New York, N.Y.— “I’m crazy, I’m nuts,” Justin Bieber tells Vanity Fair contributing editor Lisa Robinson. “Just the way my brain works. I’m not normal. I think differently—my mind is always racing. I’m just … nuts. But I think the best [musicians] probably are.” Robinson reports that Bieber considers the “best” to be the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Tupac. “Music is music, and I’m definitely influenced by Michael Jackson and Boyz II Men and people who were black artists—that’s what I like. But I like their voices and I like how they entertain—it’s not about what color they are.”
“Michael [Jackson] was able to reach audiences from young to old; he never limited himself,” Bieber says of the King of Pop, of whom he has a sticker on his bedroom mirror in his tour bus. “He was so broad, everybody loved him, and that’s what my goal is—to basically make people happy, to inspire them, and to have everyone root for me.”
“It’s hard to really balance myself. A regular kid, if he catches the flu, he just gets to go home,” Bieber says of the challenges of trying to be a regular teenager. “But I can’t do that…. Everything is important. But, you know, my sanity is important, too. Even if I’m angry, I’ll just put a smile on my face and fake it. I don’t often fake it—what’s me is me….I know I have to give up a lot of myself, or a lot of a private life.”
Robinson talks to one person who has the most access to Bieber’s “private life” these days, his bodyguard Kenny Hamilton. “I feel like I’ve become an expert at covert operations,” says Hamilton about “friends” (girls) who sneak in to visit Justin on the mandatory one to three days off a week that he gets to just “be a kid.”
Robinson reports that Bieber says he wants to go to the moon, to outer space, but only when it’s 100 percent safe—or maybe just 90 percent—and that he hated school, is tutored on the road, doesn’t read much, but has the best-seller Rich Dad Poor Dad on his tour bus because Will Smith told him to read it. Robinson also reports that he sometimes suffers from insomnia, “I just turn over all night and think. My mind races,” he says. “I think about all the things I didn’t have time to think about during the day—like family and God and things that should be more important but you don’t have time to think about, because you just get caught up [in everything else] during the day.”
Such as the legions of screaming girls. Bieber tells Robinson that he knows girls scream for him because he’s Justin Bieber, but he thinks they might also scream for him because he’s cute. “Not trying to be arrogant, but if I walked down the street and a girl saw me, she might take a look back because maybe I’m good-looking, right?”
Bieber admits to Robinson that he’s O.K. with having a predominantly female fan base. “For younger guys, it’s like [they think] they’re not cool if they come to my concert. That’ll [change], I think; it’ll happen, maybe when I’m 18. But meanwhile all their girlfriends are coming to watch me.” Bieber is also aware that despite his success not everyone will be his biggest fan. “Of course, I think that people are just waiting for that time when I make a mistake and they’re gonna jump on it….There’s gonna be haters,” Bieber tells Robinson. “I know I’m not going to make a life-changing bad decision, as some people have. I’ve seen it happen too many times. I could be my own worst enemy, but I don’t want to mess this up.”
Robinson talks to Bieber’s mom, Pattie Mallette, about her son’s start as an Internet sensation. “I put up a little video on YouTube [under the name “kidrauhl”] for Grandma and some relatives to see, and the next thing we knew, all these strangers were clicking onto it, probably because they recognized the song.” Then, Mallette recalls, “it was ‘Oh look, honey, you have a hundred views.’ Then ‘Oh wow, a thousand views.’… Next thing we knew, thousands and thousands of views. But it never once occurred to me that there would be a music career out of this.”
Mallette also tells Robinson that, after a personal encounter with God, she believes that she and Justin have been put on earth to bring light and inspiration to the world. But Mallette is wary of show business and its potential consequences: “We don’t have yes-men around him. I don’t want him being a diva.”
Slide show: Charming scenes from the teen crooner’s Vanity Fair photo shoot with Art Streiber.
Robinson also speaks with Bieber’s close friend and mentor, A-list musician Usher. “You could immediately tell that this [was] a kid who has style—he’s a hip kid,” Usher says of Bieber, who he says is like his “little brother.” “It was the antithesis of Disney and Nickelodeon.” A supporter from the beginning, Usher brought Bieber to Island/Def Jam executive L. A. Reid. “I knew what L.A. was gonna do—the same thing he did to me. Let’s bring in employees and we want to see how he reacts to women.”
“I see myself just growing. I didn’t know that any of this was really possible,” Bieber tells Robinson of his future. “I grew up in a really small town with not a lot of money, and I liked singing, but it was just something that was a hobby. As I get into it more, I want to grow as an artist, as an entertainer, and basically perfect my craft. I want to be the best that I can be.”
He’s not the only one who didn’t see his fame coming. When asked if he ever envisioned this level of fame for his grandson, Bieber’s grandfather Bruce Dale responds, “No. Never. He was supposed to be a hockey player.”
The February issue of Vanity Fair is available on newsstands in New York and L.A. on Thursday, January 6, and nationally and on the iPad on Tuesday, January 11.