Justin Bieber kept the crowd waiting at the Royal York Hotel on Tuesday afternoon, but when he did show up – well, the afternoon wasn’t just for the reporters in the room, anyway.
“Whassup?” calls out the 16-year-old Canadian pop sensation – his hair a little looser than constantly photographed; his face starting to firm toward adulthood – as he appears from the wings and takes his seat 45 minutes later than scheduled for about 50 reporters and photographers. “Hey! Where are my fans at? Are those fans out there? There’s a lot of fans out there, right? But there’s, like, so much room in here.”
“Should we bring ’em in here?” someone calls out.
“You should bring ’em in,” Bieber – keeping the wardrobe simple today with a modest grey hoodie – concurs. “Yeah, yeah, yeah – that makes more sense. I love you guys behind the cameras and stuff. That’s cool, right? But what’s the point if my fans aren’t here.”
Playing up the “Rocky” theme while a score of teenage girls comes in through a lobby door, Bieber points out toward them: “Everyone give it up for my faaaaans!”
The small and tidy phenom from equally small and tidy Stratford, Ontario, is making a home-ground whistle stop on the promotional push before his 3D half-concert/half-documentary feature, “Never Say Never”, hits the cinemas big-time on February 11. Flanked on a Royal York ballroom stage riser by the closest-knit of his team – stylist Ryan Good and strapping security chief Kenny Hamilton to his right; general manager Allison Kaye and Toronto journalist and moderator Richard Crouse to his left – Bieber had been setting off squeals since just before his press conference was scheduled to begin, at 2 p.m.
Reporters looking to bookend their TV reports take turns before Bieber’s arrival by occupying the space marked for him and giddily running through intros. “Have a great Bieber day!” gushes one talking head; another pumps up the adrenaline for his thought-to-be-imminent arrival with rapid-fire effusion before being prompted, in a stunt, to get out of the chair.
“…Awkward…!” she zings. Um… yeah. But, in its own sidelong way, gleefully par for the course.
“I’m not really good at press conferences,” Bieber says at the outset. “I haven’t really done a lot of them. So, I don’t really know how this works. You guys can inform me about how this works. That would be great.”
Crouse leads into an upbeat and fast-moving 25 minutes that feature a few questions about the making of “Never Say Never” – which not only chronicles the 10 days before a long-anticipated (and somewhat nerve-racking) sellout show at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, but fills in the details of Bieber’s less grandiose background – and a lot of questions of a more “16” magazine variety.
The answers pretty much tell the level of the questions:
– “I think that Twitter’s such a good thing because I’m able to just be, like, interactive with my fans. I’m able to talk to them. They feel like they’re a part of me, which is really important.”
– “I’ve gotta say at first, like, a year ago, I was, like, all about Sour Patch Kids, right? They were the greatest things. But then my fans – they started bringing them to every show. Everything I was at. So, I kept eating them. Now, it’s like if I eat another Sour Patch Kid, I’m probably gonna just throw up. Now, I really like – well, in Canada, they’re Bigfoots. In America, they’re Swedish Fish. Canada’s better, obviously. Ketchup chips are good. I love them.”
– “I never wore long johns. Just sweatpants or something.”
– “I miss Tim Horton’s. I miss Timmy’s. I miss my Ice Cap. I miss seeing my friends and family. I miss my dog, Sam.”
– “Shout out to YouTube!”
The whole world of Bieber’s though, with his adoptive entertainment family keeping him company on stage and keeping him moving throughout “Never Say Never”… it can’t help but bring up the big question: Who does he trust?
“For sure,” he answers. “There’s so many people that are just new in my life. You can’t just think that someone’s going to do something wrong – because if you think like that, you’re not going to be happy in your life. You always have to expect people to do the right thing, but at the same thing you have to guard yourself and make sure you’re letting the right people in.
“All these past two years, these people have become like my family – just travelling with them every day. We’re going to fight like family and we’re going to have good times like family. Overall, at the end of the day, they’re here to make sure that I just become a good person, overall.”
“Never Say Never”, beyond showing singing and dancing sequences from last year’s My World tour, fills in the legendary blanks of Bieber’s seeming rise from nowhere. The famed YouTube clips of Bieber busking outside the Avon Theatre in Stratford and sweetly singing Ne-Yo songs as a wee neophyte on a local stage are included, but there are a few more digs deeper from the home vaults: Bieber bundled up to shovel snow, Bieber entering the Stratford Star talent contest (and finishing second), and some astounding footage of eight-year-old Bieber holding his own as a jazz drummer in a band with full-grown musicians.
There are the expected appearances by celebrities, mentors and peers. Producer LA Reid speaks of how he knew he’d heard “the Macaulay Culkin of music” when he was alerted by Scooter Braun, the aspiring (and relatively inexperienced) Atlanta manager who nabbed Bieber on YouTube faith alone. Usher, who famously took Bieber under his wing, is on-stage and off-, duetting live while also admonishing the young star for balking at health drinks designed to preserve his vocal cords.
“You’re not gonna be 16 forever,” Usher warns, like an older brother, as Bieber holds his nose backstage and downs a special concoction that he complains “tastes like dinosaur pee.”
There is talk of the famed hair, and of his allegiance to his mother Pattie Mallette and the rest of his Canadian family. But, mostly, “Never Say Never” is about the fans – be they the screaming girls in braces outside Toronto’s Air Canada Centre and Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place, or even the 40-somethings at the Royal York press conference who can’t keep their crazed enthusiasm dimmed.
“There’s gonna be haters, no matter what,” Bieber admits at the conference. “People wanna see you succeed, and then once you’re there, they want to bring you down. It’s a weird world. But that’s how it is.
“There’s people who aren’t gonna like me, and that’s just – if they watch this movie and they really get to see that I’m just a nice person, and I’m not like… A lot of people think I’m just a factory machine, and people just put me together out of recycled product. Well, I really worked hard to get here. There’s so many people that helped me.”
And, with that in mind, Bieber invites one of the fans at the press conference to ask him a question. A young girl in a purple hoodie can’t get it out fast enough.
“Will you marry me?” she asks.
“We get that question at least once a day, too,” Bieber responds. “The answer is – you know – never say never, right?”
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