Is there a better reflection of a culture than its pop stars? Like nubile little Tesla coils, our chart-toppers are very often both receptors for and projections of our collective energies. And, at 21, Justin Bieber, the kid who grew up playing for cash on the streets of small-town Canada and now plays to sold-out arenas across the world, is basically living like our collective id—if our collective id were jet-skiing on an ocean of money and fame: stepping out with models, befriending moguls, modeling underwear, and hooping it up at the Staples Center with Kanye West. Bieber's Instagrams are perfect little portraits of adolescent appetite paired with the kind of material wealth to accommodate it: whirling around on a Back to the Future-style hoverboard, as he was in a recent video, while aboard a private jet.
But it's not as if Bieber isn't totally unaware of what goes on down here in the mundane world. In March, he threw a Friars Club-style roast of himself on Comedy Central, inviting the likes of Martha Stewart, Kevin Hart, and Snoop Dogg to poke some holes in the very self-serious, straight-faced image he'd been projecting. Look, he gets it. He knows what it looks like to be arrested for racing a Skittle-colored Lamborghini down the streets of Miami Beach. But he's ready to laugh at himself too.
Bieber has, since the age of 15, been a massive, global star. His debut EP, My World, released in 2009, and the album My World 2.0, released the next year, both went platinum in under two months. The 3-D film "experience" Never Say Never (2011) is to Beliebers what A Hard Day's Night (1964) was to Beatlemaniacs, if A Hard Day's Night were shot in Imax, at Madison Square Garden. In other words, he has been drowned in love and affection—and their scary offshoot, obsession—for about as long as Obama has been in the White House. So, even as he begins to actualize as a real adult human, as he begins to individuate from his mother and his manager, Scooter Braun, Bieber probably has to break away from us, too. He's coming out from beneath those beautiful bangs and superproduced hooks to become something more like himself (Bieber unplugged!). Because, good, bad, worshiped, and cut down to size, Bieber up to this point has been a part of us. But now, as he readies to release his new album, he is remaking himself on his own terms.
And as he tells his pal, roaster, and fellow tech investor, Martha Stewart, he's in a really good place.
MARTHA STEWART: Hi. How are you? You're recording?
JUSTIN BIEBER: I'm in the studio, yes.
STEWART: How fantastic. It was really fun to see you at the roast. What was the reaction to that?
BIEBER: I thought it was great. While I'm walking down the street, I constantly have people coming up to me saying that they loved the roast and that it was awesome, so I feel like there was a great reaction.
STEWART: There were zillions of impressions on the internet, and I thought you handled yourself amazingly well.
BIEBER: Thank you. And thank you so much for doing that for me.
STEWART: Oh, you're very welcome. Did you feel uncomfortable at any point during the roast?
BIEBER: Oh, of course. But, overall, it was fun because I knew a lot of the people on the panel. It was all in good fun.
STEWART: I think it was just a little bit uncomfortable for all of us [laughs], but it was also fun. Do you remember when we first met? It was in February 2011. You were with your mom, and we were backstage at ... Do you remember where?
BIEBER: No, I don't remember where.
STEWART: It was David Letterman.
BIEBER: Oh yeah.
STEWART: I have a picture of the three of us. Your mom's in the middle, and you look about 10 years old, but you must've been 16 or 17 because that's only about four years ago.
BIEBER: I always looked really young. I matured pretty late.
STEWART: Yeah. It's crazy. You had little bangs, and we're just smiling. So much has happened to you since then. You're 21 and, I would say, pretty sophisticated now. You just went to the Met Ball. How was that?
BIEBER: It was awesome. We got to see a lot of great people.
STEWART: Did you have a date?
BIEBER: I didn't have a date. But I got to talk to Anna Wintour for quite a few minutes. We talked about fashion, and I thanked her for inviting me, because you have to be invited to the event. I know they use a pretty small list, so to be in that room with a lot of awesome people ...
STEWART: Do you remember who the designer of your beautiful jacket was?
BIEBER: It was Balmain. And, actually, I guess I did have a date. It wasn't a girl; my date was Olivier [Rousteing], who's the designer at Balmain.
STEWART: Oh, it was Olivier. I was hoping that you would ask me to be your date. [both laugh]
BIEBER: Well, I would have.
STEWART: I would've worn my Balmain dress. But, anyway, you looked great. What was it like to grow up in Ontario?
