The Justin Bieber Story
It's not a stretch to say that in early 2015, Justin Bieber had the world in the palm of his hand. Money, fame, women – he had it all. But all good things have to come to an end, and so it was with Bieber's life as he knew it. This is the story of how he lost it all, and how he's trying to recover a small piece of his former life.
|Bieber at the height of his fame, circa 2015|
Born in 1994, the Canadian singer was first discovered on Youtube in 2007. Two years later, he released his debut album, entitled My World, to monstrous sales. A string of hits followed all the way through 2014, making him a certified pop star. But as with many young people who have fame thrust upon them, he began to act out.
Several run-ins with the law occurred from 2012 to 2014, resulting in a slew of minor charges ranging from vandalism to resisting arrest. It became clear to anyone who bothered to pay attention that Bieber's personal life was in a downward spiral.
|Bieber fresh off of a stint in rehab, circa 2015|
“We tried to help him,” says his former manager, Scooter Braun. “But you have to understand that dealing with that sort of thing is very, very difficult. Nearly everyone around him was dependent on him in some way, so of course they were afraid that if they made him angry, they'd be cut off. It's sad, but that's the way it is. I can't help but feel that we let him down.”
Finally, in 2015, everything came to a head. Bieber, fresh off of a stint in rehab, was involved in a car accident in which his Ferrari collided with a pedestrian in Miami. The man, Arthur Cason, was pronounced dead on the scene. A toxicology report revealed that Bieber had THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in his system.
Cason, a dockworker, was not on a crosswalk on the busy causeway, but the fact that Bieber was driving under the influence of marijuana resulted in his being charged with DUI manslaughter on August 12, 2015. He surrendered to police on August 13, and was subsequently released on $500,000 bail.
As a result of a plea deal, Bieber received a sentence of a year in prison plus 500 hours of community service. In addition, he received five years of probation, and was issued a lifetime suspension of his driver's license.
|Bieber after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter, circa 2015|
“I remember him being so arrogant about it,” says Bieber's mother, Patricia Mallette. “He didn't think it was a big deal. He was even smiling in his mug shot. I don't think he really believed he'd spend a year in jail, much less the difficulty he would have there.”
It wasn't long before reports started coming out of the prison that Bieber was distressed. The warden, however, refused to give the pop singer special treatment, insisting that there simply wasn't room to give him a cell to himself.
“The kid was such a little prick,” one of the prison's corrections officers (who asked to remain anonymous) says. “But that changed almost as soon as he arrived. We don't go out of our way to embarrass the inmates, but this kid comes strutting in there, thinking he owns the joint. So yeah, we didn't bother to make it easy on him. I remember the strip search – did you know that he had on fake tattoos? Yeah – they scrubbed right off. That's the kind of person he was.”
It wasn't long before family and friends began to see the strain. But they also saw something else...
“The first time I visited him, he was actually wearing makeup,” Bieber's father, Jeremy says. “I mean, I'd seen him wearing stage makeup before, but this was different. I don't know where he got it, but I should have said something. I should have done something. But I was in denial, I think. A pretty boy like him in jail? I knew what was going on, but I couldn't admit it.”
|Bieber a few months into his prison sentence, circa 2016|
It's difficult to determine what exactly happened during his time in prison, but it's safe to say that, by the time Bieber was released on September 24, 2016, he was a completely different person. Friends and family immediately noticed that the formerly brash, arrogant, and entitled singer had become far more timid and submissive. In addition, many of them found Bieber's increasingly feminine mannerisms troubling.
“It was difficult to watch,” says Selena Gomez, Bieber's on-again, off-again former girlfriend. “I mean, he was always kind of a poser, especially in public. He was so aware of his reputation and the way the world saw him. And it used to hurt him so badly. How would you feel if half the internet made jokes about how you were a girl? He acted like it didn't, but I could see the truth. But after he got back from jail, it felt more like an act – all the time. When we were together, it felt like he was just going through the motions, you know? Just waiting for it to end. We should have helped him. I should have...done something.”
