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Welcome to Justin Bieber's World

The 16-year-old sensation on his summer shows, first guitar and new ride

April 29, 2010
Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber poses for a photo shoot in St. John's, Canada.
George Pimentel/WireImage

In a span of just four months, Justin Bieber has sold more than 1 million copies of his debut EP, caused a riot at a mall on Long Island, scored a Number One album and become Conan O'Brien's favorite punch line — and he just turned 16. "I treated myself to a Range Rover," says Bieber, playing pool in his record label's offices in Manhattan. The teen-pop sensation will continue to cause hysteria this summer, on his first headlining tour, which begins June 23rd. "There will be a lot of magic tricks," says Bieber of the arena show. "All of a sudden, I'll just appear out of the blue. And I want booms and stuff. I love explosions."

You claim to have started playing drums at age two. Where and how?
I started playing at church. We didn't have a lot of money, so people brought over instruments from church, and those would be my toys. Eventually, my mom bought me a drum kit and I took a few lessons.

The Evolution of Justin Bieber

And your mom introduced you to the music you love?
Yeah, she played a lot of Boyz II Men. Like "On Bended Knee," End of the Road." And Michael Jackson's Bad — they are my two main influences. I also like what' s-her-name: [Sings] "Don't you know, we're talkin' 'bout a revolution." Tracy Chapman! I was kind of a bedroom singer. I didn't sing in public till I was 12. My mom knew I could sing, though. We'd watch American Idol, and I'd be like, "I could make that show." But I was too young to try out.

How did you get your first guitar?
It was some tiny Walmart guitar. I didn't know what I was doing. But my mom had friends that would come over to the house, and they'd show me a few chords. "Smoke on the Water" was the first song I learned, but I couldn't even do power chords or barre chords, because my fingers weren't strong enough. My dad taught me how to play "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," by Bob Dylan, and [Supertramp's] "Give a Little Bit." He got me into classic rock.

You used to busk on the street. What was in your repertoire?
I sang "I'll Be," by Edwin McCain; "You and Me," by Lifehouse; "U Got It Bad," by Usher; and "Cry Me a River." I'd make $200 a day. My mom and I went on vacation to Disneyland with the money I made.

Photos: Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Bon Jovi, Katy Perry and more from the 2010 American Music Awards

How many concerts have you been to?
Not a lot. We could never really afford it. I saw Simple Plan – I don't know if you know who they are – and another Canadian band, Tragically Hip.

Is your voice changing all the time?
Yeah. It cracks, like every teenage boy. I'm dealing with it. I have the best vocal coach in the country, Miss Jan Smith. Even some of the notes I hit on [new-single] "Baby," I can't hit anymore. We have to lower the key when I sing it live.

Is it annoying when girls shriek while you're trying to sing?
I wear in-ear monitors so I can always hear myself sing. The other day, though, I was playing in front of 75,000 people at the Texas rodeo. My friends were there, and I asked them, "Did I do good?" They were like, "I have no idea – all we heard was screaming."

This story is from the April 29th, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.


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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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