Back in 2007, Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube by his soon-to-be manager Scooter Braun. The two skyrocketed to fame together seemingly overnight with the 2009 release of Bieber’s first single, “One Time.” At the ripe age of 13, Bieber’s path to stardom was set – but just a few years later, it all came crashing down as Bieber turned to drugs and alcohol, spurring several run-ins with the law.
Now sober and married to longtime girlfriend Hailey Bieber, the global superstar decided to return to YouTube in January to tell his side of the story in the 10-part docuseries “Justin Bieber: Seasons.” The show takes an intimate look at Bieber’s recovery from addiction, struggles with mental health and Lyme Disease diagnosis while also showing the recording process for “Changes,” his first album in five years.
During the Paley Center for Media’s virtual PaleyFest L.A., Variety music editor Shirley Halperin spoke to the Biebers, Braun, YouTube head of unscripted programming Alex Piper, director and executive producer Michael D. Ratner, co-executive producer Joe Termini, producer Ryan Good, composer Josh Gudwin, record producer Poo Bear and executive producer Allison Kaye about the show’s authenticity and impact.
For Bieber, the amount of vulnerability shown in the series was absolutely necessary for his own growth as well as that of his fans.
“When I was younger, I don’t think I was in a place maturity-wise to be vulnerable,” Bieber said. “You want to put up facades and you want to seem bigger than life, but when you get to a maturity level where you realize what’s really important – that being my wife and my family and my friends – it became kind of a no-brainer for me to put it all on the line so I can help my neighbor, my family, my friends and the people who might be going through similar situations.”
Termini explained that he views the docuseries as a turning point in Bieber’s personal life and career, as it gave him the chance to drive his own narrative and remove himself from the pedestal of stardom.
“[Bieber] really believed that people had put him in a place where he’s untouchable, and I think it was really important for him in this part of his life to say, ‘You know what? I’m not perfect. I don’t have everything together. I’m struggling with mental illness,'” Termini said. “I could almost get choked up thinking about it, because personally we knew what he was dealing with, but sometimes the media can paint another picture. But he was really fighting to survive, he was fighting to stay married, he was fighting to keep his relationships with his friends and the people that he loves.”
Although Hailey admitted she felt a bit uncomfortable with how much of their relationship was revealed throughout the show, she agreed to take part because she realized how important it was for Bieber to be able to share his own perspective on his hardest times.
“There was so much that Justin had gone through that I don’t think people really knew was going on at such a young age,” Hailey said. “I was happy to see him open up about drugs and about different things that people maybe thought was going on, but I don’t think they knew to what extent and what depth.”
According to Braun, Hailey’s involvement in “Seasons” stole the show.
“Hailey didn’t ask for any of this. She fell in love,” Braun said. “To me, she is the breakout star. She gives such great narrative, she loves him so much and you can see that throughout the documentary.”
“Seasons” was an astounding success for YouTube, breaking the record for the most-viewed premiere of all YouTube Originals with over 32 million views within a week of the release of the first episode. Piper, head of unscripted programming at YouTube, declared that the show has become a defining project for YouTube Originals because of its raw, unfiltered authenticity.
“I think the courage that it took for him and Hailey to let us in that door, to be vulnerable at a time when maybe it would have been easier for those conversations to happen behind closed doors – there’s something incredibly powerful about that,” Piper said. “We work with a lot of different celebrities and public figures on a variety of different projects, and it’s rare that you find that authenticity that you feel in this special. Justin and Hailey were surrounded by people that they could trust, and trust is everything, and so they felt like they could open up and tell their story.”
The comments section on the individual episodes alone was enough for Piper to know the series was making a true impact.
“Not only were there hundreds of thousands of comments, which means people were really engaged, but when you read those comments, you realize that people weren’t using words like, ‘This is fun, this is entertaining, I like Justin, I like Hailey,'” Piper said. “They were saying, ‘This is inspirational,’ and you saw people talking about their own stories in the comments. The power of Justin and Hailey’s story unlocked our community.”
For Bieber, it was these type of responses that made the vulnerability worth it.
“It is my honor to be able to show those vulnerable sides and say, ‘Here’s someone that people put on a pedestal to be larger than life. Look at his success, look at how much money he has,’ and it’s like, those things don’t actually fulfill you,” Bieber said. “I want my fans to think, ‘If Justin with all this money and fame still struggles with his mental health, then I’m not alone.’ Hopefully, I’m able to give them an outlet and help them navigate their faith journey, their relationship journey with the people that they love.”