Aside from a campaign to reinsert Bieber and his music into popular culture, however, nothing was done. His manager booked him on morning shows, late night talk shows, and insisted on his recording a new record, entitled Back. While successful, the record's sales were far inferior to any of his previous offerings.
|Bieber shortly after his release from prison, 2016|
“He seemed distracted the whole time,” says Bieber's father. “And not by women or drugs or anything like before. It was different. I'm not saying I would have preferred him doing drugs or whatever, but, well, this was uncharted territory, you know? None of us knew what to make of the new Justin.”
Bieber's priorities seemed to shift overnight. Women were an afterthought. Drugs and alcohol faded from his life. His music barely got a sliver of attention. Even his workout routine suffered.
“I'd been working with him for a couple of years before he went to jail,” says his former trainer, Geoff Richardson. “And we'd make significant progress. With his frame, it was difficult to build muscle mass, but he was doing well. But when he went to jail, he regressed. And when he got out, he didn't have any interest in the old program. It was like he actively wanted to get rid of muscle definition. He wanted to do yoga and pilates – he wouldn't even touch a free weight.”
The world was shocked when shortly after the release of his latest album, Bieber canceled his scheduled world tour, and announced his retirement from music, claiming that he was burned out, and wanted to experience a semi-normal life. The announcement was met with disbelief; quite a few artists – actors and musicians both – have retired only to return to the spotlight only months later. Most people assumed that Justin would do the same.
However, Bieber was serious about dropping out of the spotlight. He moved back to Canada, far away from the attentions of invasive paparazzi and obsessed fans. In addition, he gave strict instructions to his handlers that his location was not to be leaked. Months passed, and Justin's fame faded. Certainly, he still had fans, but popular culture waits for no one. He became an afterthought.
“We barely saw him during his hiatus,” his father says. “And not for lack of trying. We wanted to help him get back on top. Music was always so important to him, so when he decided to retire, we all thought he was just burned out, that he'd come back.”
Six months went by without a word from one of the most famous musicians in the world. His Twitter account went silent. Appearance requests went unanswered. Family and friends were shut out of his life.
“Of course we were worried,” says Gomez. “But there wasn't much we could do, was there? He didn't want any of us around. It's obvious now why that was, but at the time, it was so frustrating.”
Then, without warning, Justin's twitter account had its first update in six months. Bieber, it seemed, was ready to reemerge into the spotlight.
|The now-infamous picture which introduced the world the the new Bieber|
“We were as surprised as anyone,” says Braun. “I mean, Justin was off the grid for over six months, and then, suddenly, he posts a picture of himself on Instagram? That alone was cause for alarm. After a few incidents early in his career, we had started controlling his social media presence. He didn't post anything without us knowing about it well in advance. But this? We knew nothing. Back then, we still thought he was going to come back. When we saw that picture, though...well, let's just say we panicked. He never had the most masculine imagine, but that? He had long hair, and was wearing makeup and a thong. How were we going to recover from that?”
Understandably, the internet erupted. Bieber's handlers were inundated by questions from reporters, fans, friends and family alike. It was chaos.
“There were just so many questions,” says Bieber's estranged mother, Patricia Mallette. “And we didn't have any answers. It was all so sudden. One minute, he was, you know, Justin. And the next, he's posting pictures of himself wearing panties on Instagram. We didn't know what to make of it. I remember hoping that it was a joke.”
Regardless of his mother's hopes, it was not, in fact, a joke. Rather, it marked a turning point in his life.
“He didn't want to live in the shadows anymore,” says Casey Johnson, a noted LGBT activist. “Justin was telling the world that he didn't care what they thought, that he was going to be who he was meant to be, their opinions be damned. It was a very brave thing to do, especially considering his career's repercussions.”
Bieber was not, however, willing to hop that train yet. He quickly followed up his Instagram post with the following message on Twitter, “OMG – not gay, guys. I just like to be pretty sumtimes.”
The rumors would not be quashed so easily, though – especially considering that he continued posting similar pictures over the next few months.
“It's hard to explain just how big of a deal this was,” says Braun. “Justin was the biggest star in the world, and suddenly, he's wearing girls' clothes? And looking like he belongs in them? The world went crazy. There were encouraging messages from fans, of course. But there were also death threats from conservative groups, claiming that he was a subversive influence on children. It was crazy. Absolutely insane.”
