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out­back Aus­tralia is moved to an ad­ja­cent ta­ble. Ten­ders are not even listed on the menu of this restau­rant; its of­fer­ings are confned to ideas like ‘parsnip purée’, ‘pomegranate gas­trique’ and ‘dill’. The fngers have been con­jured, un­bid­den, out of the in­vis­i­ble fab­ric of the uni­verse for Justin Bieber, who isn’t eat­ing them. It’s an early-jan­uary af­ter­noon, and Bieber and I are sit­ting in a pri­vate open-air ca­bana on the rooftop of the ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills where he now lives. Bieber moved into the prop­erty two years ago, af­ter he sold his sixbed­room Cal­abasas man­sion to Khloé Kar­dashian, fol­low­ing nu­mer­ous clashes with neigh­bours and police. (His skate ramp was even­tu­ally re­moved.) He’s slight, with rashes of tat­toos spread­ing down both arms. His hair, cropped short on the sides but long enough on top to be tied in a short bleached pony­tail, is tucked un­der a gray Supreme beanie. His feet are snug­gled into a pair of tan Yeezy Boosts. He’s wear­ing what could be any­where from two to 41 lay­ered black sweat­shirts of var­i­ous lengths and dis­tressed leather pants that re­tail for $2590. Ev­ery­one else by the pool is wear­ing clothes; he’s wear­ing fash­ion. When he ar­rived just a few min­utes ago, he was es­corted by a Def Jam ex­ec­u­tive for the fve-sec­ond walk from the el­e­va­tor to this ca­bana. “Are you Justin?” I asked. “I must be,” he replied.

IF SOME­ONE ASKED YOU TO LIST the 10 worst things you have ever done in pub­lic, you’d prob­a­bly have to rack your brain to come up with a list even half that long. Justin Bieber has an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of his pub­lic fuck-ups. He could re­cite his list off the top of his head, be­cause he’s asked to re­visit its con­tents ev­ery time he’s in­ter­viewed. He treats the list of things he’s done wrong as as­sumed knowl­edge. We know pi is 3.14; we know Justin Bieber was ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of drunk driv­ing in Mi­ami (a charge dropped as part of a plea deal); we know he aban­doned a mon­key – a young mon­key – in Ger­many. One year ago, for all these sins – and pre­sum­ably for many more that we will never know about – Bieber em­barked on a whirl­wind pub­lic-apol­ogy tour. He sat down for a chat on Ellen (bear­ing fow­ers for her birth­day) and then up­loaded a poorly lit mo­bile-phone video to Face­book say­ing he felt awk­ward dur­ing the in­ter­view and ex­press­ing re­morse for his be­hav­iour over “the past year, year and a half”. He was the sub­ject of a Com­edy Cen­tral Roast or­gan­ised by his man­age­ment team, which, un­like the roasts of beloved co­me­di­ans, flled the air with an acrid smell, as if a witch were be­ing burned at the stake. (Co­me­dian Han­ni­bal Buress: “I don’t like you at all, man. I’m just here ’cause this is a real good op­por­tu­nity for me.”) He smoul­dered on the cover of Seven­teen along­side the state­ment ‘I Was Dis­ap­pointed in My­self’. He bought din­ner for cops. And then, last au­tumn, Justin Bieber did the most pru­dent thing he could pos­si­bly have done to earn the world’s for­give­ness: He re­leased an al­bum of face-melt­ing bangers. Pur­pose achieved for Justin what years of wear­ing saggy pants could not – it made peo­ple re­gard him as an adult artist ca­pa­ble of ap­peal­ing to peo­ple old enough to rent a car. Sud­denly, ev­ery­thing was go­ing mostly right. Col­lab­o­ra­tions with EDM mae­stros Skrillex and Di­plo earned ster­ling re­views from mu­sic crit­ics. The al­bum pro­duced an unbroken string of hits. “Grown men now love Justin Bieber’s mu­sic, too,” re­ported the As­so­ci­ated Press som­brely. As 2015 drew to a close, if you thought Justin Bieber’s mu­sic sucked, you were worse than snob­bish – you were un­in­formed. Peo­ple were even be­gin­ning, ex­per­i­men­tally, to en­joy Justin Bieber the per­son. In Oc­to­ber, Bieber re­leased the sin­gle ‘Sorry’, in which he apol­o­gises to an un­named girl for the three catchi­est min­utes of your life. Many in­ter­preted the track as a wink­ing mea culpa for the sum of his wrong­do­ings – the cap­stone to his year of penance. Today, Justin Bieber says it was not. “Peo­ple ran with that – that I was, like, apologising with the song and stuff. It re­ally had noth­ing to do with that.” It wasn’t meant to be an apol­ogy? “No. It was about a girl.” I point out that for much of the past year, he’s been seek­ing for­give­ness. He tells me it was more about “ac­knowl­edg­ing” past mis­takes. Not I’m sorry I broke your vase; rather, Man, I broke your vase – that’s on me – I ad­mit that. “Ev­ery­one, when they start grow­ing up, re­alises, ‘Man, I did some dumb shit when I was younger.’ It’s not just me… If I could go back, I wouldn’t re­ally change much. I think it’s all my jour­ney. That stuff made me who I am.” Let’s note be­fore we go too much fur­ther that Justin Bieber is not easy to talk to. A lin­guist would say he vi­o­lates backchan­nel norms. That is, he with­holds those sub­tle signs – short ver­bal cues like “mmm-hmm”, “right” and “yeah”; quick head nods – that in­di­cate an en­gaged lis­tener and that en­cour­age the speaker to con­tinue. You per­form these signs count­less times a day – some­thing hu­mans do whether they speak English, Hun­gar­ian or Farsi. There are a num­ber of rea­sons why Bieber might have de­vel­oped this ir­reg­u­lar habit. Per­haps it was drilled into him that two peo­ple speak­ing at once makes for poor au­dio qual­ity on talk shows. Maybe he was warned that a stray “yeah” to demon­strate you’re pay­ing at­ten­tion could, in the wrong hands, turn into an on-the-record af­fr­ma­tion that Bush was be­hind 9/11. Maybe he wants to be un­set­tling. What­ever the rea­son, it is un­set­tling. It’s un­set­tling to share a per­sonal story, or ask a long-winded ques­tion, and be met with Justin Bieber’s silent, cool-eyed stare the en­tire time you’re talk­ing. Justin Bieber makes eye con­tact like a per­son who has been told that eye con­tact is very, very im­por­tant.

He can be dif­fcult to talk to in other ways, too. He gen­er­ally does not re­spond to irony. He speaks more qui­etly than a sleep­ing mouse, so you fre­quently have to ask him to re­peat things. (More than once, sens­ing my anx­i­ety that my recorder can­not de­tect the mi­nus­cule sound waves of his speech, he moves it closer to him, as­sur­ing me, “I got you.”) His re­sponses to most ques­tions are short, of­ten mono­syl­labic – un­til you hit upon a topic he’s com­fort­able dis­cussing, such as his fans or God’s opinion of man, in which case he will talk with­out ceas­ing for nearly 1000 words. Bieber speaks about God with the easy su­per­fuity of some­one who knows how to read the Bi­ble be­tween the lines, who is conf­dent he has cor­rectly as­sessed its true mean­ing. God’s love helps him to be a good per­son and to recog­nise the cos­mic value of be­ing a good per­son, but God’s love is also avail­able to him even when he doesn’t act like a good per­son. Un­like em­ploy­ees, friends and fam­ily mem­bers, God never dis­ap­points – and is never dis­ap­pointed in – Justin Bieber. In con­ver­sa­tion, Bieber of­ten al­ludes to the fal­li­bil­ity of those clos­est to him: “I’ve had peo­ple that burned me so many times”; “If we in­vest ev­ery­thing we have in a hu­man, we’re gonna get bro­ken.” God is prob­a­bly the only per­son in the uni­verse Bieber can re­ally trust. “I feel like that’s why I have a re­la­tion­ship with Him, be­cause I need it. I suck by my­self. Like, when I’m by my­self and I feel like I have noth­ing to lean on? Ter­ri­ble. Ter­ri­ble per­son. If I was do­ing this on my own, I would con­stantly be do­ing things that are, I mean, I still am do­ing things that are stupid, but… It just gives me some sort of hope and some­thing to grasp on to, and a feel­ing of se­cu­rity, and a feel­ing of be­ing wanted, and a feel­ing of be­ing de­sired, and I feel like we can only get so much of that from a hu­man.” Bieber tells me that dwelling on neg­a­tiv­ity is “ex­actly what the Devil wants. He wants us to not be happy. He wants us to, you know, not live the life that we can truly live”. If that’s true, then the Devil must be livid right now, be­cause Justin Bieber is on top of the world. I ask him to tell me ev­ery­thing about the mon­key. Here’s what we know. In March 2013, Justin Bieber suf­fered ev­ery an­i­mal lover’s worst night­mare: con­f­s­ca­tion of his pet by the Ger­man gov­ern­ment. His ca­puchin mon­key, OG Mally, was seized by cus­toms of­f­cials when Bieber landed in Mu­nich for a tour stop. The ex­act rea­son is a mat­ter of dis­pute, but in any event, OG Mally was placed un­der quar­an­tine. Of­f­cials gave Bieber un­til May 7 to re­claim him, with proper pa­per­work. May 7 came and went. By Au­gust, Ger­many was de­mand­ing nearly $8000 in fees re­lated to the mon­key’s re­lo­ca­tion to a zoo. Al­most as soon as it broke, the OG Mally story took on a mythic qual­ity. The pri­mate, a pet owned by no­ble­women in Re­nais­sance art, and by Michael Jack­son, be­came a symbol of Bieber’s ex­cess. His loss of it was in­dica­tive