Nearly a year ago, Justin Bieber was the subject of a big GQ profile. The then-18 year old didn’t come off... great. He was obsessed with his blinged-out shit. He showed a viciously annoying habit of bursting into song while others were talking. He was petulant. Beliebers called the piece a hatchet job, while his haters found themselves redeemed. This is how reactions typically go when the subject is a douche.
The Biebs did bequeath all of us, regardless of allegiances to the altar of Bieber, one priceless quote, though. It was given while he was hanging out with a crew from West Coast Customs: "I'm a swaggy adult!" he yelled. "Come on, swaggy bros!"
Swaggy adult. Swaggy bros. I’ve thought about that a lot while watching the Bieber's recent "meltdown.” The swaggy adult started to lose it when he was dumped by Selena Gomez, who really twisted the heel with her frighteningly hot turn in Spring Breakers. He went into a post-breakup swoon for the ages: He started smoking weed at similar rates to the fraternity pothead who made you genuinely concerned your sophomore year. He had the worst birthday ever. He threw up on stage, then he passed out backstage. He threatened to "fucking beat the fuck" out of a photographer. (A credible threat.) His monkey was confiscated. He wondered if Anne Frank would have been a Belieber.
I think I've hated Bieber for a while now, for many of the same reasons you probably do. He's worth tens of millions of dollars and was once linked to Barbara Palvin despite weighing about a buck-15. He's extraordinarly easy to hate. I know, for a fact, however, that I would act as badly—or worse—than Bieber if I were in his position. And I think many of you would be too.
Because, like it or not, Justin Bieber is a 19-year-old swaggy bro, and he's currently just acting out like any other teenager with an allowing environment.
To understand Bieber, you've got to start with his start. His mother is kind of a fundamentalist lunatic, who originally didn't want Bieber to link up with manager Scooter Braun because he's Jewish. He sang for Usher literally a week after flying to Atlanta for an audition. At age 13. From there, his rise was faster than maybe anyone else in music history, notching a top-20 song at 14, and status as one one of the most famous people in the world at 15. Do you remember what you were doing at 14? Jacking off a lot? Regularly picking your nose because you didn't think anyone would notice? (They noticed.)
For the past five years now, Bieber has existed in this ridiculously weird and fucked-up bubble, the center of a whole cottage industry that's filled with dozens of people—family, managers, and confidants—who are all either on his payroll or somehow make money off of him. It's an inverted pyramid. He hasn't had any supporters, during the most important years of his life, who weren't in some way dependent on the millions he makes. Your ego is at its most fragile when you’re a teenager. Every positive comment inflames it to insufferable levels. Every negative comment plummets it into depression. Bieber doesn't have that older brother to say, “Shut up. Never say ‘swaggy bro’ again.” There’s no steadying influence.
He also has a following of girls who will literally kill (or at least cut!) based on his every Tweet. His detracters are there to criticize his every Tweet. Today, for instance, he tweeted “Africa” because he’s touring in... Africa... and many made fun of him for being a presumed Trustafarian. Again, there’s no steadying influence.
Now, try to remember how you acted with your friends at 19 (or, if you are 19—you lucky son of a bitch—how you act now). You're fresh out of the grips of Mom and Dad. You're probably drinking a lot. Maybe you sometimes drunkenly rip down posters and pee on them. Now imagine that you have a group of friends who suck up to you constantly, who love you while you're drinking, and the school is totally okay with you drunkenly ripping down their stuff. For five years straight. Can you imagine how much of a monster you'd be? I might start introducing myself as "God."
It's similar to this: Have you ever played a recent sports video game that allowed you to create your own player? Do you remember when that game—let's say NBA 2K13—gave you the option to answer questions in interviews? Free from any rules of society or the disapproving looks of a friend, you had your player become the biggest me-first asshole ever, right? "I'm here to build my brand. I don't pass the ball. I'm all about Me." Etc. This is the bubble that young Sir Bieber finds himself in. Couple this with the natural reaction of a guy going through a breakup, and you have Bieber's 2013.
If you're also a guy who enjoyed acting out from time to time and living like a "bro," what Bieber is doing is the logical extension to all the excess. His "meltdown" is actually a logical set of moves for a 19-year-old kid in his circumstances. For better or worse. The kid is a 19-year-old swaggy bro, only with millions of dollars. I get it.
(His music still sucks.)