Today, I’m the luckiest girl in the world. I’m flying to Atlanta to interview my pop-culture crush, Justin Bieber. He’s only 16, it’s true, but half of womankind is in love with him, like Kim Kardashian (who wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with a life-size poster of him), Rihanna (who has tweeted about his six-pack) and Katy Perry (who once said, “I would tap that. Yummy”). To the Beliebers, Justin is the most adorable, talented, sensual kid in the world. I’ve watched his videos at least a dozen times each, I own two of his three albums and I have him on my Twitter feed (though I’ve never tried to get him to retweet my name on my birthday, or asked him to send me a virtual kiss, or bought a lock of his hair on eBay for my locket).
It’s going to be a great day – Justin’s even supposed to take me ice-skating! – but he’s an hour late, and I’m still waiting around for him at 10 a.m. Then, I notice a black Range Rover idling across the street – the Biebermobile, the one he got after he got his driver’s license last year. He beeps the horn, and I scurry over, flinging open the door.
That’s where the soundtrack to this romantic interlude screeches to a halt. The female fantasy about Bieber has a lot to do with wanting him to be your first real boyfriend – or, for older women, with the way that he hearkens back to the time when you had your first boyfriend. But as soon as I see Bieber, I realize that I have deeply confused fantasy with reality. The 122-pound, roughly five-and-a-half-foot-tall person in the driver’s seat of this enormous Range Rover is a child – a self-assured one, who may be used to the sound of screaming fans in the bleachers, but still a child, who, as he should, lives in his own circumscribed world, uninterested in anyone’s fantasies except for his own. “Yo, sorry for being late,” he says. “Traffic.” He yawns. “It’s so early. People are going to work, I guess. Like, work? What’s that?”
Bieber swishes his car through the high-rise canyons of downtown Atlanta, keeping one hand on the steering wheel. “We’re going to IHOP, right?” he asks his bodyguard, who looms in the back seat. “I get the crepes at IHOP,” he says later. “You know, ‘Say you like crepes!’ ‘I will not say it!’ ‘Say you like them!’ ‘Are those those little pancakes? I love those.’ ‘Oh, then just say you like the pancakes . . .’ ‘No!'” Bieber gives a self-satisfied grin, announcing with a flourish, “Talladega Nights.”
As is often the case with a 16-year-old boy, there’s a stereo on in his car played at an ear-splitting volume. There are more moments of quoting lines from movies. There’s a discussion of why he’s wearing Band-Aids on his fingers: “I dunno,” he says. “I’m not hurt or anything, I just like Band-Aids.”
Suddenly, Bieber starts fiddling around with something in his teeth, and like a kitten throwing up a hairball, suddenly spits forth some sort of thin piece of plastic. He’s been wearing Invisaligns, a kind of invisible braces, for the past year. “My teeth hurt,” he says. “They were pointed inwards a little bit, so they had to bring them out, but when they did that, it made a small space in my teeth, and now they have to push that in,” he says. He sulks a little, then sticks them back in. And I have to say it’s pretty adorable the way he does that. “Ow.”
Even with the braces, Bieber is America’s coolest kid, the one who has dominated every medium in the past year as a direct result of his sweet voice, slick moves and superhuman ability to make panties wet. He’s conquering everything in his path, from music charts, a book and a 3D movie, Never Say Never, to every last corner of the Internet, with more views on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube than there are people living in midsize American cities. Everywhere he goes, there’s a melee: girls trampled underfoot before a concert in Sydney, a Long Island mall overwhelmed and a near-riot in a New Zealand airport. “There’s a frenzy going on about Justin, and the frenzy is that he’s hot,” says L.A. Reid, the head of Bieber’s label, Island Def Jam. “The girls just love him. They think he’s their boyfriend, that there’s a shot for them. Justin sold them a dream, and they are buying it hook, line and sinker.”