Justin Bieber Reveals Will Smith Counsels Him Weekly in Rare, Raw Interview
This story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If you're a 19-year-old pop star who wants to be seen as an adult artist, it probably is not the best idea to show up to a photo shoot in a onesie. Yet here is Justin Bieber, draped head to toe in a cherry-red jumper whose only point of entry and exit is a blindingly bright white zipper that stretches from his chest to, well, you know …
The bold getup has a hint of hip-hop when accessorized with attitude, of which the teen possesses plenty. "I'm very influenced by black culture, but I don't think of it as black or white," he says. "It's not me trying to act or pose in a certain way. It's a lifestyle -- like a suaveness or a swag, per se. But I don't really like to say the word ['swag'] anymore. It's kind of played out."
Despite such pronounced braggadocio -- accentuated physically by the presence of two burly bodyguards -- Bieber can't help but give off more of a Ken-doll-with-a-six-pack vibe than a Beastie Boy one. Even his posse on this day is surprisingly vanilla, as opposed to the bad-boy troublemakers with whom Bieber often is associated, at least in the headlines. Rapper Lil Twist, who totaled Bieber's $230,000 Ferrari in January and invited unwanted scrutiny when a girl claimed she was assaulted by him at Bieber's Calabasas, Calif., house? Not on this guest list. Bieber's 32-year-old manager, Scooter Braun, made sure of it when he excised the negative influences from his client's social circle back in August. (Twist recently fired back on Twitter, accusing Braun and crew of putting "false information out to help their side stay squeaky clean.") Neither is Odd Future's Tyler the Creator, another fender-bender-prone rapper, or Lil Za, a regular on Bieber's Instagram account, which boasts 11 million followers.
No, the buds accompanying Bieber to this THR cover photo shoot in L.A. include Pastor Judah Smith of Seattle's nondenominational City Church, an adviser who texts Bieber daily with a scripture chosen specifically for the singer (Smith met the teen and his mother, Pattie Mallette, at a 2010 sermon); former minder-turned-stylist-turned-close friend Ryan Good; and mild-mannered DJ Tay James, who always is just an arm's length away from Bieber's Macbook, which contains a slew of music still in progress.
It's James who cues a future track from the #MusicMonday series, an innovative rollout campaign conceived by Bieber and Braun in which a new song, with lyrics derived from Bieber's personal journal entries, is released every Monday leading up to the Christmas Day premiere of Believe, the pop star's second concert documentary, distributed by Open Road Films.
Titled "PYD," an acronym for "put you down" -- Bieber is referring to the literal motion (perhaps involving a mattress or couch), not the euphemism for insult or euthanasia -- it's a sexy, R&B slow jam featuring R. Kelly that's about as far from the G-rated chorus of 2010's "Baby" as he can get away with. With seven #MusicMonday tracks released so far (six have hit No. 1 on iTunes in the U.S.), "PYD" will follow the urban-flavored bummer "Bad Day" and the lovelorn "All That Matters," the latter of which, believed to be about ex Selena Gomez, includes the lyric, "What's a king bed without a queen?"
Bieber is hoping -- OK, practically begging -- that you'll notice he's graduated from YouTube phenom and sugary-sweet teen sensation to heavily tattooed bad boy and R&B groovemaster. But taking the leap to musical adulthood can be a tough gap to bridge -- especially when facing a skeptical public. As producer Rodney Jerkins, who has worked with the singer for four years, says: "It's very hard. You have to find that perfect sound that captivates your younger audience and the fans that have grown up with you. He's finding himself musically. It's a natural progression, and his is working smoothly. Now that he's older, he's been in and out of love, been around the world, he's seen different things. He's not forcing it, but he knows what he wants. He has a voice now."
And Bieber is using that voice, telling THR in his first interview in nine months that sometimes you just have to say, "I don't give a f---." Elaborates Bieber: "Not 'I don't give a f---' to just be reckless and do whatever, but 'I don't give a f--- what they say.' … I know who I am and what I'm doing in my life and what I've accomplished and continue to accomplish as a performer, as a writer, as an artist, as a person, as a human being. I'm happy with the man I'm becoming."
It's clear the singer is on the defensive. And who could blame him? In the days following the Oct. 18 shoot, Bieber-behaving-badly news alerts blast across the Internet. Among his headline-grabbing debauchery: sneaking out of a Brazilian brothel covered in a white sheet (Bieber's rep never officially commented, but a source says Bieber "had no idea" the members-only club offered sex for sale) and illegally tagging a hotel wall Nov. 7. (Of the latter, Antonio Ricardo Nunes, chief of the Rio de Janeiro 15th Police District of Gevea, tells THR, "Justin had authorization granted by the city to tag in two other places where it was allowed, however he freely decided to tag on the walls of the abandoned Hotel Nacional," a crime punishable by up to "one year in jail or a fine.")
"He's the only person in humanity who's grown up the way he has -- with smartphones and cameras on him 24/7," says Braun. "Another kid can go out and have a good night on the town, and no one gives a crap, but Justin is the most Googled person on the planet -- for four years straight!"