Justin Bieber has not granted a solo interview in almost two years, and won't release new music until next year. Yet his life — his behavior, his arrest, his lawsuits — continues to make headlines. What the hell is going on in Camp Bieber?
In the new issue of New York magazine Vanessa Grigoriadis tries to make sense of it all. She recalls the time she first met the star, three years ago: He was 16 and saying stuff like "I like brunette girls. But I also like blonde girls. I like all girls!" He was being coached/shepherded by his manager, Scooter Braun, who said:
"Do I have to help Justin grow up, do I have to set boundaries, do I have to help him become a man? I think that's 99 percent of my job."
The responsibilities he's describing? That's parenting. Parenting was 99% of his job. Bieber's own father wasn't in the picture until, as Grigoriadis puts it, the multicolored Ferraris showed up. His mother, Patti Mallette, drank heavily, attempted suicide and stayed in a sanitarium before finding God.
"Justin is already talented—I can find records for him all day. No child star has ever lost as an adult because of their talent, ever. You can't say, 'Oh, their talent just disappeared when they hit 20.' They always lose because of their personal life—drugs, alcohol—every single time. So I tell Justin, 'The few exceptions just didn't fall into that sh—.' It's just not as hard as everyone thinks."
That said, Braun is, obviously, not Justin's parent, not in the relationship for love, not solely looking out for Justin's best interests.
Once, after an Orlando show, he started crying. "Justin sat down and told me he didn't like being famous," Braun said. He told Bieber, "We can do the teenage-pop-star thing with no long-term career plan, and we can ride this thing for a few years, and your career will be done — and I mean over — or we can sick to our current plan, which is following in the creative footsteps of Michael Jackson." But if you want the Michael Jackson career, Braun continued, "you have to grasp that you're never going to be normal again."
Bieber soon nodded in agreement. "I can't have normalcy in my life, but I don't have to get crazy about it," he said.
Then Bieber turned 18.
That's not only when Bieber started acting out more — abandoning the pet monkey, pissing in a bucket, smoking weed on planes — but also started hanging out with older men in the hip-hop industry. Guys like Birdman and Weezy, who may be loyal and have good music biz advice, but again, may not have Bieber's best interests heart.
The relationship between Bieber and Braun became strained; a source puts it this way: "It was a roller coaster between 'Justin is okay, everything's going to be fine,' [and] 'He's not okay, and he's not picking up the phone.'"
Griogoriadis describes the anxiety Bieber felt — your typical adolescent self-doubt, but compounded by the fact that he had no freedom, and was "living a life that had less to do with his real self than the ad department of a multinational corporation." He became stressed out, worried, "that his real self might be disappointing for people if they saw it." A source claims, "the kid developed real intense anxiety problems."
Grigoriadis points out that other celebs — Seth Rogen, the Black Keys — have called Bieber a "moron" and a "piece of shit." But honestly, especially in the wake of the racist joke videos, it seems obvious that he's emotionally stunted, lacking true authoritative guidance, in dire need of a responsible father figure, and having a fairly typical cry-for-help phase, only no one is listening. Or: We are listening, and we're scoffing, sneering, enjoying the meltdown, rolling our eyes, rubbing our hands together, greedily. Watching a kid implode. A kid who started singing on street corners partly because his family was broke; a kid without formal education; a kid who is trying to transition from a boy to a man with the world leering and watching him like a hawk.
As Grigoriadis writes:
Bieber is an essential player, and beneficiary, of the low-culture fixation of the moment: whether child stars, those entitled, overpaid — yet also tragic and pitiful — figures can make it across the wobbly bridge to adulthood without falling in the choppy waters below. This is a kinky national ritual, our current form of pop-culture sadism.
We rush to tear Bieber — and other child stars — down, label them cocky, spoiled, a hot mess. But it seems obvious that Justin's had an unstable childhood, an unhealthy amount of attention, daddy issues, anxiety problems and a couple of identity crises — and he's not even 21 yet. Bieber might not follow fellow child stars Shia LeBeouf and Amanda Bynes into rehab — where he can work on his mental health away from prying eyes and business-minded adults trying to make decisions for him — but maybe he should.
The full piece is here, and worth your while.
Images via Instagram.