The resulting attention drove Bieber back into hiding, and after that first salvo, he wasn't heard from again for nearly six months. In the meantime, his family continued to try unsuccessfully to connect with him, ostensibly to help him get through his “difficult time.”
“They were a bunch of leaches,” says an anonymous source close to the family. “It's not hard to understand why they were worried. Their meal ticket was suddenly gone, and they didn't know if he was ever coming back. And if he did, was his career even salvageable?”
A representative of Island Records, the label with which Bieber was signed, says, “We didn't have any choice but to drop him. He violated his contract.”
Violation of his contract aside, there were quite a few allegations that the label had dropped his contract because of his increased femininity. Bieber's parents, though divorced, filed a joint lawsuit against the record label.
“It's not like it was a secret,” says Scooter Braun. “Everyone knows that the lawsuit was about money. But that doesn't mean they were wrong. They did drop Justin because of his...issues. Even if he would have been making music, they would have gotten as far away from that as they possibly could.”
The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, though rumors suggest that it was quite a substantial settlement.
“They got what they wanted,” Braun continues. “He was just a means of making money to them, so once they got paid, they quit caring. Maybe it didn't start out like that. Maybe before he got famous, they were normal parents. But money does strange things to people sometimes. Their actions make it pretty clear that that's all they cared about in the end. I have absolutely zero respect for either of them. Look – I was in it for money too, but that was my job. They were supposed to be looking out for him.”
Bieber obviously agreed, as once the lawsuit was settled, he posted another picture on Instagram with the following message, “So glad my parents got what they wanted.” The picture, while not altogether different from his previous posts, had one startling difference: he had what appeared to be breasts.
|A Photo from Bieber's Instagram Account, Circa 2017|
“Dressing up like a girl was one thing,” says Gomez. “I'll admit, we played around with stuff like that when we were together. I mean, he wore my panties a couple of times as a joke. I just thought those first few pictures were like that – a phase or something. But when I saw those boobs...I think that's when I knew that Justin had really changed. I tried to reach out to him, but he wouldn't return my texts or anything.”
It was only a few weeks after that infamous photograph was released that Justin announced via Twitter that he was intending to release a new album, entitled Sugar and Spice (and Everything Nice). Social media exploded with theories about what the album's impending release meant. Questions surrounding Justin's decision to publish the record independently swirled.
Within a month, he had already released the cover art for the record – a picture of a decidedly feminine Bieber that left little doubt that he had fully committed to his new style.
|Cover Art for "Sugar and Spice (and everything nice)" 2017|
“When that album cover was released, it immediately became clear why we weren't involved with the process,” Braun explains. “We simply wouldn't have released it – not like that at least. Justin had to know that, so he just skipped the middleman. We would have been happy to release an album, but we would have used an old photograph for the cover. Obviously, he didn't want that, so he did it himself. And because we had released him from his contract, we couldn't do anything about it.”
The album's release came and went without much fanfare. Certainly, Justin was the butt of late night talk show hosts' jokes, but the music itself was largely forgettable bubblegum pop – not all that different from his previous releases. Without his ability to appeal to teenaged girls, though, sales were few and far between.
“We knew it wouldn't be successful, regardless of how good it was,” says Gareth Cason, one of the producers Bieber hired to help him release the album. “But he paid well, and it was Justin Bieber. How could we refuse? It was an easy payday, too. We did it all through email, so we didn't even have to go anywhere. Yeah, I phoned it in a bit, but if I'm honest, I thought it would never get released. I did most of the mixing on my laptop at home.”
Bieber's career seemed headed to oblivion, but he had made enough money during the peak of his popularity (and from residuals) that he could do whatever he wanted. And Bieber wanted to continue making music.
Only six months after the release of Sugar and Spice, Bieber announced another album, entitled Back to Basics, to be released within a year. This time, however, Bieber embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign, appearing on talk shows, doing radio interviews, and engaging fans on social media.
|Cover Art for "Back to Basics" 2018|
“It was a difficult thing to do,” says a marketing executive at Proxy Media Relations, the company Bieber hired to rehabilitate his image. “How do you market a boy who looks like a girl? Especially one who won't acknowledge that he's gay or transgendered? He wouldn't even change his name – looking like he did, how could you call him 'Justin' with a straight face? So we just treated it like any other client, and rolled out the campaign like we would with anyone else.”
