02/20/2011 02:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Understanding Justin Bieber's Fandom: What's Behind His Pop Success?

It was a tough week for the teen sensation. Justin Bieber's new movie Never Say Never finished second at the box office last weekend, then he lost at the Grammys, was the subject of controversy for a Rolling Stone story, and his character was killed on CSI. But that wasn't symbolic of the end of Bieber: He grabbed headlines on Friday night with his MVP performance at... the NBA all-star celebrity game. It's been a rocky road for the pop star. His stardom has also given pop critics time to evaluate what's behind Bieber's appeal, popularity, and following. Here, a sample of what they're saying:

Social media propels Bieber: "Some say the 15-year-old Canadian's rise to superstardom is evidence of his preternatural talent and charisma. Not really," says Elizabeth Currid-Halkett in the New York Daily News. Even if Beiber might be musically talented, "our economy these days is basically designed to produce Biebers." His story and fandom demonstrates the "way we congregate and consume the culture in a YouTube and Facebook world." This is an example of "a cultural tsunami" and how one teenager's popularity can spread so rapidly. We're entirely focused on -- and engaging with -- celebrities. "Every breath they take, every move they make, we'll be watching them."

He comes across as genuine: "So is there a good reason Justin Bieber is this famous?" asks Amos Barshad at New York. Teen idols have come before, but this "level of shrieking megafame is inexplicable if you look at Bieber's singing and dancing abilities." "He does, somehow, know how to carry himself" -- he has "a natural star quality." With that in mind, "his team was game to build a documentary, and not just a concert film" to showcase his real talents: He "exhibits the kind of range of human emotions we at times assume the truly famous transcend." We're only now waking up to the empire he's assembled.

The water may get hotter for him: "That Mr. Bieber holds sway over a certain cross-section of young women is undeniable. Like a cult leader, he rules largely through suggestion and iconography, not direct command," says Jon Caramanica in The New York Times. But what happens when Bieber "fills out as a man"? Will Bieber's music and his views continue to represent young women then? "The trick of pop success is to achieve a conspiratorial bond with fans, to assert that you speak the same language as they do, even -- or especially -- when others can't understand," Caramanica adds. "By taking a stand against abortion, Mr. Bieber risks finding out how frail and tenuous that bond might be."

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