Earlier this month, wee baby Justin Bieber found himself in tragic and familiar territory: getting in trouble for his close proximity to exotic animals.
Specifically, Toronto Animal Services sent J-Biebs a notice of violation after receiving complaints that the singer was exhibiting lions. In an email to the CBC, spokesman Steve Johnston explained that lions and tigers are on the list of animals people are banned from keeping in the city, and that the lions in question had allegedly come from Bowmanville Zoo.
This is the latest in a long line of animals Justin Bieber has boasted about having a special relationship with. Back in May, the precious treasure forsook footwear and fed squirrels in a Boston park; the previous month, PETA had brought the noise down after he was photographed next to a chained tiger at his father’s engagement party (which was a terrible choice for everybody involved). Plus, back in 2013, Bieber lost custody of his beloved pet monkey after failing to bring its necessary papers to Germany — all before comparing himself to a zoo animal on Instagram in what can best be described as a cry for help.
Which makes me think that Justin’s curious relationship to animals — amid his growing discomfort with fame — may be because they are only living things he feels truly safe around. Animals are blind to his notoriety, and unlike the rest of the world, they expect absolutely nothing from him. Animals cannot be fake with him, and all they want is food.
Yes, that’s dark. But when you think about that Instagram statement — “I feel like a zoo animal, and I wanna be able to keep my sanity” — you realize that he probably chose those words with care: This coming from a kid who had the childhood of a show pony, who’s been told to perform more or less constantly since before he hit puberty, who once threw up onstage before bounding into his next choreographed steps. Justin Bieber gets the game. Which means that equating himself with a zoo animal is no coincidence — it’s just fact.
Bieber also clearly loves animals. And why wouldn’t he? At no point have animals asked him for an autograph or photo. At no point did they tweet him in response to something he said or did. Animals don’t scrutinize or condemn or stage a roast, absolving their target of sins only after they’ve humiliated him on television. Animals just exist. Which is something Justin has never been able to do.
But the thing is, Baby Biebs has never announced his love of animals as an extension of the performance we see so many celebrities adhere to. He hasn’t posed in PETA campaigns (as if they’d let him). He hasn’t carried a tiny dog around in his bag. He hasn’t used his two cats as a means of proving that stars are just like us. Instead, he’s gone all in, affiliating himself with the very zoo animals he wants no part in becoming — and getting himself in trouble in the process. He’s Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause, who feels understood only by the doomed character she’s meant to stay away from. She knew all along that they couldn’t be together, but the bond was too deep.
But what next? With every animal-related news item, Justin Bieber’s relationship seems increasingly toxic, as his zest for “exotic pets” induces a collective What the shit is wrong with you, kid? It’s not hard to imagine a future in which Biebs is so alienated from humanity that he clings to fancy animals à la Michael Jackson, all while thirsting for a bond that transcends photo ops and record sales and Barney’s sprees. A future where he can’t articulate why he can’t stay away from his furry friends. A future where he cuddles rare lions and whispers, “Only you understand me.”