Justin Bieber's reported comments hoping that Anne Frank would have been a fan mark, even with the most generous interpretation, a case of good intentions overwhelmed by a clumsy, tone-deaf performance.
But given recent reports of erratic behavior, Bieber’s posthumous anointing of Frank as a possible "Belieber" offers another troubling sign – or perhaps a turning point – for a 19-year-old singer who officially lost all perspective when he juxtaposed his enormous success with the enormity of the Holocaust.
There's an inherent risk in mixing pop with the profound. Just ask LL Cool J and Brad Paisley, whose "Accidental Racist," a misguided attempt at racial understanding through song, inadvertently defends and perpetuates stereotypes.
The greatest threat to the Beatles' stardom came when John Lennon declared the group more popular than Jesus. He meant the statement as commentary on society's own loss of perspective amid his band’s overwhelming fame. But any nuance drowned in the uproar that met his widely reported sound bite nearly a half-century ago.
It didn't help Bieber that the note he reportedly left in the guestbook at the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam came in at tweet length: “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.”
The three short sentences don’t offer much on Bieber’s thoughts after he visited the home where Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years before she ultimately perished at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at age 15. Thankfully, we have Frank’s diary, in which she tells her story in great detail, putting an unforgettable human face on the inhumanity Hitler and his minions wrought.
The controversy over Bieber’s guestbook entry arrives amid reports of Michael Jackson-like travails with his pet monkey, scuffles with paparazzi, and a growing penchant for tattoos and showing up late to concerts. Even if his comments unwittingly convey insensitivity and self-absorption, we can only hope that Bieber left the Frank House with a new outlook on his great fortune.
The Bieber storm is flooding Twitter, where, as The Associated Press noted, some devoted fans of the world's current most popular teenager tweeted they never heard of Frank, one of the 20th Century’s most important teens.
That’s shocking, but there's an opportunity for some good to emerge from the latest Bieber flap. If he hasn’t already, maybe Bieber will read Frank's classic “The Diary of a Young Girl” – and urge his fans to follow suit. Then perhaps one day all the young Beliebers will understand.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.