What Do We Actually Want From Justin Bieber?

Should he be more like Harry Styles? Where’s the fun in that?

While Harry Styles was walking on water, Justin Bieber was submerged in it — or, more precisely, hanging poolside during a break from his current world tour.

This tour will be remembered forever as the one on which Baby B let his freak flag fly. On top of the $15K rose-gold grill he bought himself last month, Justin’s alleged tour rider surfaced this weekend, possibly exposing my son as a whirlpool-loving sock aficionado who prefers all meals to be named after his songs.

Which, like, sure! When we look at the legacy of Justin Bieber as a grown-ass pop star, his trajectory has been as much defined by his behavior as by his music. Over the last year, he's carried on a highly publicized are-they-or-aren’t-they relationship with fans and the media, upped his tattoo count, and had to issue a statement as to whether he’s peed his pants.

But it’s not like Biebs’s career is at a standstill. Anything but! Last week, he tied a Billboard record for the most No. 1s thanks to “I’m the One,” his (super-fun) collaboration with DJ Khaled, Lil Wayne, Chance the Rapper, and Quavo. And this week, he’ll be performing in India for the first time — which is a huge deal, especially after 50,000 fans queued online to score tickets (which are currently going for a pretty penny). Ultimately, Justin Bieber is a hugely successful musician whose work ethic is a little exhausting to even read about. And yet, despite this, we make him into a character.

Which is interesting when you compare him to artists like Zayn or The Weeknd, whose eccentricities are either dismissed or celebrated as a testament to their artistic temperaments. Even Drake, whose personality can eclipse his music at times, uses the narrative around him as an extension of his emotional and creative capacities — as if his OTT Insta posts or lyrics about J.Lo work to make him Drake™.

Most recently, we’ve begun to see the character development of a now-solo Harry Styles, who (unlike, say, Zayn) won’t slag off who he was, but is still making an active leap to convey himself as the adult he is now. But in contrast to Bieber — a pop star who’s also been actively trying to establish himself as a grown-up for a few years now — Harry’s trajectory isn’t being marked by controversy or even scrutiny. Instead, he’s been earning kudos for seeming so mature and grounded, and for his graciousness in the wake of a sold-out world tour. Like Bieber, he is tattooed and hardworking and his personal life has been nestled warmly in the arms of the mass media (see: any of his rumored relationships). But unlike Bieber, he’s been heralded as an unqualified, wholesome success.

Which Harry deserves: He is talented and seems genuine and insightful and incredibly self-aware. (And he also acknowledges the validity of a teen audience, which is absolutely fantastic.) But Justin Bieber deserves the same type of acknowledgment too. Because while Harry hasn’t endured the same obstacles or hit the self-destruct button in quite the ways that Justin has, it speaks to Bieber’s character that he’s still standing, that he pulled himself out of his personal gong show to deliver Purpose. Both artists ultimately should be heralded as longtime survivors of an industry that routinely imposes limited shelf lives.

Then again, where’s the fun in that? While Biebs’s eccentricities (and mistakes) could lend themselves to a narrative that paints him as a young man with an expansive and multidimensional story, it’s easier to position artists like Justin against artists like Harry. Because that creates more interest and more gossip fodder and, more importantly, two camps for fans: One in which they can safely huddle among Styles’s sweeping ballads, and another in which they can land in the arms of a “bad boy” whose behavior is never chalked up to the harsh realities of his decade-long career but instead to him being difficult or rebellious or a diva.

And feuds and contrasts have always made everything more interesting. The thing is, Justin and Harry have both been in the game long enough to know that. Which means that the more we assign them roles, the more they may rebel against them. And I hope more than anything that rebellion comes in the form of the Styles-Bieber collaboration I was put on this planet to hear.

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