BIEBER: I grew up in a really rural town, Stratford, Ontario, with 30,000 people. There's a big festival thrown in the town. A lot of people travel from all over the world to see it, and growing up, I actually used to busk on the street. I'd play my guitar, sing, and people would throw money in the case. That was really fun, and I actually got enough money to bring my mom to Florida to go to Disney World, because I always wanted to go but we never had enough money. Growing up, I played a lot of sports. I played hockey and basketball and soccer.
STEWART: When did you know it was music that was going to be your thing?
BIEBER: Honestly, it was never something that I was going to do for a living. At 13 you're not even thinking about that, you know? I was just playing for fun and uploading videos on YouTube because I wanted to show my family. That's when Scooter found me.
STEWART: Who were your musical influences at that time?
BIEBER: I listened to a lot of Michael Jackson growing up. A lot of Boyz II Men. I loved Mariah Carey. Just big vocalists. I was always that kid who just wore whatever and did whatever. And my mom always supported that. So I always looked up to Michael because he was never afraid to just be himself, never tried to be anything that he wasn't.
STEWART: And how did Scooter contact you?
BIEBER: He kind of stalked me, basically. He got in touch with a lot of people in Stratford because he couldn't get in touch with me. My mom's last name is Mallette, and my last name is Bieber, so he contacted my great aunt, who I'd never met before. He contacted the school board. My mom was getting all these messages saying, "This guy named Scooter is trying to get in touch with you." After a while, it got kind of creepy to my mom, so she finally gave him a call to tell him to stop calling. She ended up talking to him for about two hours. They kept in touch, and we eventually made a trip out to Atlanta to see what he's about and to see what kind of connections he could get.
STEWART: He encouraged you to do your first album. Had you been thinking about doing an album, or was this something new and amazing to you?
BIEBER: No, I never really dreamed of it. I didn't know about anything like that. So when Scooter was contacting us, I started to think, like, "Wow, this could actually be my life. I could actually do this for a living and make music and travel the world." So that's when I started getting excited. And when I moved down to Atlanta, I met Usher ...
STEWART: Did you drop out of school, Justin?
BIEBER: No, I finished high school with a 4.0 GPA.
STEWART: You did, okay. And, in 2010, you released My World 2.0. And "Baby" went platinum. That must've been so exciting. You really changed your life.
BIEBER: I did. I moved from Stratford to Atlanta, and I met Usher pretty much right away. And that's the relationship that got me the platform, really, to do everything. When he signed me, he called all the radio stations with me and got them to believe in me. We worked with a lot of great people from the start. Tricky [Stewart] and The-Dream actually wrote "Baby," and they wrote a lot of big hits like "Single Ladies" by Beyoncé. So it was cool to be able to work with them right from the jump. We released that as the first single, and, like you said, it went platinum.
STEWART: Where do you have the platinum record?
BIEBER: I think it's in Stratford, at my grandma's house, if I'm not mistaken.
STEWART: She must be very excited.
BIEBER: Yeah, her whole basement is full of plaques and stuff. We've been doing that since before I was famous. Just, like, when I would win track and field and stuff at school.
STEWART: What's your favorite mode of transportation, Justin?
BIEBER: Probably private jet. That's the quickest and most comfortable.
STEWART: Do you have a jet?
BIEBER: I don't own a jet, but I rent jets in my spare time.
STEWART: Do you know how to fly?
BIEBER: I've flown before, yeah. When I was going to Coachella, actually, I took a plane out.
STEWART: It's fun, right?
BIEBER: It was pretty scary, but it was fun.
STEWART: What about cars? I thought you were a big car guy.
BIEBER: I do love cars. I've got a Ferrari.
STEWART: What color?
BIEBER: It's red. And then I have an Audi R8, which is matte black. I have a Range Rover. I have a Mercedes-Maybach.
STEWART: You have a Maybach? My dream car. Do you sit in the front seat or the backseat?
BIEBER: I ride in the back.
STEWART: Isn't it fabulous?
BIEBER: It's so nice. It's the smoothest ride I've ever been in.
STEWART: So where do you keep all those cars?
BIEBER: I actually own a piece of West Coast Customs. It's a car company out here that does up really nice cars. So I keep a lot of them in the shop on display when I'm not using them. Just to help out the business. I've always loved doing up my cars, so being able to just take my car in at any time and tell them what to do, and not have to pay for it because I own the company, is pretty cool.
STEWART: That's very cool. And what else do you invest in?
BIEBER: A lot of tech investments.
STEWART: Like Facebook?
