As part of this week’s series on fandom, Vulture will profile a number of passionate, influential fans.
ORIGIN STORY: One of the oldest Justin Bieber fan sites (and yes, the word old is extremely relative here), the Bieber Army was founded by two Pennsylvania teens in September 2009, when Justin was a 15-year-old viral-video sensation promoting his first single. Jackie, also then 15, had just transitioned to home schooling to accommodate her competitive-cheerleading schedule and found herself with some extra time on her hands. She and her cheering pal Nicolette had both fallen hard for the aspiring pop star and decided to channel that love into the Justin Bieber Army website.
For Jackie, now a sophomore at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, Bieber remains something totally unique: an accessible superstar. “I love Justin because he’s real,” she declares. “He’s a down-to-earth 18-year-old who is very driven and cares about his fans. He wants to succeed more than anything, so he works hard to make it, while still making time to hang out low-key with friends and family and do normal teenage things.” Jackie became the primary force behind the Army and soon found herself at the forefront of Biebermania when it blew up. “We started networking with other fans online,” Jackie explains, “and from there, we worked together to make sure everybody knew what appearances he was going to be at or what shows he had. And then, I don’t know, it just escalated from there. The fan base grew very quickly.”
FIRST CONTACT: Jackie and her Bieber Army co-commanders (there have been five through the years; now it’s down to two) were officially introduced to Justin at a Philadelphia radio station in March 2010. At the time, Bieber was promoting My World 2.0, and its debut single “Baby” was still bopping around the Hot 100. As it turned out, Justin was already familiar with his Army, which then had around 20,000 Twitter followers (as opposed to its current half-million). “He was just like, ‘Oh my god. Thank you so much,’” Jackie recalls. “Like, he was really considerate and thankful for everything we had done for him. He was actually interested in getting to know us, not like when someone is like, ‘Nice to meet you’ and pretending to be nice to you, but, like, he actually genuinely cared. Which was wonderful.” The group frequently reconnects with Justin at events and gets a fair amount of his attention on Twitter — so much so, that they downplay it to keep other fans from getting jealous. “Justin’s fans are kind of feisty, and they’re very hating toward people who get retweeted a lot,” she tells us. “So we won’t tweet and be like, ‘Hey, we met Justin today’ or ‘Hey Justin, thanks for retweeting us.’ We kind of have to stay neutral from that. But he has retweeted us and tweeted us a bunch, and we’re very thankful for that because the Bieber Army wouldn’t be as successful as it is today without that.”
ÜBER-FAN DUTIES: Three to five hours a day of updating and posting, along with tracking all movements and appearances by Justin and posting video when available; defending him against particularly egregious rumors; and other miscellaneous support maneuvers, including organizing “buyouts.” In these, a group of fans descends on a store to buy all copies of an album and boost its sales figures. (The group donates extra CDs to children’s hospitals.)
INTER-FAN WARFARE: When asked what gets Beliebers worked up, Jackie sighs, “Oh, everything.” There’s frequent drama surrounding who Justin acknowledges on Twitter, who he chooses as the “lonely girl” to serenade at his concerts, who’s met him, who’s really met him, who’s lying about meeting him, etc. The Bieber Army’s policy is to stay neutral, unless there’s a vicious rumor that needs busting. “A lot of his fans are young, so anything that they read they’ll believe, which is really hard when you run a fan site for someone who’s so popular,” Jackie explains. “You have to constantly be on top of all the rumors, because once one has started, like the Mariah Yeater baby claim, it escalates quickly.”
LONG-TERM PLAN: Jackie has plans to study public relations and find work in the music business. As long as Justin is around, she says, the Bieber Army will be, too: She cannot imagine a world in which she will not remain dedicated. “I will always make time to update the site, even if it’s not as exhaustive as before,” she vows, “because I definitely believe in him, and I’ve been there since the beginning, so I will always be there to support him. And it’s become such an awesome thing for me, the Twitter and everything. I would hate to just give it up. I mean, I don’t really have a reason to.”