It was an unmitigated disaster. Interviewers refused to follow the ground rules, and repeatedly asked him about his transition. Bieber tried to push through it, to claim that he was simply dressing differently, but the interviewers would not be dissuaded, pointing out the obvious changes in his body. The marketing push only lasted a few weeks before Bieber retreated back into hiding. However, the album was released on schedule. Very few were sold, and it is generally regarded as one of the biggest bombs in the history of music.
“Justin reached out to me a few weeks after Back to Basics was released,” says Braun. “He was actually crying on the phone, complaining about no one understanding what he was going through. I didn't know what to say because, frankly, I didn't understand it. And I wasn't his manager anymore. And I was really busy, and...well, I'm not proud of it, but I couldn't get off the phone with him quickly enough.”
Braun's reaction was not unique. Friends, former business associates, and even family abandoned him nearly overnight. In an interview a few years later, Bieber would say, “I was young and naïve. I didn't realize that all of those people were nice to me because I was making them so much money. I guess it opened my eyes, and I grew up very, very quickly. It's good, though. I found out who really cared about me.”
Much can be said about Bieber's questionable decisions, but no one can say that he was a quitter. Within a year, he had released another album (to almost nonexistent sales), entitled Nothing to Hide. It's important to note that the album was met with generally good reviews, despite its low sales figures, with critics citing its “honesty” and “maturity.”
|Cover Art for "Nothing to Hide" 2018|
The scrutiny Bieber faced with the release of Back to Basics and Nothing to Hide had clearly taken its toll, resulting in his retreat from the public eye. His self-imposed exile lasted nearly a year until rumors began to surface that a sex tape featuring the former pop idol was being shopped to various gossip magazines. Soon, the rumors were confirmed when The Daily Buzz (a now defunct gossip website) won a bidding war for the rights to the video.
|Bieber's Infamous Sex Tape, Circa 2019|
It was not long before the video made its way to every corner of the internet. The world was treated to footage of Bieber engaged in various sex acts, including fellatio, with two unidentified men.
“I guess I knew all along,” says Gomez. “I mean, he hid it well when we were together, I guess, but I didn't want to see it either. I wasn't nearly as surprised as you would think when I saw the video. With the way he looked and everything, I guess I expected it.”
Nearly overnight, Bieber's online presence soared, culminating in a footprint which rivaled his former peak.
“Everyone wanted to see it,” says Braun. “Former heartthrob getting f****ed by two studs? It was a must-see, the type of thing publicists dream about. I mean, it worked for Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, right? Why wouldn't it work for Justin too?”
Bieber put out a statement that the video had been stolen, that it had never been intended for public consumption, but most people assumed that the first step in a carefully constructed comeback attempt, as evidenced by the release of another album only a month later. Digital downloads skyrocketed, and Bieber had his first hit album in over four years.
|Cover Art for "Free to Be (me)" 2019|
The success, however, was short lived, and the meteoric rise of the album, entitled Free to Be, was mirrored by its rapid fall. The marketing strategy, though, had been established. It wasn't long before Bieber began posting risque, nude photographs on his various social media accounts.
|One of Bieber's Controversial Social Media Posts, Circa 2019|
“He got off on it, I think,” says Maria Winston, his publicist from 2019-2021. “The attention, I mean. He liked being objectified. He liked the idea that his being male didn't stop straight guys from wanting him. I think that's why he sort of abandoned the whole music thing.”
Then, in March 2020, Bieber made history by becoming the first genetically male Playboy Playmate when he accepted a then-record six million dollars to pose for the legendary magazine. While the world had been witness to his body's transformation, the Playboy spread was the first time anyone had clear, high-definition evidence of his feminization. Until then, no one had seen anything but low-definition, grainy pictures from social media sites like Instagram and Twitter.
|Bieber appeared in Playboy in 2020|
“I hadn't seen him for over a year, but I knew what was going on, I guess,” says Bieber's father. “But when I saw his pictures in Playboy, it all sort of came home. It became real. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I made a lot of mistakes with Justin. I made a lot of mistakes with my own life [with drugs]. But seeing what he'd become, what he was doing for money...I knew I had to reach out. I knew I had to help. Maybe I could have gone about it in a different way, but...well...I was distraught.”
