Me, Myself, and Biebs

Corey Haim’s legendary 1989 video diary, Justin Bieber, and the warping heat of teen fame.

Corey Haim, Justin Bieber
Missing the similarities between Corey Haim and Justin Bieber? Just watch Me, Myself, and I.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images.

The blond, slight, hockey-obsessed Canadian teenager flirts outrageously with the camera, knowing full well that it is his greatest friend and professional asset. The young man is not just handsome, he’s downright pretty, with a delicate, androgynous beauty that drives the teenyboppers crazy but also, uncomfortably, makes him an object of erotic desire for adults as well. He’s still several years away from being able to drink legally in his adopted country of the United States but he looks much, much younger, less like a late teenager on the cusp of manhood than a boyishly handsome middle-aged lesbian.

He is so popular with teenyboppers that his name has become synonymous with a subset of perpetually screaming teen, tween, or preteen girls. This is a gift and a curse: It gives him a massive, loyal, and devoted fan base but it also makes it difficult, if not prohibitively impossible, for him to be taken seriously. He is a popular subject of worship and derision, lusty adulation and glib mockery. Child stardom of this nature and ferocity and intensity is not something to be experienced or enjoyed: It is something to be survived and endured, and sometimes even that is asking too much.

The young man in question is not Justin Bieber. It’s the late Corey Haim. The video is Me, Myself, and I, a notorious, 40-minute long 1989 “video diary” the iconic former child star made following one of many stints in rehab to prove to the world that he was clean, sober, and ready for work. Instead the video helped finish the job Haim had already started of destroying a once promising career.

In light of Bieber’s arrest in Miami and widely publicized reports (apocryphal, overblown and otherwise) of the singer’s struggles with drugs, alcohol, reckless Segway driving, and all-around teenage jackassery, it’s both instructive and a little unnerving to watch Me, Myself, and I, as the two teen heartthrobs have led weirdly simpatico lives. Haim’s proto-social-media fiasco could teach Bieber quite a bit about where his fame might be heading, should he have the humility to do so—though, unsurprisingly given the adulation Bieber’s received for years, humility is pretty much the last trait you would ascribe to Bieber today. There was certainly none present in Me, Myself, and I.

Me, Myself, and I was a doomed attempt to replace an ugly truth—that Haim was, if anything, even more dependent on drugs, lonely, promiscuous, and self-destructive than people imagined, if Corey Feldman’s recent tell-all autobiography Coreyography is to believed—with the flimsy, transparent fiction that Haim had conquered his demons. The video represents, in many ways, a prehistoric form of social media. In its tragicomic, hilariously and grotesquely misguided way, the “video diary” was an attempt to bypass the gatekeepers of culture and the vultures in the tabloid press and deliver a celebrity’s message straight to his fans.

Haim’s folly was a viral video before the term was ever invented. As documented in the wonderful recent documentary Rewind This!, it was the kind of campy pop culture ephemera that was passed from one pop culture buff to another for the sake of mocking laughter and unintentional hilarity. The tape was designed not only to make teenyboppers swoon; it was a calculated announcement to the industry that Haim was rehabilitated and available for work. It does not seem entirely coincidental that with the exception of the following year’s Prayer of the Rollerboys, Haim would never have another lead in a widely released theatrical film. Me, Myself, and I was the worst possible calling card for Haim.

Title aside, Me, Myself, and I was written and co-directed by Brooke McCarter, an actor who co-starred with Haim in The Lost Boys. In that movie, McCarter played a blood-sucking vampire; according to Feldman’s book, the role was appropriate, as Feldman catalogs McCarter among the many people in Haim’s orbit eager to make a quick buck off him at the expense of the teen idol’s perpetually imperiled dignity.

Rarely has a star appeared less clean and sober than Haim does in the video diary. His eyes often hidden behind shades, his body language jumpy and manic and overflowing with crazy energy, Haim talks a mile a minute, rattling off long, stream-of-consciousness rants that have, over time, made it into the annals of kitsch. Take Haim’s ecstatic assertion: “What does kissing really mean to me? To me if you feel, when you kiss a girl, that certain feeling of all those dolphins, like, swimming through your bloodstream, and you get those good tingles inside your stomach, I don’t think there’s anything better than kissing because, basically, it comes to, I guess, the word, love. I guess that’s what it’s all about.” The video sometimes resembles a perversely extenuated Facebook status update, the kind overflowing with emoji to convey a level of elation that cannot be conveyed through mere words alone, even words about the true essence of love resembling a intravenous invasion of microscopic sea mammals.