of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity. His fail­ure to re­claim it marked Bieber as un­car­ing: the fa­ther no mon­key de­served. But as best I can tell, he re­ally loved that mon­key. When I bring up Mally, I mis­pro­nounce his name – I had as­sumed it was pro­nounced Mal- ee, like “rally” – and Bieber im­me­di­ately cor­rects me. “It was Mally,” he says, pro­nounc­ing it Maul- ee, like hav­ing prop­er­ties char­ac­ter­is­tic of, or sim­i­lar to, a mall. OG Mally, he says, was named af­ter a hu­man man named Mally, who gave him the mon­key as a birth­day present, be­cause Bieber had al­ways wanted one. “It wasn’t like I went look­ing for a mon­key or any­thing. It just kind of fell in my lap.” I ask if it’s true that Bieber didn’t have the pa­pers re­quired to trans­port the mon­key across in­ter­na­tional lines. “I had the pa­pers.” So what was the is­sue? “In Ger­many, that mon­key’s en­dan­gered or some­thing… but I had the pa­pers. I even had it writ­ten out that he was a cir­cus mon­key and he could travel and all that shit. I had all the right pa­pers. Things get twisted.” It’s hard not to feel a lit­tle bad for Bieber, for los­ing his mon­key to Ger­many. I tell him I wouldn’t ex­pect a teenager to be to­tally up to date on the ins and outs of Ger­man wildlife-trans­port pol­icy. A shadow passes over his face. “Hon­estly, ev­ery­one told me not to bring the mon­key. Ev­ery­body.” He says this with such grav­ity that I burst out laugh­ing. Bieber does not. “Ev­ery­one told me not to bring the mon­key. I was like, ‘It’s gonna be fne, guys!’ It was” – he shuts his eyes – “the far­thest thing from fne.” Would you ever go back and visit him? “Um, maybe.” Would you get an­other one? “Yeah, one day. Just gotta make sure I got a house and it stays in the fuck­ing house. I’m not gonna bring him to Ger­many or travel with it any­more. Peo­ple are al­ways like, ‘Why did you get a mon­key?’ If you could get a mon­key, well, you would get a fuck­ing mon­key, too! Mon­keys are awe­some.” A FEW DAYS BE­FORE WE MEET, Bieber makes the sort of head­lines pre-“ac­knowl­edg­ing” Bieber used to, when he is asked to leave a site of pre-columbian ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ru­ins in Mex­ico. His al­leged crimes: climb­ing on 700-year-old not-climb-on-able ru­ins; per­form­ing acts so di­a­bol­i­cal the Span­ish-lan­guage re­ports de­scribe them sim­ply as “do­ing ou­trages”. (A lo­cal of­f­cial even­tu­ally told En­ter­tain­ment Tonight that Bieber “pulled his pants down and in­sulted our staff.”) Today, by the pool, I ask Bieber if he’d like to clear up what hap­pened in Tu­lum. First Bieber calls out to one of his hulk­ing body­guards (“Yo, Mikey!”) and asks him to please bring his silky ter­rier, Es­ther, over to the ca­bana. Then he be­gins by telling me it wasn’t in Tu­lum. “I for­get where it was. It wasn’t Tu­lum.” It ac­tu­ally was in Tu­lum. “The rea­son why I went there [Tu­lum] in the frst place was to go see those ru­ins. Be­cause I love his­tory. Things that were frst… And the Mayans had such a big im­pact on so­ci­ety today. Whether it’s the calendar, or what­ever it may be. They have a lot of frsts.” The prob­lems, he says, tak­ing a drag of a New­port, arose due to a lack of sig­nage. When he jumped on a low stone wall to pose for a photo, he was un­aware it was con­sid­ered off-lim­its. Oh, and he did pull down his pants. “Me and my boys have been do­ing this thing where we moon each other when­ever we take a pic­ture. So [my friend] went to take my pic­ture, and I mooned him. And I guess [the guards] thought that I was be­ing dis­re­spect­ful to the site or what­ever. That’s not what I was do­ing. I im­me­di­ately was like, ‘Man, I didn’t mean any dis­re­spect…’ but they weren’t re­ally hav­ing it. They were like, ‘No! You – this dis­re­spect­ful!’ I said, ‘All right, cool – we’ll bounce.’ So I just walked out. I just knew it would es­ca­late into some­thing else. The dudes that were es­cort­ing us were like four feet tall, and I just wanted to… The old Bieber came back, and I wanted to smack them around a lit­tle bit. But I re­alised, you know what, ob­vi­ously it looked bad, and it was dis­re­spect­ful, be­cause I was in their sa­cred area, show­ing my arse and stuff. But it was all in good fun. My boys – we do this wher­ever we are. It’s like a last-sec­ond thing: They go to take a pic­ture, and I just turn [around]…but yeah, you know, clar­i­fy­ing that, you know, to the Mayan peo­ple or what­ever, who­ever was… felt any dis­re­spect, I’m truly sorry for that. I never meant to dis­re­spect any­body.”

