Love him or hate him, he’s a global phenomenon. Superstar Justin Bieber opens up about loneliness, Selena and why last year’s paternity lawsuit almost made him quit.
The course of securing an audience with a superstar never did run smooth. Our meeting with Justin Bieber has been a year in the making, an often painful process littered with false starts, schedule changes and dashed hopes.
But hey, we never stopped Beliebing. And we’re finally here for what is Justin’s only UK print interview. Woop! High fives! Yay, us!
The man himself, however, doesn’t exactly share our level of excitement.
Justin Bieber, arguably the world’s biggest pop star, is slouched in a swivel chair, swinging back and forth, making little attempt to hide his exhaustion from promoting his third studio album.
“Yeah I’m tired,” he says. “It’s OK though.”
So, this is the boy with the ability to irritate and captivate in equal measure. The boy with global album sales of 15 million and worth a reported £70million.
Outside the west London studio a throng of teenage “Beliebers” dolled up to the nines, wait in the rain, desperate to catch a glimpse of the 18-year-old heart-throb. Somehow, they always seem to track him down – Bieber fever has well and truly gripped Britain and the girls here, says Canadian-born Justin, are much more – ahem – forward than their counterparts across the Atlantic.
“The girls definitely have dirtier mouths over here. In the UK, things are less… What’s the word? You don’t take things as seriously. Things are accepted in the UK that aren’t accepted in the US. Like the commercials are sexier and wouldn’t be allowed in the States.
“It’s more free in the UK. You guys are more open-minded. So the way that the UK fans approach me is different. But I’ve been doing this so long it doesn’t shock me any more. It’s so funny though. It still makes me laugh.”
On his recent trip to the UK, fans besieged Justin’s Kensington hotel, bombarding the reception switchboard with futile attempts to be put through to their idol and clambering over his chauffeur-driven car every time he came and went. It was chaos.
And Justin didn’t help matters by appearing at his suite window and treating the already delirious teens on the street below to a flash of his torso…
“There’s a bunch of girls outside – why wouldn’t I wave and say hello?”
He smiles, although it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. His oval-shaped face is undeniably cute, albeit unremarkable. The side-swept floppy hair for which he was once famous has long since been replaced with a more socially acceptable ruffled crop, and his slight build and baby-soft, blemish-free skin make him appear far younger than his 18 years.
He’s got exactly the right blend of boyish innocence and laddish edge to send teenage girls doolally – he’s the perfect pop star. It’s not hard to see what his ever-growing band of 23 million Twitter followers see in him.
Conversationally, he veers between mild enthusiasm and utter boredom. There are flashes of charm, eloquence and engagement, but equally there are moments of mumbling and distraction. Just like a typical teenage boy, then.
Except not many teenage boys get hit with paternity lawsuits, and certainly not as publicly as Justin. Last autumn, Bieber fan Mariah Yeater claimed he had fathered her child following a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am tryst which, according to her, lasted all of 30 seconds. The 20-year-old single mother then demanded Justin “provide adequate support”. Justin always denied having ever met Yeater and agreed to a DNA test to prove he wasn’t the daddy, and she eventually dropped her claim. It all prompted a lot of showbiz sniggers, but the scandal hit Justin – then just 17 – hard. So hard that he admits for the first time that he felt like quitting the industry altogether.
“Yeah,” he says simply when asked if he questioned whether the trappings of fame were really worth this distress.
“At the beginning of it all happening I was in Florida, away from my friends and family, and I was pretty sad. I got to the point where I thought: ‘I don’t want to do this. I just want to be normal.’
“Then I started thinking about all the things I wanted to accomplish in life and where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. And it all led back to performing and the music. So that’s why I’m here.
“Since that day I’ve been pushing to be the best entertainer I can be. I was thinking, is it really worth being away from everyone all the time? Is it worth it if I’m not the best? Which is why I strive to be the best.”
How does he feel towards Yeater now it’s all over?
“Um, I really, um… She doesn’t take any of my energy. It doesn’t bother me. I feel sorry for her more than anything. Everything that hurts you makes you stronger in the end. You’ve just got to learn from the bad things that happen.
“It was difficult because I’d never gone through anything like that. Usher [his long time mentor] was like: ‘Prepare to have this for the rest of your career because it’s not going to stop.’ He’s gone through some stuff and most artists go through their fair share of bull. That was just my first time.”
Girlfriend Selena Gomez, 19, the gorgeous all-American Disney star, stood by him throughout the ordeal. The couple have been together since 2010 and, despite having been warned prior to the interview that he didn’t want to talk about his personal life, Justin willingly opens up when the relationship is raised. Sorry girls, but he’s clearly loved-up.
“My first kiss with Selena was the best of my life,” he says. “It was in the car. It was scary and spontaneous and it was just awesome.
“What does love feel like? It feels good. If you’re really in love then you should get butterflies. Butterflies and happiness, that’s how I feel anyway.
“I never like to throw it in my fans’ faces,” he says. “I love my fans and I’d never want to do that to them. It’s my private life and I like to keep that separate. I don’t have many things that I get to myself but that’s one thing.
“I’m very happy. And I know my fans just want to be happy for me.”
This is diplomacy at its finest. Despite the periods apart and the temptations which are surely handed to him daily, Justin says Selena, who has suffered death threats from Beliebers, has nothing to worry about when it comes to groupies.
