The Boys Who Would Be Bieber

No challenger has credibly threatened Justin's teen-pop reign—but why?

bieber and wannabiebers.png

Reuters / Ronan Parke on Facebook / codysimpson.com / greyson-official.com


At the start of this month, England crowned a new Justin Bieber.

Twelve-year-old Ronan Parke—cherubic, bangs side-swept, missing canine tooth giving him a slight Alfred E. Newman-esque air of mischief, with a precociously soulful singing voice—was runner-up on the latest season of Britain's Got Talent. Long before he even had a chance to lose, however, the UK press had elected him heir apparent to Bieber's throne.

The quest for the boy who will overthrow the Canadian pop wunderkind is not a phenomenon exclusive to the British media or music industry. Parke descends from a long line of "next Biebers."

The first of these was Australian singer-songwriter Cody Simpson—"Queensland's Justin Bieber"—age 14. Like the best Biebers, he has the haircut, plays an instrument (Justin plays four), and launched his career by singing pop covers on YouTube. His acoustic version of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River," could bring Vin Diesel to tears. He was discovered by Shawn Campbell, a producer who has worked with Jay-Z and R&B singer Ciara, and early last year signed a four-album deal with Atlantic Records.

Greyson Chance, 13, made his first televised appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show after a video of him performing a melismatic cover of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" at his sixth-grade talent show in Edmond, Oklahoma surfaced on YouTube last year. During the Ellen taping, he received a call from Mother Monster herself, who had some characteristically inspirational advice: "Everyone loves you so much," she said. "Just keep following your dreams and work really hard, and stay away from girls and be focused." Chance became the first artist signed to DeGeneres's label, Eleveneleven, a subsidiary of Geffen/Universal.

And then there's Jackson Guthy. At 15, he's a little over the Bieber hill – but don't count him out just yet. The Los Angeles-born singer is also a DeGeneres favorite; he performed his single, "L-O-V-I-N-G" on her show in April.

Honorable mention goes to Jamie Laou and Matty B. The former is an impertinent Australian high school senior with no musical ability who gained traction at the end of last year for his uncanny resemblance to Bieber. "i read EVERY LETTER, wear every item," reads his bio on Twitter, where he is more popular than his country's Prime Minister. The latter, a rapping 8-year-old with the musical prolificacy of Lil Wayne, is both the youngest and most disturbing wannabieber, the obvious product of determined stage parents with a production budget and a dream.

In the '90s, pop acts had analogues whose sales rivaled that of their alpha versions. The Backstreet Boys gave rise to *NSYNC; without Britney Spears, there would be no Christina Aguilera

Girls can be Biebers, too. Teen YouTube sensations Charice Pempengco and Rebecca Black – whose video for "Friday" reached 100,000 YouTube views before Bieber's "Baby" did–have both been angling for portions of the boy star's audience.

Beyond the hairstyle (which its progenitor has already moved past), viral celebrity, heartthrob-ish first names, and lovelorn musical subject matter, these Bieber successors have one thing in common: They have yet to succeed on a grand scale. That is, none have come close to the youth-culture stranglehold the original enjoys.

In the '90s, pop acts had analogues whose sales rivaled that of their alpha versions. The Backstreet Boys gave rise to a decreasingly popular profusion of boy band alternates: *NSYNC, 98 Degrees, O-Town, LFO, et. al. Without Britney Spears, there would be no Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore, who are all still hanging in there.

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Jason Richards is a writer from Toronto who has contributed to New York Magazine, Gawker, and RollingStone.com.

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