Justin Bieber has deleted his Instagram account. Depending on your orientation to pop culture, that’s either huge news or not news at all. For Beliebers, it’s as if a Shakespearean drama years in the making is coming to a tragic climax at a pitch only they can hear.
For the blissfully unaware, the SparkNotes goes something like this: Bieber posted a series of photos with his alleged girlfriend Sofia Richie, a 17-year-old model (and, yes, daughter of Lionel and sister to Nicole). When bombarded with comments featuring the snake emoji and other Internet-brand nastiness, he threatened to privatize his account. (It seems that the angry commenters took issue with Richie's age.)
"I'm gonna make my Instagram private if you guys don't stop the hate this is getting out of hand," he wrote on Sunday. "[I]f you guys are really fans you wouldn't be so mean to people that I like." From there, fellow pop star (and ex) Selena Gomez responded. There was a bit of back-and-forth between the former lovers involving claims of cheating, and finally Justin’s account vanished some time Monday night.
Now the Beliebers are imploding, and the reactions reveals quite a bit about their hyper-specific brand of fandom. Over the course of their boy king’s time in the spotlight, they’ve naturally built a mythology around their beloved Canadian. There is a nuanced emotional system in place that responds to seemingly every personal tidbit Bieber deigns to post to his social accounts, Instagram in particular. Except the things he often shares are ambiguous snapshots or esoteric commentary riddled with grammatical errors. And so, “who Bieber really is” is only incidental to the way Beliebers have come to see him. In short, by cutting off access to his Instagram, he may as well have cut off his head.
The intricacy of a true Bieber obsession is clearest in the distinction between “fan” and “Belieber.” Bieber used “fan” instead of “Belieber” in his threat to privatize, which presented a dilemma in and of itself.
“Justin is really sad for us, knowing that we forgot you, we are not ‘fans’ [we] are Beliebers,” wrote @devonnemary.
“For everyone hurting because he called us fans, [you] are overreacting,” responded @goldsluggs2, “Honestly, us Beliebers have been acting more like fans than Beliebers.”
Indeed, a “Belieber” is dedicated at a level beyond the “fan.” The Beliebers occupy a higher plane of devotion, which distinguishes them from those who simply like Bieber. Being a Belieber requires a lifetime of unwavering loyalty, an existence that often features defensive feuds with rival fan armies. In a way, it's more of a concept than a label, a serious matter of pride and identity, or as one @aya_bieber tweeted earlier today, something “like a trophy.”
And yet, what are the chances Bieber has parsed all of this? Whether he ought to be expected to is a better question for Beliebers, but what’s clear is the enormous impact of his fleetingly direct interaction. In many ways, Bieber benefits from his brevity in even his most unfortunate moments. When he canceled meet-and-greets back in March, or placed a ban on fan photos in May, the fan-Belieber divide was a calming explanation. Many Beliebers were able to overcome the cognitive dissonance of being cut off by shifting blame to these fans. The fans left Bieber exhausted and concerned for his safety. The fans ruined it for the Beliebers.
Those incidents marked a clash between Bieber’s reality and the shimmering tapestry of fiction that surrounds him. But the Beliebers persevered without Bieber’s help. The roiling analysis and ethical dilemmas are tied to a dense microcosm only loosely based on Bieber himself. There is, for example, the question of whether he ought to clean up his look, which for a while consisted of dreads and flannel tatters; meanwhile, Beliebers longed for a crew cut and suits. Stylist Karla Welch was bombarded with so much criticism to this end, she made an official statement on the purpose of her client’s Purpose tour wardrobe, pointedly noting that she doesn’t “care about negative feedback.” Meanwhile, Bieber’s voice was so absent from the conversation, he may as well have been a doll she was dressing up.
many Beliebers are left wondering if Bieber’s Instagram deletion means that he’s chosen Richards over them.
Similarly, this whole IG thing grew out of rancor towards the teenage Richards (see: excessive use of snake emojis). Whether based on a hold out for Jelena or the belief that Richards is “using” their fav, many Beliebers are left wondering if Bieber’s Instagram deletion means that he’s chosen Richards over them. All several million of them. Some remain staunchly on Bieber’s side, graciously echoing his sentiment of exhaustion with tweets like, “[H]e's tired of his own fans being hateful to anyone that gets near him.” And again there is the sticking point that true acolytes could never have pushed him to this point: “[H]e didn't choose her over beliebers, he chose her over ‘fans’.”
Of course, these sentiments are not precise reactions to anything presented by Bieber, and they couldn't possibly be, if based only on the limited information he shares. Instead, it’s something closer to the ancient Greeks diving magical explanations for the world around them through the creation of Gods and their corresponding powers. Experiencing seasons, they spun the plight of Persephone, with winter months sprouting from her half-year spent in the underworld. Likewise, Beliebers saw their modern-day almighty holding hands and sharing his pants with a teenager who is not Gomez, wove their own tale of deception and betrayal, and reacted in the comments section accordingly.
Alas, now the source material has been snuffed out entirely, and what more distressing development could there be than that? With the deletion of Bieber’s Instagram, the primary text has been disappeared, robbing a small universe of its sun, and forcing the followers to question how much they read into the past decade of Bieber’s career. It’s quite possible that all of this is an unnecessarily dramatic interpretation of the actions of bunch of kids who are bored online, but maybe you’re just a fan.