Bad boy Bieber’s celebrity affluenza takes a turn for the worse

At what point does youthful mischief turn to dangerous behaviour, and has Justin Bieber crossed that line?

On bail: Justin Bieber waves to fans as he leaves jail in Miami after being released on bail. Photograph: Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

On bail: Justin Bieber waves to fans as he leaves jail in Miami after being released on bail. Photograph: Andrew Innerarity/Reuters


Justin Bieber has been on a North American tour of police arrests and criminal charges. In Los Angeles, where the 19-year-old Canadian singing sensation is based, he is under investigation in a felony vandalism case after allegedly causing thousands of dollars of damage to a neighbour’s house.

In Miami two weeks ago Bieber was charged with resisting arrest and driving on an expired licence after being pulled up for apparently illegally drag-racing in the early hours of the morning following a visit to a nightclub.

The arresting officers say Bieber told them he had taken prescription medicine, smoked marijuana and consumed alcohol before getting behind the wheel of the car. Court records show he is pleading not guilty to the charges. If convicted he could face a six-month prison sentence.

This week the teen heart-throb handed himself into Toronto police to be charged with assaulting a limousine driver last December. The charge is that he struck the driver on the back of the head several times as he was being ferried from a nightclub to his hotel. Bieber’s lawyer says he is innocent of the charges.

His behaviour last year seemed like a warm-up for this year’s arrests and legal difficulties. A disastrous UK tour saw him arriving on stage two hours late (excusable perhaps if you’re a hairy rocker, but not when you’re keeping eight-year- old fans waiting). At some shows he had to be treated by medical staff for “breathing problems”, and he was caught on video in London lunging at a paparazzo while screaming, “I’ll f**king beat the f**k out of you.”

When he arrived in Germany his pet monkey was seized by customs because Bieber did not have the proper paperwork. The last pop star who travelled with a pet monkey was Michael Jackson.

But last year Bieber was “growing up in public”: behaving the way any privileged 19-year-old kid does at that age. This year is very different. The head of Universal Records (the label that pumped money into him and made him a global superstar), Lucian Grainge, broke company protocol when he said this week: “I’m very concerned about him. I’ve been concerned for many months. He needs help. He needs an intervention. We are going to give all the support as a company to take as much pressure off him.”

Grainge is a very well-respected industry figure, and it is believed that his public call for intervention can be traced back to the heartbreak he suffered while doing all he could to help another Universal act, Amy Winehouse, with her drink and drug issues.

Household name
But what 19-year-old, never mind a 19-year-old who is responsible for making a lot of money for his label and his manager – and family and friends and hangers-on – really listens to a parental figure’s advice? Bieber’s problem is that of celebrity affluenza. His manager, Scooter Braun, has spoken about the difficulties of working with a young man who, since he broke through as a 13-year-old, in 2008, has sold millions of records, become a household name and amassed a fortune estimated at €100 million.

A multimillionaire before he was 16, in a position where he would have been personally responsible for the income streams of many adults around him, unable to be a normal teenager: popular cultural history has repeatedly shown that such situations end, at best, in tears.

Bieber needs to sit out the next dance. His fans will move on (if they haven’t already defected to One Direction). No 19-year-old should be in prison or rehab because nobody around him shouted stop. Michael, Amy, Whitney: those who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Let Bieber be the one who got away.

Too much too young: teen stars who tripped up
Being rich, famous and recognised everywhere you go may be every young person’s dream, but it can lead to a nightmare in adolescence and beyond.

Tatum O’Neal
Aged 10, the US actor won an Oscar for her performance in the film Paper Moon . She developed a debilitating heroin habit and was arrested a few years ago for buying crack cocaine outside her New York apartment.

Britney Spears
Had a stellar recording and live performance career, but her life descended into a paparazzi-attacking, repeat-rehab-visiting, child-custody-fighting farrago. A very public meltdown saw her taking time out from the music industry.

Macaulay Culkin
He found fame at the age of 10 after starring in the blockbuster movie Home Alone. A millionaire at 12 and a has-been at 15, he has had drug problems and “divorced” his parents by getting a court to block them from access to his fortune.

Leif Garrett
The 1970s teen idol – the Bieber of his day – has had a calamitous adulthood, with drink-driving and drug charges.

Lindsay Lohan
She was a Disney star at the age of 11, and went on to enjoy success as a teen actor and pop star, but has clocked up several court-mandated rehab stays and arrests for drug possession.

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