"Actually you should thank me for participating in this extremely transparent attempt to be more likable in the public eye. And, I hope it doesn't work," Buress said at the podium. The line isn't particularly disgusting, or even cruel. But, like Buress, we get it, too. For all the shots lobbed at Bieber at the roast, the public skewering was a highly orchestrated PR move, meant to beguile non-Beliebers into once again rooting for the troubled artist by proving that he could take a joke with the best of them. The comeback plan has been obvious to anyone paying attention, but its seems -- the ones explicitly called out in Buress' joke -- could not be shown. Bieber wanted to show himself getting kicked in the groin, but not why he was getting kicked in the groin.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's natural for Bieber and his team to make moves in order to get back in the good graces of music consumers exhausted by his personal shenanigans. Bieber has been making the nice-guy rounds lately after two years of various controversies -- in recent weeks, he's appeared on Ellen, popped by an Ariana Grande show and goofed around on ABC's new reality comedy Repeat After Me. All of these moves have been designed to return Bieber to a positive light ahead of his next music project, which he and manager Scooter Braun have teased for a 2015 release.
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The roast was an extension of that reintroduction, and it arrived via self-immolation. It was as if, by gathering a group of famous people in a room to poke fun at his DUI arrest, weed smoking, mop-bucket urination and Selena Gomez breakup, Bieber was silently copping to those mistakes and tossing them behind. Bieber presented an effigy of his awful old image, soaked it in gasoline and gave a bunch of matches to some comedians. And once it was a heap of ashes, Bieber could be the slick-haired phoenix he wants to morph into this year.
As if this agenda wasn't clear, Bieber ended his rebuttal at the conclusion of the roast with an apology for his past transgressions, in a stilted speech that began with a "let's get serious for a second" transition. "I was thrown into this at 12 years old, and didn't really know what I was getting myself into," he said. "There's been a lot of moments I am proud of and a lot of moments I am disappointed for myself, but the things that I have done really don't define who I am. I am a kind-hearted person who loves people, and through it all I lost some of my best qualities and for that I'm sorry. But what I can say is I am looking forward to being someone you can all look at and be proud of someone you can smile at and see some of yourself in."
What kind of celebrity ends his roast with an apology? One that really needs people to like him again, that's who. Bieber's words, read off of a Teleprompter, combined desperation with manufactured righteousness, and were meant to evoke sympathy for a young man who a lot of people still dislike -- and who needs to offer more than a few scripted platitudes before he's fully redeemed in the public eye.
The apology was a shrewd move, and some viewers were undoubtedly won over by Bieber's words. By ending with Bieber's mea culpa and cutting out Buress' joke, however, the roast revealed itself to be another carefully controlled stunt by the wizards of Bieber's PR team. Next time, Bieber would be better served if he let his onlookers actually peek behind the curtain.