A mass of hyper tweens swarms a small auditorium in London’s Science Museum. They have been waiting outside on a cold January night for an hour and are extremely eager for things to start. In miniskirts, lace tights, and sparkly headbands, with bracelets piled high and cell-phone cameras at the ready, close to 200 girls shuffle in, giddy with anticipation and oblivious to the occasional boy in the crowd. The fans of Justin Bieber have only one boy on their minds: JUSTIN is boldly written on one girl’s forehead; another has J.B. scrawled on her left cheek. Some hold up handmade signs with devotional love letters. Many are furiously text-messaging, no doubt flaunting their imminent dream come true to less fortunate friends doing Sunday-night homework. When will he be here? “Justin! Justin! Justin!” they are chanting. And it is deafening.
A fresh-faced former hockey player from Stratford, Ontario, Canada, Justin Bieber, 16, has emerged as the pop prince of the Twitter generation, able to fill Madison Square Garden with squealing pubescents, as he did for a show this past December. Unlike Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers, Bieber is not a Disney creation but a self-styled Internet sensation, a YouTube meteor who was discovered in 2007 after he posted dulcet covers of songs by Stevie Wonder, Ne-Yo, and Usher. That tender moxie caught the eye of his current manager, hip-hop executive Scooter Braun, who signed Bieber at age 13—and then attracted the attention of Usher and Justin Timberlake, who engaged in a bidding war for the budding superstar. Usher won, and Bieber’s debut EP, My World (RBMG/Island Def Jam), released in November 2009, broke Billboard records and went platinum within two months. Even the president wants a piece of him. “It’s the only time I’ve ever been nervous to perform,” Bieber says of playing for the Obamas during the holidays in Washington, D.C.
This London show is an intimate one for Bieber, marking the U.K. release of My World. Wearing a black leather jacket and skinny gray jeans, Bieber slinks onstage, conscious of but not overly cocky about his Tiger Beat prettiness and ultrasmooth moves (he actually has a “swagger coach”). Girls go wild, hugging one another with an excitement verging on evangelical fervor. A bodyguard steps in to keep the hormonal advances at bay, but Bieber flirts with the worship, stepping out into the audience and causing one fan to weep merely by touching her hand. Bieber seems unfazed, poised, proud.
Backstage, sitting around a table with various handlers, who take turns keeping him entertained, Bieber says he likes closely interacting with his fans but admits that the hysteria can at times be over the top. For example, last November he was forced to cancel an appearance at Long Island’s Roosevelt Field mall because the throngs got out of control. Teenage girls are obviously . . . “Crazy!” Bieber pipes in. His hit songs like “One Less Lonely Girl” and “Love Me” fuel obsessively tweeted adolescent fantasies, and his looks don’t help ease the madness—those big brown eyes, that mop of perfectly swept hair! “I don’t style it. I just blow-dry it and”—he pauses and tousles his hair—“kind of shake it,” he says with a charming Southern twang, acquired since moving to Atlanta to propel his career as a recording artist. He has a house there, a step up from his childhood bedroom, where the walls were plastered with posters of Beyoncé. “I’ve been totally in love with her since I was seven. She kinda broke my heart when she married Jay-Z,” he says with an adorably wry smile.
Bieber is prone to self-reflective pronouncements that toy with maturity: “I haven’t been in love yet. I’ve definitely loved girls. But it’s kinda like puppy love. It’s not the real thing, but that’s what you think at the time.” He is still very much a kid, however, restlessly shredding a napkin and throwing the scraps at his manager, excitedly cracking jokes about Chuck -Norris, and breaking into spontaneous dances. “I leave the hip thrusts to Michael Jackson,” he teases. He picks up his Gibson guitar and starts playing to his entourage, including his stylist, his musical director, and his father, Jeremy Bieber.
(Justin normally travels with his mother, but this week he’s sent her to a spa and his dad is -stepping in.) “Down, down—let me teach you something,” he instructs his father, who is -accompanying him on another guitar. They rehearse a song from Bieber’s new album, My World 2.0, which is out this month and features contributions by Ludacris, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, and The Dream. The songs will be—shock!—“mostly about girls, again,” the boy wonder says. “I want them to hear my music and wanna play it again because it made their hearts feel good.”
So what exactly is Bieber’s ideal world? “I want my world to be fun. No parents, no rules, no nothing. Like, no one can stop me,” he says, and then repeats it. “No one can stop me.”