in Australia; 12, 13 and 14-year-olds were crushed against the barricades as the screaming mob of girls attained the kind of frenzy last seen in Lord of the Flies.

Eight people had to be taken to hospital and dozens of others were treated at the scene for hyperventilation. Now that’s what I call star power.

Justin who? Don’t be a hater. You may think you’ve steered clear of pop’s more heinous manifestations but chances are you’ve been subjected to his mega-hit single, Baby already. Elevators and shopping queues are agency-robbing devices. That catchy synth-driven chorus is probably already embedded in your mind’s reluctant aural memory, I’m sorry to say.

The unfortunate bit about Justin is that he doesn’t have that beefed-up-on-hormone-enhanced-food look of most North American teenagers. A lot of teen pop stars are scarily adult. Justin on the other hand looks about 12; so when he croons: “I thought you’d always be mine,” you have to remind yourself he’s talking about a girl and not, say, a Tamagotchi that died on him in his sleep.

Justin Bieber gestures towards the crowd while performing during the Juno Awards in Canada, on April 18 2010. (Mike Dembeck, AP)

Bieber was invented — sorry, “mentored” by Usher — which if you think about it makes lots of sense. Pop music is all about novelty and what could be more novel than a baby-faced Wasp singing cleaned-up gangster music?

Usher and Ludacris both feature in his videos but boy, have they cleaned up their act for their sweet little cash cow.

While Ludacris’s usual lyrical fare is a catchy lesson in misogyny (A small taste: “I wanna get you in the back seat windows up/ that’s the way you like to fuck/ clogged up fog alert rip the pants and rip the shirt/ ruff sex make it hurt”), he’s practically a Hanson brother when he features with Justin. “She made my heart pound/ I skip a beat when I see her in the street/ And at school on the playground but I really wanna see her on the weekend.”

But it’s only a matter of time before Bieber loses the sweet sixteen routine like so many teen stars before him. He’ll turn 18, despise the saccharine quality of his image and get dirty and hyper sexual. And chances are he’ll probably make the transition successfully, like Justin Timberlake and Lil Bow Wow before him. Because being a man-whore is OK. It’s the girls who crash and burn badly. Britney “car accident” Spears kept us well-supplied in Schadenfreude for a good few years and Rihanna’s porn act gets more explicit as her personal life gets crazier.

South Africa on the other hand has already long lost that first flush of innocence. I’m not sure which sort of adult we’ll turn out to be but let’s hope it’s not the celebrity kind. High-risk behaviour may be cute on a pop star but it sure doesn’t suit developing countries — or their presidents, for that matter.

  • You can read Verashni’s column every Monday here and follow here on twitter here.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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