After days of hard-hitting interviews, infinite hours watching YouTube videos and time spent carefully parsing the lyrics of Never Say Never, I have unlocked the key to Justin Bieber's worldwide popularity.
Beliebe it or not, there's more to the fresh-faced singer than his famous mop of hair.
I was sent on a "How do they get the caramel in the Caramilk bar?" quest when a senior editor gazed across the vast expanse of the Free Press newsroom, saw me before I could duck under my desk, and remembered I still have a pulse, faint and thready though it may be. He overlooked my wrinkles and dismissed the fact I haven't been current on pop culture since Ricky Martin pretended he was Livin' la Vida Loca with someone of my gender.
"Justin Bieber is coming to town this week," he said, as I feigned death. "Can you pull something together on why he's so popular, and what that says about teen idols and why moms like him and zeitgeist stuff like that."
I gave him my imploring puppy eyes. I reminded him I write about important topics such as life, truth and free shoes. Justin Bieber is important, too, he said, at least to his bazillion fans and the people who sell everything from Bieber perfume to pillows stamped with the kid's face.
Bieber's playing to a sellout crowd at the MTS Centre tonight. My job was to determine why he matters to the world at large.
My first pop star crush was Davy Jones of the Monkees. He was the cute one. I didn't know Jones was so short he'd first considered a career as a jockey. I was eight when the Monkees became popular, so we were pretty much the same height. By the time the band broke up, I could have rested my arm on his head.
By then, I'd moved on to David Cassidy, as seen on The Partridge Family. That's right: I had a type. My fantasy husband was going to be a musician, have great hair and dreamy eyes and sing to me when things got rocky. The future Mrs. Friendly Giant/Jones/Cassidy/Browne/Bowie/Penner had it all mapped out.
When my daughter was growing up, we worked through 'N Sync, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Josh Groban. I taught her the moves to the Supremes; she introduced me to Justin Timberlake before he was all that.
I asked my youngest to explain Bieber. Emma is 18, the same age as the singer. Her bedroom has a life-size cardboard cutout of the young Canadian I bought online during her intense, short-lived Mrs. Bieber period. He wears her blue graduation cap. We decorated him with balloons on her last birthday. We don't say anything rude to him.
Justin Bieber, Emma explained, belongs to his fans. Because he was discovered on YouTube, his career was built by the scores, then hundreds, then hundreds of thousands of people sharing his music.
You can still watch his earnest homemade videos online, the 12-year-old singing his heart out. He grew up in plain view, his talent developing in front of the girls who would go on to turn him into a superstar.
The film Never Say Never turned his life into a home movie for his fans. His parents documented him the way we all do, cute videos of our kids banging on pots and singing and dancing around. Only Justin Bieber defied the odds and those simple tapes formed the backstory of the making of a superstar. Our children expect that level of intimacy with everyone from the Kardashians to their real best friends. Bieber may be the first pop star to literally grow up in front of his fans, the early years simple and unscripted.
He's cute, I'm told, and that's part of the magic. Moms find him non-threatening. He hangs out with other stars and his girlfriend, Selena Gomez, is famous. He's leading what seems to be a dream life, and there have been no lasting scandals.
And, yes, he's got that mop of hair.
My days of accompanying kids to concerts are over. Emma's working and missing the show tonight. But the thousands of girls in attendance, who will scream until cats howl in faraway neighbourhoods, are part of a long tradition of unrequited crushes, convinced he's singing just to them, just for that one moment. Of course they adore him. They've seen his baby pictures and heard him play his first guitar.
Davy Jones wasn't nearly so available but that didn't stop me from becoming a Daydream Believer.