What Happened To Justin Bieber?

Like so many childhood stars, Justin Bieber is another tragic example of how young fame can cause lasting damage.

By Caitlin Shaw5 min read
Getty Images/Nick Laham

Maybe you picture Justin Bieber in his early Baby era – naive, young, *with Selena on his arm,* and so wildly popular that a haircut was named after him. Maybe you picture him as a drug-abusing, party-chasing pop star who got too famous too fast. Or maybe the image you have in your head of Justin Bieber is closer to the present day – a married male singer struggling with a rare health disorder. 

Regardless of the way you see Justin Bieber, all these perceptions of him are just snapshots in time. None truly capture his whole story – and he’s been through a lot in his 30 years of life. We’re getting into why Justin Bieber is largely misunderstood, and how young fame can rob a kid of their childhood.

Justin Bieber’s Rise to Fame

Entire books and websites are dedicated to deep-diving into Bieber’s professional and personal life, but here are some highlights. 

Justin Bieber was discovered by music manager Scooter Braun via YouTube in 2007. Bieber’s mother, Mallete, used to post clips of her young son singing with zero intention of kickstarting his music career. After signing a record deal with Braun in 2009, Bieber released his first single, “One Time,” which he then turned into his first album and quickly became a hit. However, it wasn’t until Bieber’s second album, Baby, which reached number one on the Billboard 200 list, that his music career really took off.

In 2012, Bieber was named Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards, and by 2015, he won his first Grammy for “Where Are You Now” in the best dance/electronic category with Skrillex. By the time he was 18 years old, his net worth was north of $40 million. Outside his music career, his long on-and-off relationship with Selena Gomez made fans even more obsessed with him. (If you were alive in the 2010s, you definitely remember all the buzz about #Jelena.) His story appears to be one that many kids dream of – he had the fame, fortune, girl, and seemingly everything. But what most don’t understand is that growing up under the scrutiny of the paparazzi is anything but easy. 

Sexualization of Child Stars

By now, many stars like Britney Spears, Megan Fox, even Brooke Shields, have spoken up about their experiences with child sexualization, shedding light on a very pertinent and problematic trend in Hollywood. And sadly Justin Bieber is no stranger to these experiences. That’s right, even being a male pop star doesn’t exempt you from being the target of inappropriate commentary from predatory adults.

According to BuzzFeed News, when Bieber was just 15 years old, a radio host asked him to give her “the sex talk.” To which he replied, “I feel pretty uncomfortable right now. Why do you want to hear the sex talk from a 15-year-old boy? That’s pretty weird.” Another time, he was asked if he liked French girls because “they had big boobs.” Not only was he pointedly asked about sex, but many adults also commented on his appearance at a young age. In one interview, he was told he had “beautiful lips,” and in another, he was repeatedly warned to use protection during intercourse. Even worse, in 2012, Katy Perry was filmed grabbing his butt as they embraced for a hug, saying, “I wanted to know what Bieber's butt felt like.”

It doesn’t stop there. At the AMAs, Jenny McCarthy, who was 40 at the time, kissed 18-year-old Bieber’s neck as he walked onstage to accept an award. Afterward, he voiced to the audience, “I feel pretty violated right now.” In 2015, Bieber guest starred on The Ellen Degeneres Show, where she nonconsensually projected naked photos taken of him by the paparazzi. In clips from these moments, Bieber is seen shaking his head, visibly upset.

In light of P. Diddy's FBI raid and alleged ties to Jeffrey Epstein, an old video of him with Justin Bieber resurfaced showing the two of them together when Justin was only 15 years old. In the video, the rapper talks about wanting to have a 48-hour sleepover with the child star. Justin looks visibly uncomfortable and it's leading many to wonder whether he was groomed by P. Diddy or those within the Epstein ring.

Recently, another video surfaced on the internet of Bieber getting emotional as he talked about how badly he wanted to “protect” his younger friend in the industry, Billie Eilish: "I just want to protect her. I don't want her to lose it. I don't want her to go through anything I went through. I don't wish that upon anybody.” While, in the past, Bieber had tried to stand up for himself or brush off inappropriate comments, this was one of the first times where he explicitly shared how damaging that treatment was for him. Sadly, these experiences, coupled with the scrutiny from the paparazzi, are the reasons why he started down a dark path in his late teen years.

