Is Justin Bieber okay? In the days surrounding his nineteenth and "worst birthday," Bieber wore a gas mask to evade the paparazzi; ripped his shirt off in front of the paparazzi; stormed out of (or was kicked out of) his own "weak ass" birthday party; went on two Twitter rants about persecution; arrived two hours late to a concert; was hospitalized after a concert collapse; shared a sexed-up picture from his hospital bed; and threatened to "fucking beat the fuck out of" a foul-mouthed photographer.
"Ahhhhh! Rough morning," Bieber tweeted after video of the threat appeared online this morning. "Sometimes when people r shoving cameras in your face all day and yelling the worst thing possible at u ... well I'm human. Rough week."
Given the level of chaos surrounding Bieber — two months ago a paparazzo died trying to photograph the teen idol's car — he'd be inhuman if he didn't crack. A person with an ordinary psyche, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, will react. The true psychopaths of show business are those capable of staying calm as paparazzi plunge to their deaths and rumors swirl about teen girls carving song lists into their forearms.
Still, the cracks follow an alarmingly familiar pattern. Like Britney Spears, he alternately lashes out at a curious public and courts our sexual attention. Like Michael Jackson, he hides his face behind elaborate masks. Like Chris Brown, he responds to perceived threats by thumping his chest.
Unlike most of his teen idol peers, though, Bieber is not the product of a lifetime of rigorous training at a child-star finishing school like Disney (Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez) or Nickelodeon (Miranda Cosgrove, Amanda Bynes). He was a YouTube upstart who drew the eye of first-time talent manager Scooter Braun, who became Bieber's de facto parent figure and encourages testicle-punching. The cult of Bieber is, at its core, about improbability. Just as Braun plucked Bieber from YouTube obscurity and thrust him at the feet of (former child star) Usher, Bieber encourages fanatical devotion by plucking random followers from his Twitter feed for retweets and direct replies. (Members of his entourage, including Braun, have been known to do the same.) Bieber documentary Never Say Never was a feature-length celebration of disbelief at the heights "regular kid" Justin Bieber had reached. Or, as the Observer explained, "Fame itself is the star, it seems; Bieber just the vehicle."
So it's no surprise that the improbably famous Justin Bieber is, in the words of former child star, Drake, "having a hard time adjusting to fame." Even though fame is his defining feature. And, as Bieber becomes an adult, all that he knows.
We praise stars when they escape the gauntlet of our attention with the gestures of normalcy intact. Witness the hyperbolic enthusiasm incited by Jennifer Lawrence admitting she's "starving"; Beyoncé sharing her video diaries; Mila Kunis flirting with a non-famous person. Those who watched Kunis's gentle conversation with a "petrified" young reporter marveled at how down-to-earth the A-lister remained, in spite of fame, beauty, and wealth. In spite of twenty years in a superficial industry that she conquered, in part, by lying about her age to land a sexpot role in a primetime television show when she was just 14. Tied up in our worship of the miraculously sane Mila Kunises of Hollywood, is relief. Celebrating those who survive child stardom eases our guilt over those who don't.
Nonetheless, even as Bieber's every move makes headlines, coverage of his so-called "meltdown" remains relatively measured. Compared to the widespread panic that broke out every time Britney Spears went shoeless — or that still breaks out every time Lindsay Lohan goes braless — Bieber's life is relatively light on concern-trolling. (Though his choice in friends, particularly the one driving his Ferrari the day that photographer died, has furrowed some brows.) Is this a sexist response? Probably; we don't fear for the purity of young men the way we do for young women. But it also may be what saves Justin Bieber. Discussing this morning's tussle with the paparazzi, Bieber made the kind of vow we only wish our stars could keep: "Not gonna let them get the best of me again. Only way someone can break u is if u let them."
* An earlier version of this article misstated where Selena Gomez got her start. She was a Disney star, not Nickelodeon.
Most Viewed Stories
Can We Finally, Officially, Say That Amber Heard and Elon Musk Are Dating?
The 26-Year-Old Couch-Surfing After a Breakup
Why Everyone Loves the Alpha Girl
Will We Abandon Women’s Rights in the Name of Progressive Politics?
I Was the Queen Bee: 3 High-School Bullies Describe Their Reigns of Terror
When Women Pursue Sex, Even Men Don’t Get It
Hey, Did You Know That French Presidential Candidate Emmanuel Macron Is Married to His High-School Teacher?
Madame Clairevoyant: Horoscopes for the Week of April 24
A Woman Used Her Boyfriend’s Balls As a Makeup Blender
Gigi Hadid’s Family Celebrated Her Birthday by Bringing Out the Baby Pictures
Latest News from The CutStudents Sue UC Berkeley for Cancelling Ann Coulter Appearance
The lawsuit says the university is discriminating against conservative speakers.Jesse Williams and Aryn Drake-Lee Divorcing After Five Years of Marriage
The two have known each other for more than a decade.How Do You Reclaim the Mother from Psycho?
The star and creator of Bates Motel on a character who’s “Medea meets Lucille Ball.”Alex Jones Is Now Being Sued by Chobani Yogurt
Alex Jones’s latest legal battle is against a yogurt company.Serena Williams Responds to Male Tennis Player’s Racist Remark About Her Pregnancy
“This world has come so far and yet we have so much further to go.”Kim Kardashian Didn’t Come Over Just to Stare at a Cake
She needs to show Khloé her “ex-box,” which contains at least two chicken-related items.Revisit Groundbreaking Photos by Diane Arbus
A new book commemorates the 50th anniversary of her MoMA exhibition with Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand.What It’s Like to Have Tina Fey As a Mentor
Tracey Wigfield on 30 Rock, her new sitcom Great News, and writing a character based on her mom.Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Is Trying Really Hard Not to Be Political
Because, its president said, gender equality “transcends politics.”The ‘Secret Menu’ Beauty Option You Don’t Know About
How to get the best concealer perfectly custom-matched to your skin.
“They love to shoot you up like a clay pigeon.”Hey, Did You Know That French Presidential Candidate Emmanuel Macron Is Married to His High-School Teacher?
A fun little fact from the French presidential race.4 Psychology Experts on Why Alex Jones Is Always Taking His Shirt Off
After it emerged that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones allegedly took his shirt off during family therapy, we got curious.Hey, Ladies, Would You Carry Condoms If They Came in a Cute Travel Case?
Don’t you dare let anyone know you have sex.American Lingerie Companies Don’t Do Big Boobs Justice
You don’t need to look frumpy.Amber Rose’s Beauty Line Will Teach You How to Have Fun
She’s the face of an exciting eyeliner.A Woman Used Her Boyfriend’s Balls As a Makeup Blender
There’s video evidence.The Best Street Style From Coachella, Week Two
Kimonos, tulle skirts, harem pants.Mom Kelly Rowland ‘Didn’t Go to School for This’
So she consulted experts to help write her charming guide for new moms, Whoa, Baby!First, She Escaped a Cult. Now She’s Running for Office.
Chelsea Savage is seeking a delegate seat in Virginia — and has the grit to get there, if she can make it past this week’s caucus.