BIEBER: A lot of different tech investments, but not a lot I can speak on because we want to kind of keep that private.
STEWART: What interests you in the tech world?
BIEBER: Just the fact that there's such a big return. We've got someone who's very smart in that world who helps us figure out what's going to blow up and ... I don't know, I just like tech.
STEWART: Do you use social media yourself?
BIEBER: I do, yeah.
STEWART: What's your favorite mode of communicating?
BIEBER: Actually, I helped start an app called Shots. It's a selfie app, and basically it's an anti-bullying app. You can post pictures and there's no comments or dislikes; you can just like the photo and follow your friends. A bunch of celebrities are on there, and it's a really safe platform. It's one of the fastest-growing apps right now. I've been on Twitter since the beginning, and on Instagram. I actually just started a Snapchat, so I've been kind of addicted to that recently.
STEWART: That's doing amazingly well.
BIEBER: I wish I was involved with that one in the beginning.
STEWART: What can you tell us about what you're working on?
BIEBER: The new album's going really well. I'm working a lot with Skrillex and Diplo and this guy named Poo Bear, who's an incredible writer. We've just been getting our groove. You kind of go through a period where you're in there and nothing comes and nothing comes, and then, finally, it's like bang-bang-bang—you get them all in a row. I'm at a place where I'm really happy and I'm ready to share my music.
STEWART: Oh, great. Do you have backup singers?
BIEBER: Not on the album. But when I'm on tour, we have backup singers and backup dancers.
STEWART: What kinds of instruments are on the album?
BIEBER: I mean, all the instruments. We've got bass, we've got drums and guitar and keyboard.
STEWART: Are you playing and singing?
BIEBER: Yeah—of course. I play drums and guitar. My best instrument is definitely drums, so I'm featured a lot on the album drumming. It's pretty futuristic as well. Skrillex is on a really new wave and has found a way to take my vocals and mix them and play with them and pitch it up to make it higher with these cool effects that sound really futuristic. We have a really good chemistry.
STEWART: So when do you think you'll be finished?
BIEBER: I actually don't know. I'm really not worried about when it's finished, I just want it to be perfect, so we're taking our time with it. I've been working with Kanye West and Rick Rubin. We've gone in with a bunch of different people. I'm just trying to get the best sound and have it be consistent and make sense with what I'm going through in my life right now.
STEWART: After I saw you at the roast and watched some of your videos, I went out and bought my grandson a Ludwig junior drum set for his third birthday.
STEWART: Ugh, it's so cute. Was that your first instrument, the drums?
BIEBER: Yeah, because it's basic. Kids can bang on anything. When you start putting a guitar in front of them at a young age, they can get confused—there's so many strings, and you've got to put your fingers in certain places. Drums are a great first instrument.
STEWART: Is the new album romantic?
BIEBER: It's just very personal. People will be able to really get in to where my heart is. It's about my journey in life—stuff that I've been through. Maybe I can teach a lesson, certain things that are inspiring.
STEWART: Sounds good. You sound like you're in a really good place. Are you going anywhere this summer that's exciting?
BIEBER: I think I'm going to go to Ibiza.
STEWART: Oh, great! Do you have a boat?
BIEBER: Yeah, I got a boat. And I'll go down there for about a week and just get some inspiration.
STEWART: It's beautiful. What do you eat?
BIEBER: I love grilled salmon, mashed potatoes.
STEWART: Simple food.
BIEBER: I've been really eating healthy lately, so grilled salmon and a lot of steak and chicken breasts and stuff.
STEWART: And what do you drink?
BIEBER: 1942 tequila.
STEWART: Aha, you're a tequila boy. That's good. Have you tried any of the really fancy sipping tequilas?
BIEBER: I haven't. I haven't been introduced to that stuff yet.
STEWART: Do you ever get in the kitchen?
BIEBER: I cook breakfast, and that's pretty much it.
STEWART: For yourself or your girlfriend?
BIEBER: For myself or if I have a girl. I made breakfast for my little brother the other day, some eggs, pancakes, and bacon. Simple.
STEWART: And who's your love today?
BIEBER: My love? My love today is my little brother. He's staying with me for the next week. So he's my love right now.
STEWART: No girlfriend?
BIEBER: No girlfriend at the moment, no. I'm single.
STEWART: Okay, well, after this interview, every girl in America will want you—I think they do already. I think you have too many girlfriends to choose from.
BIEBER: I think so, too. I'm a pretty lucky guy.