“Trapped in a London hotel, with the sound of girls’ screams drifting up from the street, Justin Bieber – creamy skinned, limpid eyed and the biggest teen star in the world – is discussing his penis” This week, the singers crushing popularity on social media sites has resulted in the name “Jerry” trending worldwide. “Yep!” beams the boy-man. “The fans named my penis Jerry, which is funny.” “Why Jerry” “Um, Jerry was actually the largest man,” he smiles, attempting a joke about a big-girthed entrant in the Guiness Book of Records.
Sitting on the other side of the hotel suite is Allison Kaye, his general manager and one of hi close-knit team (bodyguard, musical director, videographer/photographer, stylist, hairstylist, managers, his mother and/or his father), half a dozen of whom surrounded Bieber at all times. Kaye looks up from her BlackBerry. “I thought Ron Jeremy had that record.” “No I just made that up,” the youngster backtracks, oblivious , I think, to the identity of Ron Jeremy, the legendary endowed porn star. Well-drilled young man that his is, Bieber knows he probably shouldn’t be discussing the size of his genitalia. Three years and 8m albums into a metoric career, a lot rests on his slender shoulders. When you’re staring down the barrel of your first grown-up record, trying to prove you’re not a jokey kid fad, there is too much at stake for such lewdness.
Bieber turned 18 ion March 1. The Canadian boy who became the first superstar of the social media age is now a man, legally at least. Courtesy of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and Youtube, he’s the most fawned-over, scrutinised teen singer ever. Tweens love him for his sweet voice, blinding white teeth and flicky hair. “the bieber bang” is so famous it had it’s own segment in his concert film Never Say Never! But what’s the boy in the buble, really like?
I’ve spent the past six months trying to find out. And out first order of business is to ascertain whether Justin Bieber really is as vanilla as his image suggests. Last November, Mariah Yeater, 2O, claimed that, at the age of 16, Justin Bieber impregnated her during a hasty, post-concert knee-trembler in his dressing room at the Los Angles’ Staples Center.
TeamBieber of course denied the accusation, but the kid had to take a paternity test. Was it embarrassing giving a semen sample? “No!” he replies quickly, horrified. “I just had to do, um, it was just DNA, so I didn’t have to do any, like, that type of sample. They just put the swab to my mouth for DNA.” (Side-note: Bieber is clean cut in many ways. “I hate getting sticky stuff off my hands. I’ve always had, like a phobia – not a phobia, but if I get stuff on my hands, I have to have a washcloth to wash my hands because it just gets so annoying.”)
Today, it has deemed too much of a security risk for Bieber to leave the hotel with me for a planned round of urban golf. His 24/7 bodyguard, Moshe Benabou, a former Israeli soldier, doesn’t like the idea. All week girls have been throwing themselves in front of Bieber’s car whenever he emerged. Even the pop star’s road manager, Kenny Hamilton, was chased by fans as he dared a jog in the park.
So we’re staying put. Bieber fixes me with those remarkable eyes and answers everything, often repeating the question back to me as he wasm no doubt, long-ago instructed. He starts sipping a Coke from a bottle, before Kaye swipes it away and pours a glass. “Sorry, I’m having nightmares of you cracking your teeth. That bottle is dangerous” she says, half joking.
Bieber’s ambition is to win over all demographics, not just the hordes of Beliebers, with his new album, Believe. His debut offering, My World 2.O, was a fizzy and gentle, high-pitched tween product – The Osmonds with an R&B topspin – largely created by a host of backroom songwrites. But his follow-up has a roster of A-list, grown-up guests.
“It’s music for everybody, it’s not corny,” he tells me. His co-writers and singers range from Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Will.I.Am to his mentor, Usher, the R&B superstar he calls “big bro”. Bieber had a hand in much of the writing himself. And his voice has broke. Old – that is very young – fans will be kept on side by that still-cherubic voice, and by an update of his haircut into a James Dean-ish quiff.
Meanwhile, the hope is that new – older – fans will be attracted by his creditable collaborations.
Michael Jackson is one of Bieber’s heroes, a point he repeatedly makes in a speaking style that alternates between stuttering childishlike and media-trained polished. Yes, he is aware that the late superstar “went through a lot, and didn’t have a childhood really, and at the end there he just got into a lot of… stuff.. Everyone could listen to his music and it was appropriate. But it was also edgy. That’s what my music is: but it’s pop”
After our discussion of genitalia, we move on to facial hair. “I shave, yeah,” says the kid with (at time of writing) 20,970,764 Twitter followers, who was also last years most google’d celebrity. “But not often. I only grow a little moustache. It’s good not to have that much, right?! Some guys have to shave everyday. Twice a day! My dad has to shave often, his face gets a lot of hair. So I probably will…”
If you needed to, would you wax your chest? “Yeah… Um, I don’t know… Shave it or wax ?” “Waxing is the worst,” says Kate, “although actually Justin hates it when they have to pluck his eyebrows.” The Ken-doll handsome Bieber considers this new informationwith a slight wrinkle of his burnished, single-pimpled brow. “I don’t know if I could do it.”
