Justin Bieber may be a global star of gargantuan proportions, but as Rollacoaster finds out, he’s still as excited about his music career now as he was when he burst onto the scene as a 14-year-old four years ago.
The true measure of a pop idol can be judged by the commitment of their fans – and it seems no fans are more dedicated than those of Justin Bieber. “Every place I have been on this promo trip has been crazy. Girls have been outside the hotel,” I’m told by the singer, record producer and undoubtedly the biggest teen music star this decade has produced.
It’s no wonder then that my date to meet this deity is filled with apprehension; there is absolutely no way I am going to tweet this rendezvous in advance. Hell, his fans – The Beliebers – are not the doe-eyed girls who passed out when The Beatles sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. Nor are they the slightly more streetwise girls of the 80s who cunningly traced every step of Duran Duran. And their burning desire even excels the diehard Brossettes, who camped out in Maida Vale, London, to catch a glimpse of the 90s trio. The Beliebers send death threats to anyone who gets close to their Hero. Eeeek.
It is a Saturday lunchtime when I arrive at our designated meeting point. I’ve been instructed to call Mike on arrival, which I do. “Hi Mike, I know I’m at the right place because I’ve seen all the fans,” I say. I know that may sound quite cringe, but I want to make sure that things start out OK with Mike. Not that I know who Mike is, but I assume he is quite important.
I am told to go to the hotel reception and wait. As my car pulls up to the main entrance of the hotel, I felt a definite childish smugness towards the hoards of female fans (and the one token gay boy) that are standing outside in the rain singing Bieber songs I’d only heard when preparing for the interview. At this point I really don’t know what to expect, and I am left pondering that thought for half an hour, while I wait in the hotel reception – until a kindly record agency girl scoops me up and takes me upstairs to a heavily bodyguarded area of the hotel. We chat for half an hour before Bieber – who arrived late on a flight the previous night from Hamburg – makes an appearance.
He heads straight for the fridge, and he choose a popular American fizzy drink, which I won’t specify, but I can hint in saying it is a major sponsor of a certain upcoming sporting event in London. Upon introduction, I’m given a hug, much like the awkward-limbed one my friend’s teenage son allows me – which makes me warm to him immediately. “Is this the hotel we were in before?” he asks Mike. “Um don’t you remember travelling last night?” Mike jokes. Obviously Bieber means the last time they were in London, but the crazy schedule they have becomes apparent.
The diminutive pop star is in London for a Capital Radio event, and will fly to New York the following morning. The thing he is most excited about is seeing the Rollacoaster pictures which were taken in LA a few weeks before. “Do you have the pictures?” he asks. “I do have one,” I say, referring to a shot I have on my iPhone of Bieber topless in a pair of DSquared2 trousers. “Oh yeah,” he says, showing it to his management. “Do you think I look buff in it?” he answers, seeming very proud of his toned torso.
So, the Biebs has certainly grown up since first appearing in the public eye as a 14-year-old on YouTube in 2008, and has just released his fourth album, Believe. Does he feel that he has crossed that boy-to-man milestone? “Yes, I am growing up, I am now 18 and my fans are growing up with me. I’m getting older and I want to reflect that in my album – it is just more mature and reflecting the age that I am.”
On the point of meeting I say how his single “Boyfriend” has broken all YouTube records. “Oh really?” he replies, sounding excited. Yes, it received eight million first day views and has over 100 million to date, I tell him. I ask how it feels breaking records and ask if he is just used to it by now? “No, each time I break a record I’m always happy. With my YouTube stuff, “Baby” has more views than any other video – ever. So my next goal is to reach one billion views on a video.”
That is a massive goal, and, even though he has an insanely huge fanbase, I wonder whether he still gets a little anxious about how new releases will be received? “I get anxious definitely. This is one of the biggest projects I’ve put out, so I feel like my music is where I want it, and I feel definitely comfortable with every song on the album.”
Believe features a host of hot talent – and Bieber definitely seemed to have a blast making it. “It was great working with the likes of Kanye and Drake and Lil Chris and Taylor Swift – I just got to work with so many people… that helped construct the album and to make it as good as it can be. I’m thankful for them.” His favourite song, he says, is “Catching Feelings”. “It was written by Babyface and me, and it just has that old R’n’B feel, and that’s why I think I like it.”
Along with his coming of age has come a change in haircut. The Bieber hairstyle may even have outdone the “Hoxton fin” in overkill – both firm favourites with teenage boys from British home countries. Isn’t it bloody annoying when everyone copied you to death, I ask, “No, it’s always flattering to have people want to look like you and want to do things that you do, so that was good. I never thought: ‘Oh that person’s copying me!’ It was always a good thing.”
But what if his trademark hair thinned prematurely – surely with one of this trademarks being his that would be a worry? As someone who has achieved so much success, I ask if he can give me any hints of people to look out for. “Musicians that I know about that you should be looking at in the future… well, there is a musician called John Mayer.” Then he starts laughing – Mayer is a hugely successful recording artist, so he is having a little joke with me here.
That caper leads me nicely on to the night before, when I saw him on the Alan Carr show. He looked a little out of his depth, as you would expect of an 18-year-old Canadian appearing as a guest on a camp, spekkie British comic’s show, I suppose. “He was cool, it was a fun show, and we had a lot of fun.” But did he get a better grip on the British sense of humour? “No! I didn’t really get the comedy. It was kind of all over the place, but he is a funny guy.” He says, attempting to do an impression of Alan Carr’s squeaky laugh.
When someone has such a wholesome public persona, I guess what we really want to know it a bit of nitty-gritty. Like, what is the most extravagant thing he has done? “The most extravagant thing… I bought my friend a Mustang for his birthday.” Did you wrap it up, I ask. “Yeah, yeah, I bought it and drove it up – he was really excited, he didn’t really expect it.” Wow!
But what does Justin Bieber do when he is just being Justin Bieber? “When I’m not working I like to do regular teen stuff, like hanging out with my friends, going to the movies, bowling, playing sports like basketball.” And his favourite meal is spaghetti with bolognese sauce, he informs me, making his life sound as normal as can be.
So Justin Bieber, who breaks and swivels the world on a sixpence, just imagine what you would be doing now, if things turned out differently. “If I hadn’t been discovered, I’d be at school, just finishing high school and trying to find a job.” You can’t knock him for not knowing his luck.
Just before I leave, I quiz the superstar about something more trivial: his preference between dogs and cats. Bieber tells me he is a canine kind of guy. “I have a dog and his name is Sam [A Papillion]. He’s living with my grandparents right now because I’m on tour. That’s the only pet I have,” he says “I had a snake but I auctioned it off for charity” rightly or wrongly. I’m loving the idea of someone bidding for Justin Bieber’s snake at auction…