Jeremy Bieber, of course, is referring to an incident in which he assaulted one of his son's lovers – rapper Desmond Sanders (more popularly known as Python) – with an aluminum baseball bat. The elder Bieber, after repeated attempts to get in touch with his son, made the trek to Toronto, and broke into his son's home, where he found the two engaged in vigorous coitus. His attack, while largely ineffectual, resulted in his own short-term imprisonment and a restraining order from his own son.
Bieber's last album, entitled Snow Bunny, was released shortly after his father's arrest, and was met with average interest. The novelty, it seemed, had run its course, and shortly thereafter, Bieber announced his retirement from music.
|Cover Art for Bieber's Final Album, "Snow Bunny" 2021|
His love of fame, however, had not faded.
“He was miserable,” says an anonymous source close to Bieber. “You have to realize that for most of his life, he was in the public eye. I think he needs that sort of attention. He needs people to treat him like he's special, like he's the center of the universe. And he'll do anything to get that feeling.”
Less than six months after Bieber retired from music, he took a meeting with an entrepeneur named Vinny Davidson, who made him a very lucrative offer to appear in a series of pornographic films which would then be exclusively distributed via a website to be called biebergetsfucked.com.
“He refused at first,” Davidson says. “But I saw that he was interested. How could he not be? It wasn't like I was asking him to do something he wasn't already doing, right? And the money...well, let's just say that he'll never have to work again if he doesn't want to.”
Davidson offered Bieber an unprecedented deal – instead of simply paying him a set amount, Davidson offered the former singer a partnership. Half of the website would belong to Beiber. Half would belong to Davidson.
It's unclear whether it was the money or Bieber's need for attention which prompted him to accept Davidson's offer, but within a month, he had agreed to the proposal. Six months later, the website launched to record-breaking numbers.
|Bieber's first foray into structured pornography, 2021|
“The servers went down that first day,” Davidson says with a broad smile. “That's when we knew it was going to be successful. We were completely overloaded – and they were all paying customers. It just snowballed from there.”
It's estimated that the website grossed nearly twenty million dollars in the first month alone; it was official – the gamble was a complete success.
“Most celebrities wouldn't do what Justin did,” says public relations expert, Sasha Adams. “Nothing was off-limits for him. He completely disregarded the stigma associated with hardcore pornography, and just went with it. That's why he was successful. The public wants to see famous people having sex – not simulated sex, either – they want the real thing. And Justin delivered that in high definition.”
|One of Bieber's many interracial scenes, 2021|
The sex was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, however. Bieber and Davidson had far bigger plans. The pornographic videos were just the hook for a bigger, more profitable idea.
“For years, celebrity reality shows have been insanely popular,” says Adams. “Couple that idea with pornography, and it's hard to understand why nobody had done it before.”
The video blog began as filler, a way for Bieber to connect with his fans while keeping them occupied between the twice-monthly updates of the website. Within a few weeks, however, it became readily apparent that the video blog was at least as popular as the pornography. The website's popularity skyrocketed when they took the video blog to the inevitable next step – a reality show exclusive to the website.
|A staged sexual encounter for Bieber's reality program, 2021|
“It didn't take long for us to realize that the sex was secondary,” says Davidson. “People were interested in Justin. Sure, they wanted to see him naked and getting f***ed, and we gave that to them too, but they also wanted to see going about his daily life. So that's what we focused on.”
The site evolved from there. The staged videos went by the wayside in favor of near 24-7 coverage.
|Bieber continues to make pornographic videos, 2021|
“It's what he wanted all along, I think,” says Gomez. “We've talked a few times in the past year, sort of just to reconnect, and well, he's happy now. The music was always a burden for him. That's a lot of work. Now, though, he can just do his thing, live his life, and get what he always wanted – popularity, admiration, and adoration. It's perfect for him.”
Though many would consider such scrutiny an invasion of privacy, Bieber seems to thrive on it. Though he declined to be interviewed for this article, he did make it clear that Justin Bieber isn't going anywhere.
|Bieber as he is today, 2022|