The first time I heard Justin Bieber’s single, “One Time” I thought he was a she. I was driving with my friend Ryan and he came on the radio with the voice of a developed woman, singing, “When I met ya girl, my heart went knock-knock…” I realized the lyrics said, “girl,” and since I was under the impression the song was sung by a girl, I thought we were listening to a lesbian. “This is so progressive!” I yelled over the song. “A lesbian pop-artist on the air, unbelievable!”
Ryan cocked his head to the side, “Pardon?”
“This girl singin’ about her girlfriend! Who is she?” I grinned from ear-to-ear.
“What girl?” Ryan asked
“The one singing, you ass, who is she?”
He turned to me with the same look a mother gives her son before she reveals the falsity of Santa Clause. “This is a boy.”
My grin turned to frown. “No, it sounds like a woman.”
“He’s twelve.” The words went straight to my throat and blocked the air from reaching my lungs. Did he mean to tell me I just spent the last minute and a half gyrating behind a steering wheel to the sounds of a prepubescent boy? I suddenly felt like a pervert and since I was nearly a decade older than twelve, I felt like an old pervert. “Old,” and “perverted,” are not things pop songs should evoke from a 20-year-old.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “It’s so good.”
“Well, yeah it is,” Ryan said. “He’s very talented. Usher found him through YouTube or something and helped him make a music video.”
“What the… Why haven’t I ever heard him before? I feel like a pedophile!”
Ryan threw his had back and laughed. “You don’t need to feel like a pedophile, it’s a good song.”
“Is it, Ryan? Is it? He’s part infant. How in the hell does he know anything about love?”
“You didn’t discover love in middle school?”
“No, I discovered masturbation in middle school. If it wasn’t my hand or a bottle of cocoa butter, I didn’t care about it.”
“Well no, you probably weren’t alone there.”
“Exactly, he’s full of shit and shouldn’t be on the radio. If he were singing about hand lotion then maybe he’d have some footing. Hormones are no fucking joke at twelve.”
“I think putting a twelve year-old on the air singing about jerking off might cause a problem or two.”
“At least it would be honest.”
“Who says he’s not being honest?”
“Me, damnit! The song is ridiculous. There’s no way a kid his age can refer to someone as his ‘one love, one heart and one life for sure.’ Do I need to point out the problems with ‘for sure’?”
“No, but who cares if it’s ridiculous? It made you dance and initiate eye sex with the crossing guard. Seems pretty effective to me.”
“A twelve-year-old should not make me initiate eye sex, Ryan.”
“Oh, get over it.”
“I’ve been betrayed! This is supposed to be the voice of a young woman serenading her gay lover. I thought a queer artist in our age group just made a hit and the rest of us gay nobodies finally had a role model. I already imagined following her vicariously through E! and talking about her like she’s a close friend.”
“Seriously? The songs not even over yet.”
“Not any more! Now I might as well be a squealing schoolgirl with this woman-boy hanging on my bedroom wall.”
“Justin Bieber,” Ryan placed his hand on my shoulder.
“That’s a dumb name.”
As the light up ahead changed from green to yellow I stopped at the white line and waited beneath the red light. While we waited, Bieber belted and I thought of how dumb I used to be in middle school. I dated so many girls, which didn’t add up for several reasons, one being that I was Kinsey-six gay, and another being that oh right, I was twelve. Every fight was over-the-top-dramatic because if there was no drama, there was no point. When I wasn’t trying to reach orgasm, I spent the other 20 percent of my tween years making my life into a daytime soap opera.
The light turned green and Bieber went into his last chorus.
Inadvertently I bopped my head along with the beat.
“You know,” I said, “I’ll probably still listen to this in the future. It’s dumb and hugely disappointing, but it’s so… catchy. God, I hate pop music.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ryan said, “So does everyone. Turn it up.”
I cranked the volume and sang along with the windows down, gyrating unabashedly once again. As I slowed to turn onto Ryan’s street, an old man walking his dog right next to us smiled, waved and gyrated his hips a little while his dog pooped on the sidewalk. I rolled the windows back up.