Interview and shoot taken from HERO 13: True Blue.
It’s D-Day for Justin Bieber. Purpose – the comeback record to end all comeback records – is out today, the pinnacle of an insane year for the Canadian popstar. And with a 58-date world tour just confirmed to match, it’s about to go next level.
Rewind to the start of 2015 when we interviewed the Biebs for our issue 13 cover story, shot by Hedi Slimane. Head down in the studio, the Canadian kid-star was gearing up for the ultimate reinvention, and expressed nerves about putting out a new album under the world’s ultra-critical gaze. Here, we publish the full interview.
James West Hey Justin, how are you?
Justin Bieber Doing great, how are you?
JW I’m good thanks. How was Coachella?
JB It was great, always a good time.
JW Who did you see? What was the highlight for you?
JB The Weeknd and AC/DC were both cool.
JW So what are you up to today?
JB I’m just relaxing before I get back to work.
JW Are you spending a lot of time in the studio at the moment? Is it long days and nights or are you quite strict with keeping a regular working day?
JB I’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio. It’s definitely long days and nights – not normal business hours, nine to five or anything – but I try not to go too late into the night. It depends on who I’m working with because you need to find a time to work where everyone is at their most creative. I love being in the studio and writing and recording – it’s a great way to clear my head and express myself.
“I’m nervous whenever I put out new work because it’s such a personal journey, but I try to remember music is meant to be enjoyed – so I try to roll with it.”
JW What do you think are the main differences between now and the last time you were working on an album? Do you feel lots of pressure, does it make you nervous?
JB The biggest difference is that I’m older, I was 17 when I recorded most of my last album and I’m 21 now. I’ve been through a lot in a public way which gives me a much different perspective on things. I am working with producers like Kanye [West] and Rick Rubin who have influenced me and the music I listen to in a big way. The creative process this time around is more personal, when was younger I would take other people’s experiences, now I have my own to draw from and it makes all the difference because it’s a release. It’s amazing because I’m able to really work out anything I am feeling in my music. I’m nervous whenever I put out new work because it’s such a personal journey, but I try to remember music is meant to be enjoyed – so I try to roll with it.
JW It must be tough having lots of things you do taken out of context. Do you get used to it, does it affect the way you act and talk in public?
JB It’s definitely hard having so many people judge you from a distance. Sometimes you just want to explain yourself, but then that’s giving into gossip and it makes things worse. It’s a tough line to walk.
JW I guess you could have decided to take your success and not work again, but instead you’ve chosen to push yourself and produce something new, focusing on music. So you spent a bit of time apologising, on your own YouTube channel, on Ellen and on the [Comedy Central] Roast… do you feel like it was received well? Do you feel people believe you mean it?
JB I hope people felt the sincerity in my apologies. There are a lot of things that have happened in the last couple years that I’m not very proud of and I feel a responsibility to my fans and to the public who believe in me to make it right. I hope everyone believed it – because it was honest.
JW So what country are you in now?
JB I’m in Canada!
JW Canada, whoop! Do you feel very American now, or still quite Canadian at heart? A lot of your inspiration is from American culture.
JB I don’t feel American. I am a Canadian boy and always will be. My inspiration comes from my life, so when I’m in America I draw from what’s around me, the same way I do in the UK, Australia and Japan.
JW Where would you say has been the most inspirational or awe-inspiring place you visited?
JB Probably Tokyo. I love Japan, the fashion, the culture, the shopping, the food, it’s awesome.
JW Ok I have some quick-fire questions for you. Are you a morning or evening person?
JW What’s the absolute best part of a gig for you?
JB The whole thing, I love being on stage.
JW What’s your favourite tactile sensation?
JB A good massage.
JW What was the last film you watched?
JB I’ve been watching a lot of TV recently… House of Cards.
JW What do you eat when you’re depressed?
JB I don’t eat much when I’m down.
JW Is there one thing you can’t travel without?
JB Nothing really – I can usually find what I need wherever I’m going.
JW Do you bite your nails?
JB I try not to.
JW Skate or surf?
JW What’s the most exciting thing this generation has to look forward to?
JB The future is so bright, there are so many things. Technology is creating so many cool new opportunities and tools for us.
JW Do you collect anything?
JW Is there something you keep meaning to do but have been putting off?
JB These days I try to tackle things head on – maybe finishing my album… I miss performing but want to be sure the music is perfect.
JW What goes into your ideal smoothie?
JB Ice cream if it’s for dessert, protein powder if it’s for training.
JW What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
JB Stay humble, put God and family first.
JW What was your most enjoyable video to shoot?
JB As Long As You Love Me.
JW Do you sleep through thunderstorms?
JW Light or dark?
JW Is there anything you think you spend too much time thinking about?
JW Is there a question that you wish people would ask you in interviews but never do?
JB That’s a hard one. I think I’ve been asked everything possible over the last seven years…
JW After so many does it feel like you have any secrets or personal mental space left, or has it all been probed?
JB It’s been thousands probably over the years. There are some things I try to hold sacred and personal and not talk about, you have to have some stuff that’s just for you.
JW At the Roast nothing was off limits. Did it feel different watching the final edit compared to living through it?
JB It was good fun. Everyone on the dais gets roasted on those things, so I was just grateful that everyone was willing to go through that alongside me, I was nervous to watch it but it was really funny.