Bieber tells me he has only had one “bad” break-up in his life: Se­lena Gomez, who in­spired “a lot” of the songs on Pur­pose. He now de­scribes their re­la­tion­ship as “good”. “We don’t talk of­ten, but we’re cor­dial. If she needs some­thing, I’m there for her. If I need some­thing, she’s there for me.” These days, Bieber seems a lit­tle dis­tant from his par­ents, which is per­haps to be ex­pected of a 21-year-old. His mother, Pat­tie Mal­lette, gave birth to Justin at 17, fol­low­ing (as de­tailed in her best-sell­ing 2012 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Nowhere But Up) a stint as a drug dealer, an at­tempt at sui­cide by launch­ing her­self into the path of an on­com­ing truck, and a spir­i­tual awak­en­ing in a men­tal ward. Mal­lette was Justin’s pri­mary care­giver grow­ing up. In old in­ter­views, she is doe-eyed and soft-spo­ken, and ap­pears sweetly awestruck by the spe­cial per­son who came out of her body. But the two had a fall­ing-out some­time around 2014 – around the same time Justin be­gan ap­pear­ing in mug shots – and stopped speak­ing. They’ve rec­on­ciled, ten­ta­tively, but she now lives on Kauai in Hawaii. Justin says he “doesn’t see her as much as I’d like to.” “I’m a lot closer to my Dad than I am to my Mum,” he adds, ex­plain­ing that his re­la­tion­ships with his par­ents have “switched”. Jeremy Bieber has been por­trayed in the press as an ab­sen­tee fa­ther, whose in­ter­est in his son grew in pro­por­tion to Justin’s fame. (Mal­lette dis­putes this no­tion in her book.) Jeremy was not present at Justin’s birth be­cause he was in jail, but he was present when Justin was ar­rested in Mi­ami in 2014. He is the par­ent whom tabloids of­ten deem “a bad in­flu­ence”. Justin speaks about him rev­er­ently, but he lives in On­tario, so his son only sees him spo­rad­i­cally. The phys­i­cal dis­tance from his par­ents seems con­nected to the emo­tional gap, as he has grown from a boy into an older boy. “You don’t need them as much. And for them, it’s like, you were all they had. Not all, but they were so in­vested in you. And then one day you’re just gone, and you’re do­ing your own thing, and you don’t need them, and you don’t value their opinion the same, ei­ther.”


