As I predicted back in January, Justin and Hailey Bieber cover the March issue of Vogue, timed to come out before their wedding that was supposed to happen at the end of this month until it got postponed, and his birthday on March 1. And while I know it’s only February, this might be the celebrity profile of the year. Because it’s been a while since JB has been extensively interviewed.
Almost exactly three years ago, in February 2016, Caity Weaver wrote the definitive Justin Bieber profile for GQ. It was titled “Justin Bieber Would Like to Reintroduce Himself”. On the anniversary of that reintroduction, this Vogue interview represents yet another new era of Justin Bieber even though his career is on hold, and the irony here is that even though this may be a new “era”, what exactly and who exactly he is, in this era, is still a work in progress. This is the work of not having any new work to work on because the big work project is himself. This interview is also JB’s first joint interview with his wife. It’s how they’re introducing their marriage, which has fascinated the world, to the world.
And the way we are meeting that marriage is that it’s…hard.
That’s one of the emerging themes from Vogue’s Meet the Biebers feature: marriage is hard. It is hard for them. They are finding it difficult. But the difficulty is not a surprise to them. Rather it’s something they insist they will confront together. A friend of mine texted me just now, thirty seconds after he’d finished reading it – EVERYONE IS READING IT TODAY – and wondered “why they made their brand ‘marriage is hard’”. Well, probably because since Justin proposed, like a month, or less, after they got back together last June, being as young as they are, and given how volatile their history and his history has been, the public perception was basically…these kids, man, do they know what they’re doing?
This is the Biebers trying to tell us they do know what they’re doing by telling us that it’s hard. They’re also telling us that they didn’t have sex until they were married since JB was doing the no-sex thing for a year or so before he and Hailey found themselves again, having decided to be celibate after realising that his promiscuity was a symptom of unresolved childhood and fame pain. Which, I guess, means that when he was back together with Selena Gomez they weren’t having sex either. Not that Selena comes up at all in the article – she’s not mentioned, not once – but you can’t help but make the association with these kinds of details. It’s another reason why this might be the celebrity profile of the year.
Mostly though, this is Justin’s feature. He is candid and vulnerable, right off the top of the piece. I mean, here’s how we open – with Justin talking about going to some kind of retreat and having to leave because he wasn’t ready to go to the emotional places they wanted to take him:
“There were these séances,” he explains. “Or not really séances but these traditions. They light candles, and it kind of freaked me out. You sit on a mat, you put a pillow down, and you beat your past out of it. I beat the fact that my mom was depressed a lot of my life and my dad has anger issues. Stuff that they passed on that I’m kind of mad they gave me.”
I exhaled, deeply, after reading that. Anyone following Justin Bieber over the last decade would be familiar with this family background, but that’s probably the most concise analysis of where that comes from that we’ve heard, and it’s coming directly from him.
From there, there’s more evidence of self-reflection. His overnight superstardom turned him into an asshole. He self-medicated. He self-loathed. He has trust issues. He is insecure. He is afraid. He is impulsive. He is compulsive. He doesn’t think.
But she thinks. We are told that Hailey is the steady one in the marriage while JB is much less structured. And they talk about it like she’s the calm that grounds him, that this is what he was looking for all along: a person who could be the stability that he could hold on to, whether that’s God or his wife. This sounds reasonable…to a point. Because it’s clear that Justin Bieber is still trying to figure out how to be the stability for himself. So if marriage is hard now, it’s only going to get harder if her stability must remain his constant.
You root for them though, it’s hard not to after reading this profile. It would be inhumane not to. All of it might be in service of a new clothing line or a celebrity partnership, but so much of what they’re sharing is so raw, there’s really not that much artifice surrounding the motivation, if there is a motive at all. Because the bigger picture here is fame, especially early fame, and the idea of getting what you want and not what you need. JB’s pastor, Judah Smith, sums it up well:
“[Justin] gives a lot to the world, and a lot has been taken from him, including a bit of the natural progression of development, the chance to grow relationally and socially. He can feel everything, and that’s from those years spent wondering who in the room is being authentic with him. His spider sense is remarkable, but it haunts him a bit. He’ll notice people’s eyebrow movements. I get emotional now, watching him make a great effort to care about the people around him when the last decade of his life was lived in a glass box.”
Well there’s an understatement. It’s not just a “bit” of the “natural progression” and “development”, but SO MUCH of it, most of it. And that part about making a “great effort to care about the people around him” speaks directly to empathy. You can’t tell a story without it. F-ck, you can’t live a true story without it. This is what’s happened to him. This is what he appears to be working on both on his own and in his marriage: how to truly participate in his own story that doesn’t dominate someone else’s even as his work, right now, to go back to the beginning of this post, is HIM.
It’s a fascinating read –click here for the full profile and to see the pictures at Vogue – and now I’m going back to reread Caity Weaver’s piece as a back to back comparison. Or, rather, examination of parts.