Justin Bieber Reveals Will Smith Counsels Him Weekly in Rare, Raw Interview
In his first in-depth sit-down in nine months, the embattled boy wonder tells The Hollywood Reporter that he doesn't "give a f---" about the haters. Says longtime manager Scooter Braun, "He has to be allowed to make his own decisions -- and mistakes."
Nothing would make Bieber's label, Island Records, happier than to see him clear that hurdle. Although he has sold 10.5 million albums, including full-lengths My World (2010) and Believe (2012), along with 29.4 million songs, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a truly massive radio single has eluded Bieber, as have Grammys and the coveted crossover hit.
Still, the label clearly has faith in its star, allowing him to take the unconventional approach that is his #MusicMonday series. "It's unorthodox, yes," says Steve Bartels, president/COO of Island Def Jam Music Group. "But Justin isn't afraid of taking chances. He's incredibly bright, and when he's on a creative jag or a bent, we try to support him as much as possible."
Bartels was present the day in 2007 when Usher and Braun paraded Bieber into then-chairman L.A. Reid's New York office. "You knew he was a star," says the veteran exec. "I was intrigued by his musical acumen -- being able to play the guitar and the drums and to vocalize as well as he does at such a young age." But the moment that clinched it for Bartels came on the day of Bieber's signing. Asked to perform for the label staff, Bieber "literally jumped up on the conference room table and broke into 'One Time,' which would be his first single," recalls Bartels. "Everyone was blown away by this 12-year-old kid. It was this magical moment."
When Braun brought Bieber to Atlanta to record his first album, he says he took the responsibility of watching over a then-13-year-old very seriously. "I changed my lifestyle because I had to be a role model," he says. "When Justin was younger, it was, 'Keep him out of trouble, stop him from falling down, protect him as much as you can from anything that can hurt him.' " Today, Braun admits it's a different dynamic. "When I try to do that now, he's resentful, he pushes away and rebels," says Braun. "What I've come to learn is: Be there, give the best advice you can, but he has to be allowed to make his own decisions -- and his own mistakes."
It was a lesson learned the hard way for Bieber and Braun as the two found themselves increasingly at odds with each other over the past year. "I saw the rebellion, I saw our relationship being hurt," says Braun. "We were struggling in talking to each other because I wasn't having conversations about anything good anymore. It was constantly calling to say, 'No!' "
Bieber doesn't disagree. "It's like how a parent sees their kid," he says. (Dad Jeremy Bieber remains in the picture, but less so than mom Mallette, who lives down the road from her son; Bieber has a roommate.) "Scooter was like the father figure in my life. But when I started to grow up, it was hard for him to have to listen to my input. I want to be me, to show everybody who I am as an individual. I don't want to just be a puppet."
At the same time, Braun has gotten heat for what many see as being an enabler. Says the industry insider, "When you're constantly telling your teen artist what a genius they are and saying yes to everything they ask, it ultimately harms them." Fittingly enough: One of the most off-the-cuff and real scenes in Believe involves director Chu asking Bieber if, now that he's over 18, people have told him "no." The teen pauses for a minute to think, then answers with a smile: "No," as the room explodes in laughter.
"I'm usually up pretty much all night until I know Justin is in," says Braun of a routine that might sound familiar to parents. "At night is when trouble can come." Typically, Braun will receive an all-clear text or call from Bieber's body guard or tour manager, and that's when he can get some shut-eye. … Until Bieber rings. "The person who usually wakes me up is Justin," he says. "He likes to talk to me in the middle of the night. Because that's when the world goes quiet for him and his mind's running."
Braun insists he doesn't dread the morning news, but is "prepared for what may come." It's a skill he's honed all too well after seven years of managing Bieber, during which, Braun points out, outside of spending time with Gomez, Bieber was surrounded by adults. "He wants time to be a kid to hang out with people his own age, and be an idiot at times."
Of course, when you have the world's eyes on you, that can complicate your nights out. When Bieber is photographed shirtless at a club, for example, it's construed as a macho, douchey move. "Bring it back to the Marky Mark days, was he ever wearing a f---in' shirt?," Bieber says with a laugh. "I just don't like shirts!"
But mention borderline pornographic fare like Rihanna's "Rated R" video or the butt-nakedness of Miley Cyrus in "Wrecking Ball" and Bieber is more cautious with his words (perhaps because he considers Cyrus his "homie," her perceived dis in Rolling Stone -- where she commented that he was having a hard time "transitioning" to adulthood -- long forgiven).
Does he see an inherent disadvantage in being a male artist striving to be the perfect boyfriend in song when the likes of Taylor Swift and Cyrus can serve up kiss-off numbers that stop just short of the middle finger? Bieber pauses to consider. "That's not what I represent," he says. "What I represent is positivity and brightness and lightness and amazingness. Nothing negative at all."
Still, negativity surrounds Bieber in a dramatically different way than, say, Cyrus who seems so much more in control of her controversies -- and successfully uses her scandals to push product, be it albums or concert tickets. To that end, Bieber, who says he finds the music business "necessary," insists he has a clear vision and is letting the music "speak for itself," along with the unconventional marketing. "People can get taken advantage of in the music industry, but then we can also take advantage of the music industry," he says. "That's what me and Scooter are doing."
"That line could be in a Jay Z song," adds Braun. "Like, when Jay Z said, 'I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man.' That's the equivalent of what you just said."
A silence descends on the room as all present consider the weight of the statement.
Finally, Bieber speaks. "But it's true. I'm just saying the truth."
[Editor's note: References to Eminem and Paul Rosenberg were removed from this story.]
Additional reporting by Paula Zulian in Brazil