I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Growing up, I was not what you would call a “Belieber.” But like so many young girls of my generation, I viewed cultural moments involving Justin Bieber with a sense of absolute urgency. In the decidedly skewed reality of my preteen years, he was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence — a comet with a hot bowl cut. He was attractive. He could sing. He could dance. Some people are born with It, while the rest of us must merely witness It. At the time, looking away from Justin Bieber was an impossible task.
In February 2012, I was forced to look at him yet again, and it has stayed with me ever since. At what may have been the climax of their relationship in the public eye, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez starred in a homemade music video set to Carly Rae Jepsen’s sleeper hit “Call Me Maybe.” It was posted to YouTube, where, as of this publication, it has received 76,487,637 views.
The whole thing is brief, but I can recall it from memory in flashes of black and white and sepia, rife with fake Ray-Bans and mustaches. To kick it off, Bieber, dressed in one of those stupid beanies he used to wear, juggles what appear to be some oranges. Gomez shakes her shoulders gracefully, and a single swath of bang from her messy bun falls across her face. It’s full of gyrating and fist pumping, and Ashley Tisdale deserves some kind of award for her role as a tipsy sorority girl who just needs this night out. Big Time Rush is also in it for some reason. Someone flashes a Hunger Games novel at the camera. They even pretend to sing into a landline phone, which better demonstrates how this video is an ancient relic than I could ever describe.
The video satisfied the ultimate celebrity question: What do stars do when we can’t see them? This concern is useless now — if anything, we see them too often. But in 2012, Instagram was still getting its sea legs. Snapchat had been released only the previous year. Stories of any kind didn’t really exist yet. Occasionally, famous people (including Bieber) would share a link to a livestream, but that was all we got. So what did Bieber do? It turned out that, similar to a lot of kids, he fucked around on iMovie in a kitchen with his friends.
The rich and famous actively try to convince us they’re #relatable, and generally it comes off as extremely cringeworthy. On all corners of social media, this has become inescapable, and grocery-store photo ops and replies to fans on Twitter rarely come across as natural. But this particular video felt real to me, if only because it came out before that kind of thing was a regular occurrence.
Bieber still gets thrown into the celebrity news cycle. He’s gone through his bad-boy years, put out a few quality albums, and recently married Hailey Baldwin. But I think about that video now because there’s too much sludge in the world of viral content to keep up all the time. When I first saw it, I wasn’t tired yet.
At the two-and-a-half-minute mark, Gomez leans in on Bieber, mouthing the words to the song’s breakdown. “It’s hard to look right at you, baby,” she whispers, getting closer and closer. The audience is on the edge of its seat, and Jelena knows it. Tisdale pushes the two of them apart at the crescendo, a perfect bait-and-switch move. The video ends with Bieber saying, “Swag,” a sort of mic drop. An unidentified woman can be heard announcing that “Shit just got real.” Fin.
Shit has been real for a very long time, but this video makes me forget that. When it seems like it’s all over — which could be any day now by the looks of it — stick this video into a time capsule. It will say to aliens light-years away, “Look. This is how things were here before things got so dark.” It feels like a fever-dream artifact of the shockingly recent past. To watch the “Call Me Maybe” lip-sync is to indulge in the fantasy that celebrities are just like us — silly children, drawn to to pop music like moths to a flame, and maybe even ridiculously in love.