Will he ever get a tattoo? “I have four,” he says proudly. “I have my legs tatted…” He rolls up his jeans. On his left calf there’s a bearded face. Who’s that guy? “That’s Jesus. Look and the detail,” he says fingering his skin. “This was done four months ago too,” he adds pointing at a pair of praying hands. “I’m gonna get this slended in together, so it’s gonna be like one..” A religious tableau? “Yeah. I’ll have some, like scrollwork and some, ah, some roses and stuff, just tie it all in.”
Bieber is a believer. God and all “that stuff” he testifies, “means a lot to me. I pray when I go to sleep. I pray during the say, when I have a problem or when I just want to thank Him for all He’s done for me. Without God I wouldn’t be in this position. He’s bessed me with the talent and the oppertunity and everything. I feel like there’s also a reason I’m here.”
His mother, Pattie Mallette (1,077,059 Twitter followers), fell pregnant at 18 and split from his 19-year-old father a few months after Justin was born, bringing him up as a single mother in Stratford, Ontario, a small city 80 miles from Toronto. She is even more devout than her son. “She talks to God every second of the day,” he says. Bieber wasn’t hot-housed by a pushy parent – Mallette turned to God for advice when Scott “Scooter” Braun, Bieber’s 30-year-old manager, discovered his homemade videos on YouTube in 2008 and offered him a contract.
Her faith, says Bieber, will be one strand of her autobiography, Nowhere But Up, due out in September. “You know, she was into drugs and alchohol heav [sic], and she was abused as a child, sexually… She just wants to tell the world that you can have a voice and it does get better. She has been through a lot, and she wants me to help the world.” Mallette’s troubled past means she is very protective of her only son, but she seems to leave all the key creative decisions to Braun.
Anyway, back to the tattoos. “Then I got this on my side.” Bieber pulls up his T-shirt, revealing a smooth, lightly muscled torso and the top of his underpants. I fancy that, out on Kensington High Street, the fans’ hysteria just tipped into hormonal glossolalia a Twitterverse reboot of butterfly-flaps-wings chaos theory.
This has happened already this week. At the playback of songs from Believe, he talked to 250 memebers of the media and a few select fans about his new song, Be Alright. It’s dedicated to his Disney-princess girlfriend, the 19-year-old actress/singer Selena Gomez (a relationship non-Beliebers consider a too-perfect, image-enhancing setup). He said he wrote it after he landed in “some random country”. Braun shouted that it was Indonesia, but it was too late. Within hours there calls for Bieber-boycotts in the world’s fifth most populous state. Bieber had to jump on the mice-blogging side and send his 15,249th tweet. He told his (at the time) 20,069,44 followers: “One rumour I won’t stand for is saying what me and my fans have isn’t real. Idonesia I see you. i love u. I love ALL MY FANS #fact”. Phew, crisis averted.
Back to his tattoos again. There’s a vertical strip of writing near his left nipple. “This is ‘Jesus’ in Hebrew.” The;s a squiggly inked line on his ribcage. Is that a steer’s skull? “No, it’s a dove. Sorry, a segull – because of this book my dad read, Jonathan Livingston Segull. Richard Bach’s syrupy 1970’d self-help novella has in fact been read by my whole family” Is it an inspirational book for Bieber? “Yeah. Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s basically about a seagull that’s more that a seagull.”
Is that a good metaphor for you? “Yeah I wanna be more than just the average person. I want to go above and beyond and exceed my expectations.
I first caught up with Justin Bieber in November, last year, when he came to London to switch on the Christmas Lights at the two Westfield shopping centres. I went on to interview him during two trips to LA and caught up with his mentor, Usher, in New York, while Bieber was there collecting an award from the TriBeca Film Festival. The “Disruptive Innovation” honour seems to be a slightly elliptical acknowledgement of the fact that Bieber, in circumventing old media channels to talk directly to his fans, is a new kind of youth celebrity. He only released his first single three years ao, and he’s not quite finished with school yet. (“I have to write a short story, it’s like 15 paragraphs. Then I’m doing another essay on, um, on… Anne Frank. You know who Anne Frank is?” he asks thirty something Kaye. She does)
Last year was quite a quite one by his standards. He put out a Christmas record and a perfume, Someday, completed a 130-daye world tour and released his first film, Never Sat Never, the world highest grossing concert movie. His (at the newest time of writing) 21,114,324 twitter followers are only outnumbered by Lady Gaga’s. Who would win in a fight? I ask: his 21m Beliebers or her 23m “Little Monsters”? “I think the Beliebers would win,” says the fiercely competitive Bieber. Really? Your fans are kids. Lady Gaga’s fans probably wear boots and have whips, I point out. “But the Beliebers have dads. Dads are vicious, you know that,” he retorts.
