Crystalline seas, nudity and beautiful islands are all telltale facets of the ‘Peak Unreal’ – but what lies beneath?
Justin Bieber is so totally naked in Australia sans his traditional Calvin Kleins. He’s at one with nature, immersed in the Earth. Not only is he naked, he‘s completely comfortable with being naked and he wants you to know it. Men are traditionally uncomfortable disrobed in the presence of other men, but not Biebs. He‘s relaxed near the sea, even though the day before this photo was taken his friend Joe was mauled by an out of control reef shark. He is totally fearless, a chiselled pylon of all-American action.
He’s happier than he’s ever been, despite recently appearing sad-faced and stony in the "Where Are U Now" video, his recent gloomcore hit made in partnership with Diplo and Skrillex, a song that’s widely assumed to be an ode to his ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez. This photo is a paradox, its context offering only contradictions. It’s Rich Kids Of Instagram at the same time that it’s the genuine realisation of the American Dream. It’s "Peak Unreal" – the height of artificial reality, aspirational yet depressing, as modern as the latest filter.
But back to the emotional content – what‘s going through his mind here? Confounded by a (possible) broken heart, it’s feasible that the adult Bieber has regressed. In the photo – captioned "look" – he points at an island the same way that a 3-year old tugs at its mother’s dress and encourages her to look at a plane in the sky. We’ve all seen an island before Justin, we’ve all got Google, some of us have even been on one. This situation is totally toddler – he’s naked, monosyllabic and pointing at something everyone’s seen a million times. Is everything OK?
Does he want us to "look" at the island and recognise it simply for the noun that it is, nod in agreement that yes, that is an island, or does he want us to see the island through a different lens and for what it is really is – a natural habitat loaded with connotations of decadence and wealth, a place from a brochure or someone else’s Instagram account. "Look", he may say. "At me. At all this."
But maybe the "look" means something else. After all, the most important thing about this photo, the attention grabbing asset, is his behind. It’s not bad either, we’d wager that most adult men would be happy to have it. It’s perhaps natural that he’d direct attention to this undeniably deluxe feature. Already the pic has spawned the hashtag #TURNAROUNDJUSTIN, a command that one can read as multi-layered. Do we want him to physically spin around just so we can see his junk, or do we want him to emotionally U-turn and forgo this chaotic celebrity life of big boats, bums and ill behaviour?
Is Bieber channelling Christopher Columbus, hinting at taking a similar place in history to the American explorer, the person widely credited as "the man who discovered America"? Maybe Justin believes that he, nearly six hundred years later, has managed to find America all over again. Has he discovered new cultural land as yet untrodden? Be careful Justin, the explorer’s stock is only falling as time goes by.
Questions must also be asked of Instagram for allowing this photo to stand as it’s an image that smashes the site’s nudity laws. "We do not allow content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks," say the rules. It’s unfair and unlikely that a woman would get away with this. But Bieber is a bloke and a famous one too – as it stands the photo has gathered 1.3 million likes and been shared all over Twitter. It’s good for brand.
But letting it remain enables us to over-analyse what’s going on here. As with all "Peak Unreal" Instagram photos, it’s hard to gauge the authenticity of the emotional content. Really Justin, where are you now?