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May. 3 2010 - 6:38 pm | 978 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

Justin Bieber and DIY: What’s in a punk?

Love Justin Bieber, but afraid to reveal it to your punk rock friends? Do you tell your friends that the music you’re blasting on your iPod is the latest pop sensation when it’s really Black Flag’s Damaged? Wish these two worlds could finally meet?

Well, XLR8R and Exclaim! music writer and Grown Ups member Josiah Hughes has the t-shirt for you:

Or, rather, had the t-shirt for you. As of today, the shirts are no longer onsale at Etsy after Hughes received a cease and desist order from, of all places, SST:

Another odd twist in the “Bieb Flag” mini meme.

Perhaps what fueled the Internet popularity of the shirt, more than the combination, was what Hughes gave as the reason for the combination. In an interview with Hearty Magazine, Hughes explained his idea:

But then, when I started thinking about it, it was scary to realize there are some major similarities. Biebz got huge on YouTube, which is pretty DIY, and both of them cause riots. From the other perspective, I love that I’m pissing off punks on websites.

It sounds… well, rather solid. Sort of. Kudos to Hughes for “pissing off” punks online: If punk is about challenging the status quo, then the reinvention of a hardcore punk symbol as an ad for a pop sensation is, well, punk. At least in my book.

But, is Justin Bieber as punk as Black Flag, or as DIY as Hughes says he is? That I’m less sure of.

True, Bieber has been at the center of a riot. But it’s not quite the same as the riots surrounding Black Flag’s shows. Those were the riots of confused and angered music fans not expecting to hear what Black Flag brought to the stage. Those were the riots of police pouncing on some of the band’s earliest shows. Those were the “riots” of kids in a mosh pit, bringing the anger and fury that, well, they wanted to bring in a live setting.

Perhaps the last form of Black Flag inspired-riots may be the only tangible connection to the Bieber-style rampage. That being, fan reaction to a public appearance. Or, rather, how fans of these disparate artists are expected to express their adoration for these artists in our society. Somewhere along the line, people were told the proper thing to do at a punk show is to mosh and the best way to enjoy a pop idol is to scream bloody murder while clawing for the stage. Anyone is tempted to get hurt in either situation. Why these are seen as perfectly rational methods of expressing oneself at either shows is beyond me, but the Bieb Flag’s connection of the two iterations of fandom certainly puts them in a new perspective.

But is Bieber DIY?

Yes, I’m well aware Bieber was “discovered” on YouTube. Yes, I’m well aware that is Doing It Yourself. But, the iteration that this is the kind of “DIY” people fantasize about is something entirely different.

However, this interpretation does open new doors. As I’ve discussed in a link of comments, the methods of DIY punk as they were known are hard to apply to today’s musical practices. It used to be seen by some punks that major labels were the norm, that signing to one was giving up, that staying underground was the only way, etc etc. Sure, that holds true for some individuals, but hardly for the masses. Considering the state of the music industry, the big record labels are becoming less of a factor. In fact, relying on one’s own abilities to do it yourself is the way to get by, be it in finding a career as a pop star or simply touring an underground circuit with a spare few weeks of vacation you’re afforded in a day job.

Everyone, everywhere in the music world is somehow doing it themselves. It would be downright stupid for any up-and-coming act to not put themselves on YouTube or some social networking site if they either want to a) make a career out of being a musician or b) simply play music to people. The Internet provides excellent tools that are easy to use in order to get one’s name out there. Even if one decides not to enter the realm of MySpace and Twitter, that in and of itself can be a way to stir up interest in your group: You’ll be in the band that’s not on MySpace. How cool is that?

Justin Bieber is hardly the first person to use online tools to find fame and some level of fortune. Lily Allen famously used MySpace to generate buzz while her record label’s A&R people hardly did anything. It’s hard not to think of YouTube when OK Go’s name is dropped anywhere outside of the music media.

What level of DIY do any of these acts rise to? Granted, the essence of DIY, like so much of punk, was created to rebel against a set of rules. So the idea of applying a standard of practice to DIY poses one of the many “ethical quandaries” that people have been wrestling with for years. The funny thing is, DIY is a term tossed around so much it’s almost rendered useless. With the omnipresence of the Internet, it might as well be: If you’re not doing something yourself, you’re not doing much of anything.

What does that mean for little bands across the country folding vinyl record covers themselves, packing broken-down equipment into some van to play a basement show somewhere? Nothing. It shouldn’t make a difference to them, or to the pop star who happened to launch a career on YouTube. It doesn’t negate any of the work either party has done, nor does it change their attitudes about music. It just shows their perspectives on music are more flexible than a term like DIY can afford one or the other.


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  1. collapse expand

    Someone should be kicked in the head in a circle pit for that offending piece of clothing. That’s be like N’Sync doing an Abbey Road take. Disposable pop artists should always be ridiculed for “homaging” musical acts that actually changed and challenged the way we think and perceive music, which Black Flag did. This kid is just another manufactured commodity in today’s viral/mass-marketed music machine.

  2. collapse expand

    I saw this shirt the other day and was HORRIFIED!

  3. collapse expand

    That Justin Bieber/Black Flag mashup shirt is totally punk, and Greg Ginn and SST are totally not punk for getting their undies in a bunch about it. Heck, it’s probably the most anyone has thought about Black Flag in years. (Also, Justin Bieber is DIY, like Boston was DIY. Just because it’s not punk doesn’t mean you can’t be DIY.)

    Other logos that would make great Justin Bieber mashups: the Exploited, the Cramps, Circle Jerks and Husker Du, with umlauts over the vowels.

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    I write about music here at True/Slant. I'm also a freelance writer for the A.V. Club Chicago. I've previously written for The Boston Phoenix, Bostonist, Rock Sound and some school publications.

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