Justin Bieber’s interview with VIBE.
THE NORMAL, ABNORMAL LIFE OF JUSTIN
$100 MILLION MAN-CHILD JUSTIN BIEBER ISN’T IMPRESSED BY HIS OWN WEALTH. ALTHOUGH HE’S TAKING FINANCIAL POINTERS FROM MONEY TEAM’S FLOYD MAYWEATHER, HE’S MORE IN NEED OF A SIT-DOWN WITH QUINCY JONES. IT’LL HELP HIS DIVINE PLAN TO BE THE BEST… OF ALL TIME THE NORMAL, ABNORMAL LIFE OF JUSTIN
WRITTEN BY LOLA OGUNNAIKE / PHOTOS BY SCOTT COUNCIL
STYLED BY DAVID THOMAS AT OPUS BEAUTY
Backstage at Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, Justin Bieber is lounging in a dressing room, quietly nursing a cold. Despite it being a balmy afternoon in Burbank, Calif., he’s at the tail end of a phlegmy, throat-clearing cough that rattles his slight frame like a pair of maracas. His eyes, brown and Keane-painting wide, are heavy. He’d much rather be under the covers than under the probing watch of this reporter. So, he coughs again and wipes a bit of spittle from his perfect pout. It’s hard to believe that moments earlier he was driving the Ellen audience into screaming, hip-swiveling hysterics with “Boyfriend,” the first single from his latest album, Believe.
“You can’t let it show,” Bieber says, sounding like a seasoned performer. “You have to be a professional.” While most kids his age are readying themselves for beer binges and other college high jinks, pop’s reigning prince is preparing for more money, minimal problems. No time for sick days and even less time for sleep. A new album, a worldwide tour, dozens of businesses and investments and a longtime girlfriend—Selena Gomez, if you’ve been in a coma—all require his full attention.
Forbes recently named him the third most powerful celebrity in the land (Jennifer Lopez topped the list and Oprah Winfrey was number two). It would be an impressive accomplishment at any age, but given the fact that Bieber is only 18—which means he can’t legally drink, just earned the right to vote and won’t be eligible for say a presidential run for another 17 years, if he was an American citizen—makes it even more laudable. Bieber, though thankful for the Forbes love, wasn’t all that impressed when he heard the news. His reaction? “Oh, that’s cool,” he recalls, reeking of teenage insouciance. “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome!’ I could really care less.”
When one has Bieber money, one can pretty much afford to do anything one wants, and that includes not giving a rat’s ass about much other than music. That he’s managed to remain levelheaded and stay out of trouble thus far (minus the occasional skirmish with an overzealous paparazzo or baseless baby-daddy accusation, which he addresses on the song “Maria,” his version of “Billie Jean”) is a feat. That, however, doesn’t mean he’s perfect. “He has his moments,” says Allison Kaye, general manager at Scooter Braun, the company that oversees Bieber’s career. “But when I get ahead of myself and want to strangle him, I think about the fl ip side. If he wasn’t being a crazy 18-year-old, he’d be a creepy robot kid. I’d rather him be a normal 18-year-old.”
This afternoon he’s neither crazy, creepy nor robotic, but he is fi dgeting incessantly. His Supra-clad feet move a neighboring coffee table back and forth throughout our conversation. It’s not until I ask him about fame that he grows still and philosophical. “What does that really mean, ‘to be famous’?” he asks. “In general, fame can tear you apart, so you can never really feel like you’re famous. When people start acting like they’re famous, that’s when they start losing it.” He’s guarded and not keen on sharing much about his personal life. Ask him about where he currently resides and, “California,” is all he’ll offer.
“Do you have a big home?”
“Maybe,” he says. A quick Google search reveals that Bieber recently purchased a 10,000-square-foot stunner in Calabasas, Calif., for $6.5 million.
“How many cars do you own?”
“I don’t know,” he says, working the coffee table again like it’s a skateboard. “I don’t like giving too much personal information about where I live and the cars I drive… There are a lot of people in this world that aren’t good people, and all they need to do is a little research and then they can…,” he grows quiet for a bit. “People hiding in garbage cans overnight to catch [pictures] of me. Crazy things happen.You can’t give out too much personal information.”
