At the hour of 14:58 on March 6, 2014, in America’s worst state, a horrible white boy gave a deposition about a battery perpetrated by his bodyguard. That horrible white boy is Justin Bieber, and his deposition was the most thoroughly entertaining, profoundly American piece of film performance that I have seen in a long time. In it, he is—and I don’t think this word is hyperbolic—perfect. He is everything that we made him to be, everything that he was ever loved and then hated for.
I have too many things to say about Bieber and the Internet demands both speed and brevity, so here is a quick list of what makes this five minute clip so swaggy:
His hair is immaculate. Let’s start there. One cannot help but think of the hours and the manpower dedicated to making his hair stand up as high and motionless as is does. You can see the grooves of all the expert fingers that molded the gel into its final, cresting wave. And then of course you can’t stop thinking about how this was done for a deposition, and you imagine Bieber’s hoarse mewl as he refuses to stand against a legal barrage with imperfect hair. Because what if someone sees? And then you realize that goddamnit, he totally knew that the video would be leaked and everyone would see, so here he is, vindicated, running his fingers along the smooth edges of his coif, looking directly at the viewer, saying you will never not see me like this.
Another detail. His jacket is maybe leather, maybe floral print. I can’t tell, but I can tell that he loves it. He is proud of it. If you ask him in a year what was important about the deposition he gave, he’ll say, “Man, did you see my swaggy floral print leather jacket?” He touches it throughout the interview. When he is most uncomfortable, he grabs it along the zippers, pulls it tighter around him. It’s his. He owns it. Nobody, not that mean lawyer asking him questions, not the internet trolls or the paparazzi, will ever understand what the lining of a casual jacket that expensive feels like on his skin.
He is asked many questions that he doesn’t like. He gives cartoonishly indifferent responses, so indifferent that you realize how rehearsed they are, and then you get this image of him watching courtroom scenes in mob movies and practicing his impressions of those scenes in front of a diamond encrusted, wall-sized mirror that has the word “Swag” written across it in frosted glass. You wonder if he’s copying that Dave Chappelle skit where R. Kelly pleads the fifth, but then you think, Holy shit, he’s probably too young to have been a Chappelle fan. Good God, he’s young. He’s a baby. Look at his cheeks; they’re undeniably chubby. Look at his eyebrows pinch together when he’s upset or confused, maybe hungry. You can see him at eight, in the little apartment in wherever-the-fuck-he’s-from in Canada, playing a toy guitar, saying, “I’m good, mommy, I’m so good. Tell me I’m good. Please. Tell me.”
Which leads to the next detail. He has a peach fuzz mustache. This is wonderful.
He’s at his youngest when the lawyer asks him about Selena Gomez. He is still swaggy, but it’s hurt swaggy. He loves her. He loves her so much. She was his first love. He demands that the lawyer never sullies her name again with his lawyer-mouth. He feels so deeply. He has perfectly gelled hair and a million dollar-leisure coat and diamond earrings, but still he feels.
Then the lawyer asks Bieber if Usher was, in fact, “instrumental to his career.” He leans back, closes his eyes, leans forward again. He says, “I think that I was detrimental to my own career.” His legal team start saying instrumental behind him. He means instrumental. Does he? Oh my God, does he? Or did he crack? Is this, finally, a mumbled admission of his own flaws, or is it the evidence that teenagers, even famous ones, should have to go to high school, or is he just fucking with us all, yet again, because he is Justin Motherfucking Bieber and he is swaggy and we’re not, and no semantic flip-flopping will change that reality?
Throughout the interview, he makes jokes at the lawyer’s expense about the tabloid nature of the deposition. He calls the man Katie Couric. He says this feels like 60 Minutes. He might as well be. His last words of the clip are, “I’m confused,” said in jest, with a mocking tone because Justin Bieber is never confused and he wants us to know that, whether us is a judge or a studio audience or the entire internet.
When the clip is over, he is still a mystery. He is still a smug little shit, and a lonely plastic toy, and a swaggy God. We’re left with the sense that he will never repent. He will be rich and reckless and snide until he’s dead. He will look beautiful doing so. His skin will always be soft. His jackets will always be confusing. His hair will always be, at the very least, a decision, never simply cut short and left alone. His swag is fun to hate.
But then, under it, don’t you feel a little yearning for an alternate universe where this boy isn’t ruined? Where he and Selena get a condo somewhere quiet, looking out on the water, with Disney channel memorabilia piled in the garage. Maybe, deep down, he wants quiet, even though we didn’t make him for that. And so he beats on, a speedboat against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past, hair never wavering in the winds of time.