Sometimes you just have some things to get off your chest.
For teen pop phenom Justin Bieber, one of those things is a paternity suit filed last year by a 20-year-old California woman claiming that a brief bathroom rendezvous with him following an October 2010 concert resulted in her pregnancy.
Rather than ignore the matter, Bieber is confronting it head on with his new album Believe. “That girl — Mariah Yeater — who said she was going to have my baby. I wrote about that situation,” Bieber told the BBC of his new album. “Every song has a piece of me… I wrote almost all of them or co-wrote them.”
The case, which Yeater dropped in November, has many wondering if Bieber was wise to commit his feelings to something as public and eternal as an album, or if he should have just let go of what was really a minor controversy.
Though few believed them, the rumors introduced Bieber to one of the many pitfalls of celebrity and briefly overwhelmed his press cycle when he was trying to promote his Christmas album, Under the Mistletoe. The accusation challenged his family-friendly brand, something family law expert told MTV News could be grounds for a defamation of character suit.
The suit likely weighed heavily on Bieber, regardless of its merit, making it prime material for his songwriting. But does dragging it all back into the public sphere benefit him in any tangible way? His recent tweet about Yeater — which read, “Dear mariah yeeter…we have never met…so from the heart i just wanted to say…” accompanied by an audio clip of Sasha Baron Cohen’s character Borat saying, “You will never get this” — was neither subtle nor particularly sophisticated. And since details of the suit were made so public and remain fresh in the minds of his fans, why restart the conversation if there is nothing new to add?
Responding to your own press is a slippery slope for celebrities, and it can do one of two things: clear the air or consume the conversation.
For Madonna and Michael Jackson, it did the former. “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson’s classic declaration that he was not the father, was wrapped in a bit of mystery. There have long been contradictory claims that the song is about groupies MJ encountered early in his fame and that it was derived from a real-life experience in which a mentally ill fan claimed that Jackson had fathered her child. But it really doesn’t matter; we just know that these accusations were out there, so MJ decided to shut it down with a song.
The difference is, Bieber’s controversy is already over and, considering few people ever believed the claims, was never a huge deal to begin with.
Ever an expert at handling the press, Madonna held her head high when she addressed the massive backlash she encountered after she pressed through her sexually charged Erotica-era with a lone song, “Human Nature.” She posited that people’s anger with her had more to do with their own hang-ups than with her behavior and refused to apologize. Madonna knew she’d struck a nerve and defiantly declared, “Absolutely no regrets.”
She dually stood her ground and introduced something new to the conversation. With “Human Nature,” Madonna held up a mirror to the public and asked “Is it really my sexuality you are uncomfortable with?”
Bieber needs to pay particular attention to this lest he fall hard into Taylor Swift territory, where the artist is practically expected to directly address the minutia of their private lives in every song.
First, it was Joe Jonas with “Forever & Always,” then John Mayer on “Dear John” and Kanye West on “Innocent.” It’s important, of course, for a singer/ songwriter to write what they know, but there’s a reason we only just learned who the subject of Adele’s multiplatinum, Grammy-winning 21 was (and why she’s never confirmed it).
We want to be able to apply a song’s emotion to our own lives, but it’s hard to do that when a track is either too specific or too self-indulgent. We haven’t heard Bieber’s song about Yeater, so we can’t speak to whether it is either. If he has something new to say about the controversy — perhaps how it felt to be betrayed by one of his fans — then he may have found a way to turn lemons into lemonade.
But if all he brings to the table are boasts about not being the father, well, then he should get ready for questions about how literal his love songs are regarding his relationship with Selena Gomez. Once you open the door and make your private life the subject of your professional endeavors, there’s no turning back.