Sometimes, Haim’s statements have the mesmerizing banality and succinct simplicity of a transcendently stupid tweet. Me, Myself, and I is a firm believer in the now widely accepted notion that if a celebrity says something, it is inherently worthy of note, even if it’s something as poignantly mundane and dumb-ass simple as “Baseball—it’s all about hand-eye coordination,” “Driving is the thing in L.A.—you’ve gotta have a car,” or “You are what you wear—I wear something different every day.”

Me, Myself, and I offers its hero in a series of fun, Instagram-video-worthy tableaus: playing baseball and hockey, lounging by the pool, driving a sports car, noodling on keyboards, and modeling clothes, all before climactically delivering the fuzzy anti-drug, pro-positivity message that is the diary’s ostensible purpose: “Be smart. Don’t get messed up. Stay in school. Be anybody you want to be. Thanks.” It’s hypnotic in its empty-headed positivity, an exercise in teenybopper mythologizing that accidentally doubles as a deeply sad deconstruction of fame at its dizziest and most ephemeral.

The video feels like the missing link between the image-and-celebrity-obsessed experimental films of Andy Warhol, The Real World (which wouldn’t debut until years after Haim’s video), and the kind of v-logs and homemade videos found on YouTube, where Bieber first made his name as an adorable kid singing R&B covers as a preteen in 2007 and where he now rules as one of the most popular artists on the site, and by extension in the world. YouTube is also, appropriately, the final resting place of Me, Myself, and I (not surprisingly, it has not been released on DVD and is very hard to track down on VHS). It is on YouTube that Haim and Bieber, those weirdly aligned, deeply troubled Canadian man-children, are finally united.

Bieber currently finds himself at a personal and professional crossroads similar to the one Haim faced when he made Me, Myself, and I. On Christmas Eve Bieber sent out a tweet announcing his “retirement,” seemingly a passive-aggressive response to the media’s obsession with him. Like Me, Myself, and I, the tweet was an attempt to control a media narrative a teen star feels has spiraled out of control; also like the video, the result was like pouring gas on a flame. Bieber, like Haim in his adolescent prime, is clearly under an inhuman amount of stress, and is coping with it as poorly as most teenagers would.

I very much hope that Bieber is able to avoid the fate of countless doomed child stars like Corey Haim. I hope he makes it through this seeming turning point in his life and career with a new sense of maturity, that he’s able to take a step back and attain a sense of perspective on what has happened to him and what it means for his future. I imagine that a year or two away from the warping heat of the spotlight could do wonders for Bieber’s mental health and career longevity. It’s doubtful he could ever sink as low as Haim did—for one thing, he hasn’t suffered the horrific abuse that, according to Coreyography, Haim did—but the next few years could very well determine whether Bieber will evolve into an important and respected adult artist, or flamboyantly self-destruct like so many before him. Will he follow in the footsteps of the Justin Timberlakes of the world, or the Lindsey Lohans?

It’s hard to watch Me, Myself, and I and not feel both tremendous sympathy for the sweet, troubled kid at its center and guilty amusement over its inveterate ridiculousness. In the most poignant and troublingly, unintentionally comic moment in the video, Haim guilelessly enthuses, “I think maybe 10 years from now, I’m hopefully going to be, in like, Tahiti or something. Kicking back like in my huge mansion … just watching like the dolphins, and the porpoises and the sharks and the little sea horses.” In fact, 10 years later he’d be in and out of rehab, and a little more than 20 years later he’d be dead. With Me, Myself, and I, a desperate Haim tried to grab the controls of his career, but things were spiraling out of control too quickly. He looms as the ghost in the social media machine not just for Bieber but for all teen idols, a cautionary warning of what happens when a troubled young man is fatally unable to disconnect himself from the star-making machine.