Bieber recieved a pair of drumsticks aged three and his mother posted the first YouTube video of him performing at the age of 12. His vision of a future where he isn’t making music is a bleak one. Without it, “I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford college, so the cycle would have continued. And my kids wouldn’t have had a lot of money either.” He’d have been a teenage dad as well? “Yep”
One day in LA, as he waited ro film a commercial with 1990’s rapper Busta Rhymes, I watched him dribble a basketball with some finesse. He could have been a sportsman if not a musition, I suggest. “I know,” he nods. “I love scooter, I love basketball. Sports is my thing.” So, music first and sports second. What’s third? “Um girls,” he smiles.
When news of his “love child” with Mariah Yeater broke, Gomez called him right away. “She was, like, ‘Do you see what they’re saying on the internet?’” “I was like ‘Yeah.’ She was, like, ‘So…’ I was, like ‘No, it’s not true’. ‘Okay, thank you, bye!’ That was it,” he shrugs. “She trusts me.” Bieber has written a song about the incident. “I wanted to do something people would be like ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe he’s talking about that.” To have that awe factor” He’s even named the song after her, although he’s changed her name from Mariah to Maria. The paternity test was humiliating. “I was like, I can’t believe I’m doing a DNA test to see if this is my baby. Of course this is not my baby. I didn’t even meet this person. When I talked to Usher about it, he was like, ‘Listen, this is not gonna be the last time. Always be gracious, and the truth will eventually get out.’”
In LA, Bieber spent the day before his 18th birthday being photographed for the American black culture magazine Vibe, before heading for Ellen DeGeneres’ chatshow. I suggest to Braun that a year ago the hip hop and R&B focused magazine would never have considered featuring Bieber. “You know what’s weird?” shoots back his manager. “You’r wrong. How he’s been marketed in the UK has been the most frustrating, dissappointing thing to me. They’ve gone down the bubblegum route. It’s not him. Justin was never considered Disney/Nickelodeon teeny bop in the US. Ever.”
What was he then? “He was a cool young kid who hung out with everyone. He;s someone who had Kanye West oa remix when he was 15. He;s a kid from the projects, a kid who has a loving family but hasn’t grown up with the easiet background. And he’s a tough kid.”
Unlike Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers, “We never even took a meeting with Nickelodeon or Disney, because we knew that’s not who he was,” Braun says. The claim doesn’t quite square with his cute-as-a-button girlfriend, the star of Disney’s Wizards Of Waverly Place, but it seems Bieber is genuinely besotted with Gomez. At Ellen DeGeneres’ studio, he cuts me off as I ask a question, saying: “I’m going to call my girlfriend.”
So he does, reaching Gomez on the Florida set of her new film Spring Breakers. “Whats up baby? I can’t stop thinking about you… I said I can’t stop thinking about you. That’s all. Yes, so, um, I gotta do this interview but I just wanted to call and hear your voice really quickly… Okay, I love you. Okay bye.”
Skype and FaceTime keep them connected, he says. “Ten years ago, or even five years, long distance relationships were much harder. Now you see eachother anytime you want!” Is Bieber lonely? It doesn’t seem that way. Surrounded by adults from childhood and possed of an oddly grown-up mienhe has formed friendships that go beyond strictly business. His father, Jeremy, 37, who joined him on his birthday, is often around. Could Jeremy, a tattooed and muscled former mixed martial-arts fighter, tell me something about his son others may not know? “That I can share?” Jeremy replied. “My hands sweat a lot, so do his. And his feet. No, they don’t smell. And he was afraid of the dark for most of his life.” Does he sleep with a light on? “Sometimes.”
Braun, Usher and Kaye all take active roles in “parenting” Bieber. They don’t appear to indulge him, though he has copied Usher and bouht a big Ducatti 848 motorbike. Neither Braun not Mallette are ver happy about that. But, still, this is the day he becomes a man. So Usher and Braun have bought Bieber a car. “Does it fly?” exclaims Bieber. “I don’t want it unless it flies.” The electric Fisker Karma does’t fly, but it did cost $120,000, Bieber’s jaw drops. He climbs in and winds up the window. “Ut smells so good in here!” he yells.
Two days laterm Bieber confuses the “drive” and “reverse” buttons and shunts the brand new luxury sports car into a pole.
So far, sttill so teenage. But all things considered, Bieber is a decent kid. The teenage condition is by definition one of self-absorbtion and appogance. Apply that to a hurricane of hard work, a whirlwind of adulation (latest twitter figure: 21,533,243) and an avalanche of cash, you might say he has every right to be a world-beating brat.
But he’s not. He’s kept on a tight leashe by his small, focused entourage. His mum is a crucial bulward to the madness. And Bieber himself know what not to do. Ever been around drugs Justin? “Ah, I don’t really put myself in that postition… I’m pretty clear with that stuff.”What about sex, now that he’s a man? What happens when panties start getting thrown on stage. “The panties are already being thrown on stage man!” he whoops. Already, he’s maturing fast away from an asexualt Peter Pan existance.
Are you a virgin Justin? He gasps, embarrassed. “Ah-hah… Next Question!”.