There are surely a lot of weird things about being a global teen idol. Obsessive fans. The lack of privacy. Growing up in a media hothouse. But the omnipresence of your own mug must rank high among the discomforts. Enter Justin Bieber’s name into a Google image search and you get 19 million pictures. His YouTube postings—everything from shaky home movies to big-budget music videos—have been collectively viewed more than a billion times. His signature bangs and toothy grin adorn posters, books, CDs, T-shirts, key chains, pyjamas, and practically everything else that can conceivably be sold to preteen girls (or their parents). Small wonder that the 16-year-old no longer enjoys having his picture taken.
“I really don’t really like photo shoots,” the Stratford, Ont., native admitted to Maclean’s during a backstage discussion about the perils of fame this past summer. “I hate when I’m standing there for hours at a time just looking at the camera.” Of course, there was a photographer in the room. These days there always is. Bieber is still new enough to the game that he can’t afford to appear sulky, however. Seconds later, the skinny teen was on his feet striking his “best” pose; mouth drawn into a pout, chin down, staring into the lens. “My sex face,” he declared, then quickly corrected himself. “My sexy face.”
Bieber is so ubiquitous that’s it’s easy to convince yourself he’s always been around, like Archean rocks, or the Rolling Stones. But the YouTube videos that led to his discovery—small kid with big-voice covers of R & B hits by Chris Brown and Ne-Yo—started appearing just three years ago. The first single, One Time, was released in July 2009, and the first album, My World, came out that November. In little more than a year, the Bieb has topped the charts in 17 countries and sold more than six million discs worldwide. (My World 2.0, released in March 2010, recently passed the two million mark in the U.S., earning double-platinum status.) The third effort, My Worlds—acoustic versions of the previously released oeuvre—hit stores on Nov. 23.
The concert tour (his first), which began last June, will continue into Europe in the new year, and then on to Asia, Australia, Africa and South America later in 2011, if you believe his Twitter feed, which has six million followers. The autobiography, Justin Bieber, First Steps 2 Forever, has been on the New York Times bestsellers list—or at least the “Children’s Chapter Books” portion of it—for five weeks and counting. (Sample insight: “Singers aren’t suppose to have dairy before a show, but we all know I’m a rule breaker. Pizza is just so good.”) He rang in 2010 lip-synching on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live in April, and won four categories at last month’s American Music Awards, including artist of the year.
“Singing” Justin Bieber dolls—plastic hair, vague resemblance to Frodo, come in five versions, including “Street,” “Awards,” and “Red Carpet”—are among the hottest toys this Christmas. A new “My World” line of fragrance-infused dog tags and wristbands is about to debut at Wal-Mart. As will Justin Bieber nail polish with colours like “Prized Possession Purple,” inspired by his hits. In February, Never Say Never, a 3-D concert documentary, hits theatres. There’s talk that he will host a rebooted version of the MTV prank show Punk’d. And his ambitions to break into acting are no secret. On the season premier of CBS’s CSI, he guest-starred as a troubled teen-turned-terrorist, significantly enhancing his chances of landing the lead in The Omar Khadr Story.
Can it last? The backlash already exists in forms ranging from benign—fellow Canadian Michael Bublé slouching around in a wig and purple hoodie in his new video—to vicious, like having his cartoon head squished by the dark god Cthulhu on a recent South Park. “In order to save the Earth, this little butthole had to be stopped,” explained Cartman.
Then there’s the Internet, where haters have spread rumours that he contracted syphilis or died in a car crash, hacked his YouTube videos so that they redirected followers to porno sites, and suggested his mother was going to pose nude for Playboy. Last summer, an online contest allowing fans to nominate a country that he should visit on his world tour saw more than half a million people vote to send him to North Korea. “It’s crazy there’s so many rumours that go around saying different stuff about me, but I don’t really pay attention,” Bieber told Maclean’s. “For me, if you just dwell on the negativity it will drag you down.”
And of course, fame does have some perks. Like courtside seats next to David Beckham at the Lakers home opener. Or getting to drive P. Diddy’s $200,000 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder around Los Angeles. (Bieber bought himself a more subdued Land Rover when he turned 16. “It’s my first car, I might crash it,” he explained.)
Recently, the singer has started musing about the future. Maybe getting rid of the trademark hair helmet and shaving his head. Writing more serious songs like the new single Pray: “I just can’t sleep tonight, knowing that things ain’t right / It’s in the papers, it’s on the TV, it’s everywhere that I go / Children are crying / Soldiers are dying / Some people don’t have a home.” There’s even talk of a collaboration with the original Canadian teen superstar, Paul Anka.
At a promo event for his autobiography in California last month, a reporter asked Bieber where he saw himself down the road. “I see myself being like, 30, like married, like probably,” was the answer. “I see myself making a smooth transition from being a teenage, um, you know, teenage heartthrob basically to, you know, to an adult singer.”
Just imagine how many pictures of him there will be by then.