Justin Bieber recently released his newest single “Lonely,” which centers on the criticism and solitude he faced during his childhood rise to fame. In the song he croons, “Maybe when I’m older, it’ll all calm down / But it’s killin’ me now.” Bieber’s debut single “One Time” was released in 2009 when he was only 15 years old. Afterwards, his fame grew exponentially; his first studio album “My World 2.0” (2010) topped the U.S. charts and established his name in early 2010s pop canon.
An individual of such success must have it all together, right? Not always. This type of pressure is what leads child stars to an adolescence full of pressure and scrutiny.
Take Miley Cyrus. Many Gen Z babies remember Cyrus’ internet-breaking single “We Can’t Stop,” released in 2013. Just two years after watching a young, innocent Hannah Montana on Disney Channel, fans were shocked to see such a drastic change to Cyrus’ public image. Many criticized Cyrus for this ‘new version’ of herself. Later on in 2013, The Guardian wrote, “the Wrecking Ball video doesn’t demonstrate a woman exploring her sexuality, it depicts a woman exploring the iconography of porn.” This criticism is frustrating, to say the least.
For decades, women — including female child stars — have been taught to be intriguing but not promiscuous, warm but not sexual. When Cyrus experimented with her image, she was criticized for not fitting the mold TV producers had previously forced her into as a child actor.
Bieber experienced his own fair share of backlash. His 2014 DUI arrest was just one example of the many times he has faced widespread shaming for his actions. He laments on “Lonely,” “And maybe that’s the price you pay / For the money and fame at an early age.” Feeling that “no one gave a shit” about his mental state, Bieber experienced a sense of isolation that no one would have expected from a chart-topping celebrity.
Any adolescent struggles with understanding the consequences of their actions and discovering their identity, so for child stars to have their development constantly publicized is especially damaging. Bieber cuts, “They criticized the things I did as an idiot kid.”
Cyrus and Bieber did not deserve the negativity spewed at them during these formative periods of their lives. To expect a teenager to completely apprehend the world around them is unrealistic and dangerous, and can take a toll on their mental health. As seen with celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes and Bella Thorne, one’s on-screen personality does not necessarily correlate with their true identity.
Child stars emerge with enormous pressure to fit societal expectations. In reality, anyone who has experienced the tumult of adolescence knows that it is unfair and unreasonable to write someone off for mistakes they made as a teenager. Growth and experience should be celebrated, as child stars have to eventually break from the societal standards imposed on them to embrace their true identities.