“Er, it’s y’know, I’m not into that type of stuff. I’m into finding a girl who I like and who likes me back for me. Some of these girls just want me because of what I am. I need a girl who likes me for my heart and not because I’m Justin Bieber.
“My fans love Justin Bieber the artist. They don’t know me.”
It’s been more than four years since a 13-year-old Justin was plucked from obscurity by manager Scooter Braun who had spotted videos of him performing RnB covers on YouTube.
Braun recruited Usher – talk about clout – to help launch Justin’s career, and by his third single release (the annoyingly catchy earworm of a tune Baby) they knew they were on to something special, as the countless accolades, including eight Teen Choice awards, seven Billboard Music awards and four MTV Europe awards, bear out.
But being Justin Bieber means long spells away from home, living in a bubble and rarely being around people his own age. It sounds lonely. Does he ever mourn a childhood lost?
“You can be surrounded by people and still be lonely, of course,” he says.
“Being away, especially from the ones you love, can be lonely. I do a lot of emailing and iChat which helps.
“I’ve definitely had to grow up pretty quickly. But, you know, I get to travel and see so many great places and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
“And my best friends will fly out to wherever I am if they’re not at school. I want to be as normal as possible. I got to go to regular school from grade 1 to 8 so that was cool. Michael Jackson started when he was five, and didn’t really get a childhood. I feel really lucky.”
Paternity hoo-ha aside, Justin’s squeaky-clean image is pretty much untarnished. There’s hardly been a whiff of bad behaviour and, while some of the straddle-tastic beachside PDAs with Selena might be a tad TMI, his halo remains largely intact.
There’s certainly no suggestion that he’d ever be at risk of careering down the well-trodden drugs and drink road so many child stars are familiar with.
He says: “I never put myself in those situations. I think that’s where people get caught up. They put themselves with people who aren’t good. With me, I’m around great people and I’d never even be caught in that situation. I think it’s silly to compromise yourself like that.
“I’m 18 and I’m going to make mistakes. I’m still figuring stuff out. I think I have a responsibility as a role model to be just that and so that’s what I try to do. Being in the public eye, mistakes are magnified and that’s difficult. But I just have to trust that I’ll learn from it.”
The new album, Believe, is a clear sign Justin is growing up. The first release Boyfriend has already charted at number two.
“[The album] is a transition,” he says, “but I’m growing up, my fans are growing up and I wanted the music to grow too.
“I’m more mature in some ways, but I’m at a place where I wanna make music that everyone can relate to – I want younger and older people to like my music and to be a respected artist.
“I’ve been working really hard on the album, and I’ve had tremendous help from people like Kanye West and Taylor Swift. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It’s an honour to be in my position after only three years in the business.”
Title track, the self-penned Believe is dedicated to (gush) the Beliebers.
“I wanted to write a song for the fans that I knew they would love. It’s a song from my heart, because the fans really have helped me through so much.”
The American/Canadian Believe tour kicks off in the autumn, which will no doubt help further swell Justin’s coffers. In the past, it’s been mum Pattie, 36, who controlled the Bieber purse strings, giving her son an allowance and making sure his millions were tied up somewhere where the irresponsibility of youth couldn’t fritter them away.
Has that changed since he turned 18 in March?
“Yeah, everything’s changed!” he laughs. “Like, I don’t have an allowance any more which is good. I don’t have access to all my money but I have a bank account so I can get money out.”
He spends his cash on “dirtbikes and motorcycles”, but is always mindful of his humble beginnings. Although Justin has a good relationship with his dad Jeremy, 38, he was raised by his single-mum Pattie, who fell pregnant with him when she was just 18. They are incredibly close, and Justin says the stress of juggling music and high school was worth it because graduating this year “made my mom proud”.
Pattie is something of a celebrity, too, with over 1 million Twitter followers.
“I grew up without much money, so now I don’t have to look at the bill when I buy dinner it’s cool,” he says.
“I still look at the price tags on clothes though! I’m still cheap like that!”
He did get a £65,000 chrome Fisker for his 18th, though. As you do.
“It’s an electric car, just recently made,” he says. “Usher and Scooter got me that. I’m always travelling so it sucks that I can’t drive it at the moment. For my 18th I hung out with my friends and family and they threw me a party in LA.”
The boys from One Direction have become friends, as have the Beckhams. Cruz and Romeo are known to be huge Bieber fans and as a result Justin has struck up a relationship with David.
“His boys are so cute,” he says. “David is really cool and hits me up all the time to ask how I’m doing.
“He’s supportive, and he’ll tell me how much he and the kids love the single. That gives me encouragement.
“And One Direction are really cool guys. They came round to my house in LA, and they’re nice boys. Whenever we’re in the same place we’ll hang out.”
He stretches and yawns. One of Team Bieber, who have been working unobtrusively on laptops throughout the interview (he’s not as mollycoddled as you’d think), indicates that our time is up.
He says his thank yous, dishes out cursory hugs and poses for a picture. And then Justin Bieber is very quickly ushered away.
● Justin’s album Believe is out tomorrow.
What’s your greatest achievement?
Performing for the [US] President and doing a world tour.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I love New Girl [American sitcom].
Who would be your dream dinner party guests?
Ryan Good, who’s my boy and my stylist. Will Ferrell would be cool. And David Beckham as well.
What superpower would you have?
Flying. Or teleportation. Or invisibility. If I’m like, Superman, I can have all three of them, right?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Stay humble and keep God first.
- Want to hear our pick of Justin Bieber’s tracks? Listen below