JW Back to the music. When does a song click for you, when do you know it’s finished? What can you do to make sure the music is striking and makes a bold, opinionated statement, when perhaps in general you might feel like you need to be cautious with what you say at the moment?
JB I never feel it’s finished but at a certain point you have to let it go. I’m a perfectionist and this is my art, and so I’m always going to feel like I can make changes. Honest music is always going to feel bold, I think now more than ever it’s important that I make honest and meaningful music.
“There are a lot of things that have happened in the last couple years that I’m not very proud of and I feel a responsibility to my fans and to the public who believe in me to make it right. I hope everyone believed it – because it was honest.”
JW Is there a lyric that you’ve grown really attached to, that you’re proud of?
JB I have a song out right now with Jack Ü called Where Are Ü Now. The lyrics to that song are very meaningful to me on several levels. There are a bunch of songs I’ve written for the new project that mean a lot to me as well – but I’m not ready to share those yet.
JW Fair enough. I wanted to ask you about social media. It’s a big concern for a lot of actors and musicians, most see it as a burden or intrusion or something to stress about. But you were discovered that way and have always embraced it. Are you quite business-like about it? Do you feel a responsibility in what you post, and do you think it shapes your own image of yourself – the way you perceive yourself?
JB I wouldn’t say I’m business-like about it. I feel a responsibility in what I post in the same way I feel a need to act responsibly now. I think that what I post is a reflection of my life. So my perception of myself and my experiences shape my social media content more than it being the other way around.
JW You must be so used to seeing millions of images of yourself in the media, non-stop every day. Do you bother to look at them, do you see yourself in them or does it seem like an alternate reality?
JB If I was out for an event or do a carpet I’ll check out the images. But I don’t sit around and Google myself all day long. When things are taken out of context – of course it feels like an alternate reality but generally it just feels like my life.
JW You’ve said you want to grow up – are you going to change the things you put online? You want to keep some things private but still sometimes post images that suggest things about your relationships, and you want to be a respected, mature artist but still have some videos goofing around. Do you see these things as being linked?
JB My posts are just honest reflections of what is going on in my life. Sometimes people choose to draw conclusions about my relationships and experiences from what they see and read. I am a normal person with different aspects of my personality – some serious, some not. All of that is reflected in my posts.
JW So I have confession. Sometimes when I’m feeling low I put on the Beauty And A Beat video and everything is so cranked-up and snappy and full of fizz and energy and everyone is grinding around and Nicki Minaj is wearing that massive dress and the world seems ok again. Do you have a track or video that you like to put on to get in the mood? Like when you’re getting ready to get your party moves on?
JB My musical go-to’s have stayed the same throughout everything. Michael Jackson’s music always gets me inspired and excited. For the last two tours it’s what we play in the arena before I go on stage. But one particular track or artist is hard to say. Right now I’m into the Drake mixtape so I’d say that maybe – but it really depends on my mood.
JW The intro to [Michael Jackson’s] Beat It is probably one of my favourites.
JB Good choice!
JW Ha! So you’re into House of Cards – the US primaries are underway, Hillary Clinton just announced her candidacy for President. Do you follow politics, does it interest you?
JB I try to stay out of it. I’m an entertainer not a politician. I try to support people doing positive things in the world and if something happens where I can help, I do, like I did after the earthquake in the Philippines.
JW Was there something specific about that tragedy that made you want to get involved?
JB I was in Australia when it happened and it was just an amazing opportunity to help, involving kids and music. I was happy to do it.
JW So, what new kinds of fans are you hoping to reach with your new music?
JB There’s no particular type of person I aim for my music to reach. Just fans of music I guess. I want to make great music.
JW Do you feel like you’ve missed out on anything growing up in the industry?
JB Of course there are things I missed out on, but my life has been incredible so far and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
JW Ok let’s end on a few more quick-fire ones… do you use every room in your house?
JB Over time yes, but not regularly.
JW Who’s your favourite sports person?
JB Floyd Mayweather is a good friend.
JW Do you crack your fingers?
JW Do you like the smell of burning?
JW Now you can drink… what’s your favourite?
JB A beer or Jack Daniel’s.
JW What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve bought?
JB My house.
JW When you were a kid did you have an alter-ego with a different name?
JW Does the sight of blood make you feel weird?
JB Not really.
JW How often do you go to the dentist?
JW Chicken wings or legs?
JW If you weren’t the famous Bieber and couldn’t use that as a chat up line, what would you say?
JB I’m not sure, I don’t really use them now. I try to make an honest connection.
JW Space travel or time travel?
JW Least favourite tattoo?
JB I love them all.
JW Is there a smell you hate?
JW Ever drunk rotten milk?
JB Rotten no… but I did drink too much before going on stage once!
JW I remember the clip… What’s your Starbucks order?
JB Coffee with cream and sugar.
JW What’s your In-N-Out Burger order?
JB Animal style.
JW When did you last scream?
JB After I got off stage at Ultra.
JW What’s the most painful thing you’ve done?
JB I’d rather not say…
JW Do you have a phobia?
JB Yes, claustrophobia.
JW Are you a good swimmer?
JW Ketchup or BBQ sauce?
JB Depends on the meal.
JW If you had to live without shoes or hair product which would it be?
JB Hair product.
JW What’s your favourite stadium to play in?
JB The ACC in Toronto.
JW Do you like your own handwriting?
JW Who have you been most star-struck by?
Further shoot credits: production KIM POLLOCK and YANN RZEPKA