Bieber’s Wild Side

Like many pop stars who have let money and fame get to their heads, Justin Bieber started partying at a very young age. It was nearly impossible for him not to, being surrounded by much older counterparts who invited him to events that were arguably important for his career. So as a young, impressionable teenager, Bieber started experimenting with drugs. In his YouTube Premium docu-series Justin Bieber: Sessions, the singer shared that he became dependent on marijuana early which led to pills, molly, shrooms, and more. In one episode, he recounted the reasons for his heavy drug use – escapism. It wasn’t easy growing up in such a white hot spotlight, and his excessive amounts of money and freedom only fueled the problem. Bieber said, "My security would come into my room at night to check my pulse. People don't know how serious it got. It was legit crazy, scary." 

In 2014, he famously was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, resisting arrest, and holding an expired license. At the scene, Bieber failed a sobriety test and then admitted to having alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs in his system. However, seven years later, he reflected on the incident, and with a heavy heart, shared how badly he was hurting during this time in his life and how thankful he is now that God has drawn him near. He wrote on Instagram, “Not proud of where I was at in my life. I was hurting, unhappy, confused, angry, mislead, misunderstood and angry at god.. I also wore too much leather for someone in Miami. All this to say God has brought me a long way.”

Along with the partying and drug abuse came sleeping around. Before marrying Hailey Baldwin, Justin Bieber certainly had his fair share of casual hookups. According to celebrity gossip page Duexmoi, he hooked up with three Kardashian sisters and Halsey, possibly even when Hailey was in the picture. So in a short time span he went from a normal teenage boy with a passion for singing to being the target of sexual jokes on live TV, using drugs, and sleeping around. It’s no coincidence that the common thread is all the attention he received.

In September 2019, Bieber posted on Instagram: "Millions (of fans were) saying how much they loved me and how great I was. You hear these things enough as a young boy and you actually start believing it... So by this point I was 18 with no skills in the real world, with millions of dollars and access to whatever I wanted. This is a very scary concept for anyone."

Turning to God

After realizing that he was addicted to sex, partying, and drugs, Bieber snapped himself out of his destructive habits. But it wasn’t until he “felt like he was dying” that he sought the help he so desperately needed. He began therapy for his undertreated anxiety, became celibate, and stopped using substances to escape his problems. In addition to mental health and substance abuse support systems, a large part of his recovery journey was centered around religion.

Once Bieber started planting roots in a church and devoting time and energy into studying Christianity, he realized that the endless drug use and hookups of his past led to a vicious cycle of low self-esteem. In his 2015 album Purpose, his close relationship to God is apparent in his lyrics, and again the public’s perception of Bieber shifted. Additionally, both Hailey and Justin bonded over how important God is in their lives, using religion to ground them in their relationship. The two even shared a baptism together to symbolize both their faith in God and in one another.

Bieber and Ramsay Hunt Disorder

And while Bieber is clean and happily married, he now faces serious challenges with his health. In June of 2022, he posted on social media that he’d been struggling with a rare disorder called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a neurological condition that paralyzes one side of the face. The disease is most typically caused by the same virus that elicits chickenpox and shingles, and while it is curable, it can take between months and years to return to normal. As a result of his diagnosis, Bieber had to cancel his Justice tour, apologizing to fans and explaining that he needed to prioritize his health and well-being. However, in March of 2023, he updated the public on his progress and remains hopeful that he will fully recover and return to making music.

Closing Thoughts

Justin Bieber has been through a lot in his relatively short life so far – from being sexualized as a child, becoming addicted to partying, going through addiction rehab, finding God, being in the middle of controversial relationship drama, and undergoing treatment for Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. As a result, the public perception of Bieber has shifted dramatically from love to hate, and more recently back to admiration, as he’s grown up.

Recent footage of Justin Bieber talking about how badly he wants to protect Billie Eilish from the sexualization of the music industry has caused the public to have more empathy and support for the pop star. Additionally, his candid posts about his Ramsay Hunt Syndrome have elicited lots of prayers and well wishes as he recovers. Justin Bieber’s story is a good reminder of how young stars are shaped by the toxic environment of Hollywood and how damaging intense media attention can be. But it’s also a reminder that people, even celebrities, can turn their reputations around through careful self-work.

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