Justin Bieber: Second Round KO
Issue: April/May 2012
Photographer: Tony Kelly
Written By: Joe La Puma (@jlapuma)
I wanted to do this idea, so it got presented to one of his people, and they immediately shut it down.
Brent Rollins: "We were very excited about shooting Justin Bieber, and this was a big opportunity—how do we make the Complex reader interested in Justin Bieber? Nevermind that it's a pop magazine, we knew people would still be wondering why we're covering Justin Bieber. He's obviously a really huge star. I wanted to do a portrait of him with someone shaving his hair off, because to a lot of guys his hair was 'his thing.' That one got shot down, and the other idea that still had a long way to go was—What do most guys want to do when they see Justin Bieber? Punch him in the face. People feel less that way than they did at the time, and I think our magazine was the beginning of him trying to get away from the 'teeny bopper' image. I wanted to do this idea, so it got presented to one of his people, and they immediately shut it down."
Gina Batlle: "They were in a position where they wanted to introduce him to a new market, but they were afraid to go too far in one direction, because they didn't want to lose his original image completely."
Brent Rollins: "Then there was another idea, and it was really typical: him at his mansion surrounded by a lot of hot girls and being a baller. There's nothing surprising about that, because even if it could be over the top, it's not anything you haven't seen in rap videos, despite him being an eighteen-year-old white kid; there's no twist or 'a-ha,' and it just makes you want to punch him in the face more. Noah was in conversation with one of his closer dudes, and I remember he sent me a text being like, 'Dude they are going to do your cover, Bieber wants to do the punching-in-the-face cover.' Somehow his shields got circumvented, and the idea actually got to him."
He had tweeted out a picture of Compton Street, and these girls figured out where that was, so they arrived at the shoot and were waiting on him.
Gina Batlle: "I think it was more that his team was being protective of him."
Brent Rollins: "Which is frustrating, because it's an idea that almost didn't happen. We hired Tony Kelly, who is great, because he was a fashion photographer, but also a photojournalist, and has experience in high-pressure situations. He also knew how to compose everything amazingly, and his color and sense of humor is right there, but never over the top. He got very enthused and ran with the whole boxing ring idea, and it's great because it was the 10th anniversary for Complex. We shot it in a gym in downtown Los Angeles, and it looked like a movie set. Bieber's whole interest in presenting himself was becoming more challenging. He had tweeted out a picture of Compton Street, and these girls figured out where that was, so they arrived at the shoot and were waiting on him, which was weird."
Gina Batlle: "They wrote a blog post about it, and I think they got to hug him at the end."
Brent Rollins: "So we did two covers, because it was special, and they are both different. Justin picking himself up off the ground is sort of shocking and maybe more memorable than the one of him holding the meat on his eye, so we couldn't decide. We decided to go with both."
Read the Cover Story