A couple of days later, Bieber wants to have lunch. "He normally doesn't do lunch interviews," his publicist says, "but he needs to learn now that he's growing up." He's chosen to meet at his favorite spot, a place in Studio City called Sushi Dan.
Bieber chafes at any suggestion that he's still a kid. "Scooter didn't buy me this," he bristles one day when someone mistakes the Sprinter van for a gift from Braun. "I bought this." (The car Braun bought him was a Fisker Karma, a $100,000 hybrid sports car – the one he was doing 80 in when he got pulled over.) It was less than two years ago that Bieber was wearing Invisalign braces and rocking Spider-Man sheets on his tour bus, but he says that since he turned 18 he's starting to feel like a real adult. "Just feeling more responsible, having to do things myself," he says. "I have to sign more things. Before, my mom signed things." It's no big deal, though: "I've been signing my name since I was 13."
According to Braun, Bieber has two must-do phone appointments every week: one with his lawyer, and one with his business manager. It's especially important now that he's 18 and has more control over his money. "The money was always mine," Bieber says. "It was just in these trusts where I couldn't go and spend it all. Now it's still in the trusts, but it's available to take it out if I want it."
So, does that mean someone else has control over it?
"No one has control over it," he says. "It's just, like, a trust."
So theoretically he could take it out and blow it all?
"Theoretically, but, no. Because it's in, like, trusts."
Before long, the sushi arrives. Bieber ordered two different deep-fried rolls, one of which is called the Paparazzi ("Ironic, right?"). "This is the jam, bro," he says as he takes a bite. It's shrimp tempura slathered in some kind of Thousand Island-ish special sauce. "Here, try it," he says, proffering the plate. "So good, right?"
I ask Bieber what else has changed in the past couple of years. "I'm definitely more mature," he says. "I feel like I carry myself in a more manly way. I don't carry myself as a boy." He's been through all the manly rites of passage: He graduated from high school and got his first credit card, and also had his first paternity case (it was later withdrawn; there's a song about it, à la "Billie Jean," on Believe). He says one of the craziest things is that he's now the same age his dad was when he was born. "I could have a child right now," he says. "That's nuts." I ask if it makes him feel old, and he shakes his head. "It makes me feel very young."
A few minutes later, an attractive girl in a tight white dress walks by on her way to the bathroom, and Bieber stares. For a good 10 seconds he totally zones out. "Sorry," he says. "I just lost what I was thinking about."
When it comes to the ladies, Bieber says he's pretty romantic. "I make sure to do the little things," he says. "Like noticing when they get their hair done, or when they change their nail color. Also saying things all the time – like, 'You're very pretty,' 'You're gorgeous,' things like that." I ask if he's ever been in love and he says yes; then I ask how many times, and there's a seven-second pause while he decides how to answer. "Um . . . once?"
In some quarters, there's the worry that Bieber's relationship with Gomez has hurt him among his fan base – not because of who she is (a baby-doll-cute Disney star), but because the fact that he has a girlfriend at all makes him less of a fantasy object.
"Personally, I think that's all a bunch of bullshit," Braun says. "Yes, there's gonna be some girls that if they see him with a girlfriend, it kills the dream – but there are also gonna be girls that see him with a girlfriend, hear about the romantic things he does, and want him even more." As an example, he points to a date Bieber orchestrated last year, when – inspired by the Adam Sandler classic Mr. Deeds – he borrowed an empty Staples Center for the night, arranged a candlelight dinner in the middle of the floor and followed it up with a screening of Titanic on the Jumbotron.
"I have 30-year-old female friends who heard about that and said, 'Justin Bieber is the most romantic dude on the planet,'" Braun says. "'I'm in love with this boy.'"
One evening, Braun, 31, is having a beer in the living room of his $6 million mansion high in the Hollywood Hills, with his infinity pool spreading out over all of L.A. Usher, who, together with Braun, launched Bieber's career, is crashing here for a few days while he's in town, and he's sitting on the couch next to him. Usher has been a mentor to Bieber, a model of how to transition from a teen star to an adult one, but also a reminder that most artists aren't megastars forever.
Both of them understand that this is a pretty crucial moment for Bieber. "I think Justin's competition is himself," Braun says. "I know how bad he wants this and how bad he wants to last, and I know how much it would kill him if he lost it."
Usher has a theory about where Bieber's drive comes from. "I think it's partly being brought up without his father," Usher says. "He's more mature than the average child – or, rather, young man." Bieber's dad split a few months after Justin was born, and although they're on good terms now, Bieber was essentially raised by his mom, and has been the breadwinner in his family since he was barely a teen. It's a relationship Braun is still touchy about. "I can't speak on that," he says flatly. "It's good now. His dad's in his life." Later, when asked about Bieber's many father figures, Braun shakes his head, silently mouths the word "one," and points to himself.
Braun has been managing Bieber since he was 13, and they have a unique relationship. Braun is fiercely protective, but also good about calling him on shit. "Did you ever read that article about Justin being a brat at CSI?" he asks. In 2010, Bieber appeared in an episode of CSI, after which one of the actors gave an interview calling him a brat and telling a story about him locking a producer in a closet. "My team told me everything went great," Braun says, "so I get on the phone to get to the bottom of this. The producer gets on – he's a stuffy dude, and he's like, 'Justin is incredibly unprofessional. He put his hand in a cake, he locked me in the closet . . . ' And I said, 'Let me ask you a question. When he locked you in the closet – did you tell him you were angry?' He goes, 'No. I needed him to work, so I laughed.' And I said, 'So he saw you acknowledge his joke and say it's OK? Then you're more to blame than him. He's a kid – he's waiting for someone to tell him where the limits are.'
"At the end of the day," Braun says, "even in his most selfish moments, you just need to point out that he's being selfish. He's more embarrassed about it than anything. When he's being a prick, he's not being a prick because he's famous. He's being a prick because he's a kid."
Braun says that far from hurrying Bieber to grow up, he encourages him to act his age. Some of his favorite moments are the ones where Bieber forgets he's a superstar and acts instead like an excited little kid. Take last December, when Bieber performed at the White House as part of the annual Christmas concert. Afterward, he says, everyone lined up to greet Obama, approaching him with a respectful handshake: "Thank you, Mr. President." "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. President." Then came Bieber's turn. He stepped up, clasped Obama's hand, and gave him some dap. "What up, my dude!" the not-yet-high-school graduate said to the president of the United States. Obama's rejoinder? "What up, Biebs!"
"That's the stuff I like," Braun says, grinning. "That's playful. That's still a kid."
He takes a sip of his beer. "Of course, I would like him to pull his pants up . . . "
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