Every once in a while, in keeping with his duties as a professional music star, Justin Bieber participates in the making of music. It doesn't appear to take long – he works in chunks of 45 minutes or so – but it's the part of the process he loves the most.
One afternoon, Bieber is at a studio in West Hollywood on the same lot where Charlie Chaplin filmed Modern Times and Michael Jackson and friends recorded "We Are the World." He's here to do a revised version of his next single, "As Long as You Love Me," for international radio. "It usually has a rapper on it," he explains matter-of-factly, "but a lot of countries don't play rappers, so we have to do a version without." Instead, they're recording vocals for a bridge. One of Bieber's engineers, Josh Gudwin, cues up the music, and Bieber sits there for a few minutes, listening to the vocal guide track and reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper.
When he's ready, he takes his place in the booth. The first line he's supposed to sing is, "I don't need money, I don't need cars." Bieber tries it out a few different ways – emphasizing different notes, ad-libbing lyrics on the fly. His stripped-down falsetto, meanwhile, sounds truly great, with just the right amount of minor-key ache. By take 10, Gudwin thinks he's getting close: "Good, just let me hear the words a little bit more?" On take 11: "Sounds nice!" Take 12: "Ooh! That was filthy." Take 17: "Good!"
Bieber keeps going this way, cobbling the bridge together bit by bit. For the next line ("I don't need to shine if I got your heart"), he does 12 takes. For the one after that ("Beating right here, here with me"), he does 15. On the last line – "Baby, that's all I need" – he tries stretching the last syllable out across 10 melismatic notes, then realizes he's overdoing it and pulls back to a perfect four. After about 30 minutes, he's finished, and some lusty teenager in Lithuania has a new favorite song to request.
Bieber is just about to leave the booth when Josh remembers one more thing. "Oh, hey – can you just get that '18' on 'Actin' Up' real quick?"
He's talking about a song Bieber did with the rapper Asher Roth, another Braun client. There's a line about him being 17 on it, because when he recorded it a few months ago, he was – but now that he's 18, he needs to change it. Bieber spits the first few bars a cappella:
Eighteen years old and I gotta act up
Cuz I'm so, so fly
I'm so fly
And I don't know why
But I know I go so wild
Till the bass goes, oh, my . . .
"Thank you," Josh says into the intercom. "That's all I need." Josh plays the track back, and Bieber come out of the booth and listens to himself for a few seconds. "You like it?" he asks. I tell him I do. "Thank you," he says, beaming.
Braun says Bieber hated fame for a really long time. "He hated not being normal," he says. "He hated being different. We'd get into huge arguments – he would just refuse to admit that he was famous. It's only in the past year that he finally came to terms with the fact that 'This is my life, and it's not normal.'" Bieber is dancing around the studio now, hands in the air. He's rapping along to the kid on the speakers, an 18-year-old at the top of the world:
Bass loud, hands up
I don't really give a fuck
They say I ain't old enough
But I be young and acting up
This story is from the August 2nd, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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