“Does anyone know we’re performing?” he asks now, about the Fourth of July taping.
“Oh, yeah,” Jan replies.
“But you can’t Twitter about it or anything,” warns Melissa.
Justin looks dumbfounded. “Why?”
“Because it’s controlled. We got an e-mail from the NYPD. They’re busing these people in. They don’t even know where they’re going. We can’t disclose. NYPD will shut us down.”
“They don’t want security issues,” Jan clarifies. “Here you go. Now googs.”
As we near the park, Melissa pulls a glossy black shopping bag out from under her seat.
“What’s David Yurman?” Justin asks, eyeing the bag casually.
“It’s a jeweler.”
“Ooh,” Jan coos. “It’s my birthday.”
From the dozen or so bejeweled dogtags that Yurman has sent over, Justin selects one that’s encrusted with spiky black diamonds.
“Is this real?” he asks.
“Um, well, it retails for $7,500,” Melissa tells him. “So, yeah. Don’t lose it!”
He puts it around his neck with the tag still attached.
“I might pass out, and I’m not even near him.”
When we arrive at Queensbridge, it is already bustling with activity. Sound guys and lighting guys and construction guys dart from place to place talking into headsets. Just under the 59th Street Bridge, a large metal stage has been constructed with a panoramic view of Manhattan spreading out behind it.
Justin is led down to an area by the river where he will do several interviews, including one for Fantástico, a Brazilian show with 35 million viewers. (“My Brazilian fans are amazing—really there for me from the start!”) Before the cameras roll, he’s stooped over and a little vacant, but once they start, he snaps to attention, turning up the charm, even when he doesn’t have answers to all the questions. “I’m gonna be performing … uh … I don’t know. Kenny, what songs am I doing?”
“ ‘Baby’ and ‘Somebody to Love.’ ”
Justin turns back to the camera gamely. “All right. ‘Baby’ and ‘Somebody to Love.’ ”
Once the interviews are over, he ambles across the open field to a leafy area where a few luxury trailers are parked and his staff—mainly men in their late twenties—mills about, making occasional runs to the catering table. There’s an easy camaraderie here, lots of high fives. Justin inserts himself into the conversation like an affable younger brother, sidling up to Dan Kanter, his 28-year-old guitarist, to engage in an impassioned discussion of the movie Brüno. Kenny teases him about bodies floating in the East River. His manager, Scooter, idles nearby.
It is no small measure of Justin’s growing fame that these three men have become half-celebrities in their own right. They, too, hear their names squealed with teenage fervor.
“It’s a little weird, right?” Scooter asks when the subject arises.
“The kids are crazy,” says Dan. “When we’re with him sometimes and we’re in a car and people are banging? It’s scary. Sometimes mothers will stand in front of the car so that their kids can bang on the side.”
“Never mess with the passion of a 14- or 15-year-old girl.”
“Yeah, but it’s real weird when we’re playing and watching someone get carried over the railing, and we’re like, ‘Well, do we stop? Do we keep going?’ ”
Still, these men have the luxury of not being the epicenter of the frenzy.
“It’s definitely amazing to me that I have such amazing fans,” Justin says, then pauses, feeling out how far he should go. “But, like, at the same time, I mean … I’m claustrophobic, really bad. I don’t like to be closed in.”
Even so, Justin stokes the swirl of pubescent estrogen. According to Billboard magazine, he tweets at least four times more often than any other celebrity, almost as if he’s filling a quota. He follows more than 70,000 people. He actively cultivates an online conversation, maintaining the illusion that it is not one-sided by frequently giving “shout-outs” to particular fans (“allison in the purple tye dyed shirt it was nice meeting u”) or to his female audience in general (“how u doin ladies ;)”). The belief that, unlike other artists, he is “real” and that he “really cares about us” is a common refrain among devotees—and what they feel separates him from the genetically blessed and vigorously managed young stars forged in the Disney or Nickelodeon machines. For many fans, having him follow them on Twitter is a lifetime goal, though few have ruled out the possibility that he might one day swoop down into the crowd and choose a lucky girl to be his one and only.
Of course, this level of devotion has its advantages. Buyouts of his CDs are routinely organized by groups such as the self-designated Bieber Army (one girl with the Facebook name Lauren Love Bieber told me that she had bought his first album, My World, nine times, My World 2.0 seventeen times, and the “Baby” single 24 times). When a new single comes out, fans mobilize online to drive it to the top of iTunes. When Twitter changed its algorithm so that its “trending topics” listed those that had shown a recent spike in popularity rather than the most consistently popular—a move that would have dethroned Justin from the No. 1 spot—his 4 million followers quickly caught on. Suddenly, obvious variations such as “Jieber” and “Twieber” were taking up not one but multiple spots on the list. “I’ve never seen a phenomenon like this,” L.A. Reid told me. “Look, we put his first single out thirteen months ago, and today he’s selling out arenas all over America, and kids in the nosebleed section are wearing Justin Bieber T-shirts, and when he says scream, they scream, and when he says jump, they jump. I’ve never seen anything like it since the Beatles.”