We’ve known since December that this was coming, and maybe that’s for the best, because it means I greeted the news with just the dull thud of recognition — always more pleasant than The Gut-Stab of WTF. This feels like one more mile marker in Vogue’s slow drift away from what makes it Vogue; when you can see the effort, the yearning for Kids Today’s approval, then you know something is wrong at Camp Conde. This one feels made for an audience that has never been Vogue’s own, and I just imagine Grace Coddington looking down at it and clicking her tongue disdainfully before tossing it in the shredder and opening Harper’s Bazaar. (That cover is up next, FYI.) Also, Hailey Baldwin — sorry, Bieber — alleges to be a model, and yet she is utterly devoid of any feeling in her face. Justin is connecting with more heat than she is, and one of his eyes is covered. Although I do at least appreciate that the lady gets to be clothed and the man is shirtless; so many mags would go the other direction. I don’t know why he couldn’t put on a shirt, though? If Vogue is going to push the Biebers, don’t you wish they did so with a REALLY off-the-wall and fun and hella-creative fashion shoot? Wouldn’t you rather see Justin Bieber in a wholly different light than the same old stuff he’d be likely to put on Instagram? Hell, the paparazzi get him shirtless; why pay Annie Leibovitz?
And seeing them in a different light is, indeed, the point of the story. They want you to be all-in on their coupling and their maturity and their commitment to faith — but make no mistake, this story is chiefly about Justin Bieber. It’s about trying to reframe public opinion of him from “spoiled party-boy brat” to “evolving, thoughtful adult,” and Hailey is very much a part of that. I don’t want to say a prop, because she’s participatory and she has a voice, but it all feels woven together so that you will read all the stuff about how she is logical and measured and sane and doesn’t drink or do drugs and therefore take him seriously. I just don’t get why it’s in this magazine when it seems more like Esquire, or GQ, or Rolling Stone, or even Vanity Fair.
That said, I have to say, I found it an intriguing read. Gushy at times, yes. Do I buy all of it? I’m not sure. I do suspect there’s a lot that is still going unsaid or varnished. You can see the machinations — you know why he agreed to this and what he hopes it will do for him — but his honesty, or appearance thereof, makes it a lot more interesting than, say, profiles that tell you how much Brie Larson worked out for Captain Marvel, or discuss Jennifer Aniston and her womb, or what a workaholic J.Lo is, or anything involving Kylie Jenner. You may beliebe it (ZING) or you may not, but what’s on the page and what he gives to it are… well, I keep coming back to interesting, and I’m sticking to that. Justin is at least partly forthcoming about a lot of his issues and the article doesn’t shy away from painting him in an unflattering light:
“I was real at first,” Justin says, “and then I was manufactured as, slowly, they just took more and more control.” It felt fantastic to be famous, to be adored by girls. At sixteen, he blindly believed the hype. “I started really feeling myself too much. People love me, I’m the shit—that’s honestly what I thought. I got very arrogant and cocky. I was wearing sunglasses inside.” (Inside at night, says Hailey.)
Related note: Scooter Braun, his (in)famous manager, is mentioned by name nowhere. And:
“I found myself doing things that I was so ashamed of, being super-promiscuous and stuff, and I think I used Xanax because I was so ashamed. My mom always said to treat women with respect. For me that was always in my head while I was doing it, so I could never enjoy it. Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing. It got pretty dark. I think there were times when my security was coming in late at night to check my pulse and see if I was still breathing.”
But, let me quote the lede of this piece, which is dumb:
It’s been said that a man risks his marriage by coming home late—and may put it in even greater jeopardy by coming home early. Though he turns 25 next month, Justin Bieber believes that his late nights and their ruthlessly documented excesses are behind him. In their place, at this moment, the uncounted, uncertain hours of marriage stretch out, a red carpet hung like a tightrope.
That first sentence, trotting out some asinine old trope that I’ve seriously never heard of (“it’s been said” by whom? Norm from Cheers?), is a whole box of eyerolls. But what the hell does “a red carpet hung like a tightrope” even mean? Doesn’t that sound extremely ominous? As it turns out, Hailey implored the reporter to lead with, “Marriage is really hard.” And here’s the thing: I am not discounting her experience, and I am glad they are acknowledging the rough patches that come from what they decided to do, but: Hailey is 22, has known Bieber since she was 12, and married him in a courthouse so that they could break his celibacy (they admit this) after 12 weeks of dating. It’s a specialized experience and I might not look to her for counsel on marriage as a whole.
However, I don’t love this:
[Hillsong pastor Carl] Lentz has a more tough-love style, and in 2014, as Justin was tanking, he pressed for the singer to move into his home in New Jersey for an informal detox. For several weeks they played basketball, hockey, and soccer. Justin interned for Lentz at Hillsong and refocused on his religious faith. Though he drinks alcohol socially, Justin says that he has not ingested a drug since. Hailey remembers the trip to the Lentzes’ as the culmination of a long, frightening chapter. “I grieved very intensely over the whole situation,” she remembers. “I just wanted him to be happy and be good and be safe and feel joy. But I’m really proud of him. To do it without a program, and to stick with it without a sober coach or AA or classes—I think it’s extraordinary. He is, in ways, a walking miracle.”
I cannot tell a person with substance issues how to recover, but I do have serious concerns that this makes it sound like support systems like AA and sober coaches and rehab programs aren’t necessary and can therefore be avoided. When, for a lot of people, they are live-savers. I would hope it’s possible to note that this is what worked for him in a way that doesn’t imply he is stronger than people who do utilize those options.
And tell me who this reminds you of:
[T]he configuration shifts according to Justin’s restless maneuverings: No sooner has he settled in than he jumps up to do a little jig; he climbs over the sofa, squeezes between Hailey and the bolster and enfolds her in his arms; he spins his body around and puts his head in her lap, then jumps up again, bathes her neck in kisses, and whispers endearments (“Guess what? You’re amazing”) before jolting himself out of his reverie. “It’s hard for me to do just one thing at a time,” he says, his tooth-filled smile like a beacon.
Tom Cruise jumping on a couch, anyone?