WITH BELIEVE, IT’S clear Bieber now wants to make music more befi tting of Maybachs than minivans. The album features collabos with artists like Big Sean (one of his favorite MCs), Drake, Nicki Minaj and Ludacris; producers Rodney Jerkins, Diplo and Hit Boy join the party, too. “Boyfriend” has already been viewed more than 80 million times on YouTube. His Believe tour, which starts this fall, sold out in North America in one hour. Tickets for both Madison Square Garden shows were gone in less than 60 seconds. It’s an auspicious beginning for the grown-up phase of Bieber’s career. And yet, whether this album will catapult him from teen phenom to adult superstar, do for him what Justifi ed did for Justin Timberlake and 8701 did for his mentor Usher, isn’t a foregone conclusion. “He’s got a great fan base of course,” says Steve Bartels, COO of Island Def Jam Music Group. “But our job is to convince people outside of the fan base that he is the real deal.”
The stats thus far surely aren’t fake. Since invading your kid sister’s world in 2009 with My World, Bieber has sold more than 15 million albums, racked up more than 23 million Twitter followers (only Lady Gaga has more) and more than 43 million Facebook fans. His Never Say Never tour grossed $150 million, and his biopic of the same name pulled in $100 million at the box office. Six years ago, he was busking for spare change at the local street festival in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario. In the past two years alone, he’s made nearly $110 million dollars. Of course, none of this would be possible if not for the millions of Beliebers who follow his every move, purchase and hoard anything with his name attached (cologne, dolls, nail polish) and spend months making him scrapbooks of his life and dictionaries of his slang. In May, after he tweeted to his Oslo, Norway, fans about a free show at the Opera House, thousands descended upon the venue like a swarm of preadolescent locusts. Covered in glittery hearts and “I Love Justin” declarations, the throng so overwhelmed the local police department that a state of emergency was nearly called. He created a major traffic jam in Paris days later when he serenaded fans from a balcony at Universal Music headquarters. And he caused a similar hysteria at the Ellen show earlier this afternoon when he announced that everyone in the studio audience would receive two free tickets to his L.A. concert later this year. A collective, eardrum-crushing scream enveloped the room. Several in attendance were left apoplectic. Others burst into joyful sobs. Dressed in cutoff shorts and a Forever 21 top, one Bieber Stan continued hyperventilating well after the show had finished taping. “I….never….win….anything,” she said, barely able to speak as her father stood by looking both amused and worried.
“My fans are crazier than anyone else’s fans,” Bieber says proudly. “I’ve had girls make light-up signs with actual mechanics involved. Like it takes them three months to make that sign. Three months! That’s a long time.”
Bieber couldn’t really be blamed if his ego were to go haywire. The power to reduce girls across the globe into pink puddles of tears can be intoxicating. But even if his head were to swell, one gets the sense that his camp wouldn’t stand for it. “Am I hard on Justin?” his manager Scooter Braun asks. “Hell yeah, I’m hard on him. But I’m honest, and I’m not hard on him for no reason. No kid can know their own true potential. As adults it is our responsibility to push them to be the best that they can be.”
THE PATH FROM child star to adult icon has seldom been a smooth one. Few have managed to successfully make the leap, and even fewer have managed to do it sans a rehab stint, a DUI arrest, a public meltdown, a sex scandal or some combination of all of the above. Bieber’s team talks a great deal about “how to transition him.” The first step: Braun says jokingly, “Is to get him to pull up his pants. When I get him to pull his pants all the way up, the transformation will have been made.” The second step? Smash records. “Make great music,” Braun says, “and you will last in the music industry. It’s pretty simple.” He believes Bieber will be a hit maker for decades to come if he stays focused and committed to excellence. “You see all these teenage superstars and none of them ever have their talent run out on them,” he says. “It’s their personal life decisions that destroy their career. If I can help him become a good man, then he can handle the pressures of this life and get through it with grace.”
These days, when he’s not in the studio, he’s in rehearsals for eight hours a day. Being the best requires it. Braun says they look to Michael Jackson’s career and legendary work ethic for inspiration. “He’s the greatest entertainer of all time,” Braun says. “The greatest to ever perform. The most charitable of all time. Justin may be the only artist in the world right now who has an opportunity to have a career in the public eye as long as Michael’s. He’s growing up in front of us.”
It’s easy to imagine Bieber remaining baby-faced well into his adult years. God knows it would be good for business. “My mom looks pretty young and my dad does, too, so hopefully I will, too,” says the Canadian. As he strokes his chin, which is as soft as a newborn’s bottom, he admits that there’s one thing about adulthood that he’s not looking forward to. “I hate shaving,” he says. “It’s really going to suck when I have to start shaving every day.”