Bieber in New York the next day, his plan to “slowly start tak­ing less Ad­der­all” has been dras­ti­cally ac­cel­er­ated. “This is my frst day off Ad­der­all,” he de­clares out of the blue as we sit in traffc in a silent Range Rover. He tells me he feels “fne” and that the doc­tor’s of­fce has pro­vided him with “nat­u­ral sleep aids”. “I’ve been get­ting a lot of anx­i­ety, and they think it’s stem­ming from the Ad­der­all,” he says. “That’s why I’ve stopped tak­ing it. Or else I wouldn’t stop, be­cause I re­ally en­joy it.” Bieber de­scribes his doc­tor Car­lon Colker as “a ge­nius”, “a physi­cian”, and “a body­builder”. You may be familiar with Colker from an in­fa­mous di­ag­no­sis: He was the one who de­clared in 2008 that Jeremy Piven had suf­fered mer­cury poi­son­ing as a re­sult of a diet heavy in sushi and “Chi­nese herbs”, thus al­low­ing the ac­tor to aban­don his role in a Broad­way re­vival of Speed-the-plow. You might recog­nise his name from mul­ti­ple law­suits fled against the man­u­fac­tur­ers of weight­loss pills, in which Colker was ac­cused of fal­si­fy­ing data in or­der to down­play the risks of the drug ephedra. (Colker’s at­tor­ney de­nied the charges and he was dropped from the suits; di­etary sup­ple­ments con­tain­ing ephedrine al­ka­loids are now banned by the US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion.) You might also have seen Bieber’s 2015 tweet cred­it­ing the doc­tor’s vanilla-flavoured “myo­statin in­hibitor”, MYO-X, for help­ing him achieve his ripped, un­der­wear-clad body for a se­ries of Calvin Klein ads. At frst, Bieber seems keen to enu­mer­ate Dr Colker’s cre­den­tials, em­pha­sis­ing that he spe­cialises in “high-agility ath­letes” and “peo­ple who have a lot of stress, to ei­ther their body or their mind”. But when I ask who rec­om­mended Colker to him, Bieber shuts down. “I just don’t think, like, the whole doc­tor thing is, like, some­thing awe­some to write about,” he says. “I think you should prob­a­bly un­der­stand that.” I’m sur­prised by his re­ac­tion, since Bieber brought it up. He’s cer­tainly gone quiet be­fore, but in those cases I had brought up a touchy sub­ject – his con­frmed past use of pot, his ru­moured past use of other drugs (like codeine syrup) – and he’d sim­ply re­fused to an­swer. I fgured the ques­tion about who rec­om­mended the doc­tor was pretty ba­nal; he’d men­tioned tak­ing Ad­der­all as ca­su­ally as if it were a vi­ta­min. But some­thing – about the ques­tion, or the nosy phras­ing, or the tone – trig­gers an in­stant clam-up. In any event, we run out of time to fnish our Ad­der­all con­ver­sa­tion – which Bieber now refers to as “deep fuck­ing doc­tor shit” – be­cause we ar­rive at our des­ti­na­tion: an ar­cade. Inside the ar­cade, Justin Bieber is good at ev­ery­thing. He beats me at Mario Kart. He beats me at air hockey. He beats me at un­der­stand­ing how to swipe the plas­tic cards that give us gratis game cred­its in the ma­chines. His score on the Pop-a-shot ma­chine more than triples mine. I gen­tly rib him when he flubs an at­tempt to put a ball through a hole: “You’re sup­posed to get it in the hole,” I say. Later, when I miss, he throws the joke back at me, adding, “Is that what your boyfriend says?” I tell him it wouldn’t make sense for my boyfriend to say that. The ar­cade has been shut down just for us, and for about 90 min­utes, it is the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for Bieber: spa­cious, full of di­ver­sions, de­void of peo­ple, and louder than a rocket launch, which makes in­ter­view­ing dif­fcult. When the ap­pointed hour of our exit ar­rives, af­ter which he will never have to sit through an­other of my ques­tions ( Can you tell me any­thing about the day you were born? “March 1”), we are faced with a se­cu­rity is­sue. Stray teenagers are show­ing up. Cam­era lenses are be­ing pressed into win­dows. Bieber can­not leave through the front door. At 15, Justin Bieber shot to fame be­cause he was pol­ished: He had shiny hair and great teeth, and he sang about want­ing a girl to fall in puppy love with him. He was also re­jected be­cause he was pol­ished: All that stuff was lame. So he be­came less pol­ished. He got tat­toos and a police record. But some­where be­tween egging a neigh­bour’s house and nod­ding off next to a Brazil­ian es­cort, he over­shot it, sail­ing past “badass” into reg­u­lar “bad”. Now he’s re­cal­i­brated again. He’s ac­knowl­edged he was bad, re­leased a killer al­bum to prove he’s cool, and dou­bled down on his vows to do bet­ter. For the frst time since he was a kid, Justin Bieber is re­garded as nei­ther a dork nor a mon­ster. He has the ten­ta­tive re­spect and un­fet­tered at­ten­tion of the general pub­lic. He’s nearly two months into a world tour, where a lot can go wrong (like, say, Ger­many). He’s only 21. While his driver and body­guard co­or­di­nate an es­cape plan, Bieber re­turns to the Pop-a-shot ma­chine. He makes bas­ket af­ter bas­ket to the blar­ing snarls of Ke$ha, but no tick­ets shoot out and the prize cupboard is locked un­til the ar­cade re-opens. He is mak­ing the most of it, go­ing through the mo­tions in a vac­uum of fun. A few min­utes later, he slips through a back door and into one of two iden­ti­cal black Range Rovers that have ap­peared in the park­ing lot. He’s been in New York less than 24 hours, but it’s time to fly back to the ho­tel where he lives. n


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