Pop stardom is a contact sport, but at age 18 Justin Bieber knows how to roll with the punches. Believe that.

This feature appears in Complex's 10th Anniversary Issue (April/May 2012).

The InterContinental Carlton Cannes is popping on a Saturday night. Inside the luxurious space where Alfred Hitchcock shot To Catch a Thief and Prince Rainier of Monaco wooed his future princess, Grace Kelly, middle-aged couples bullshit over wine and appetizers. This opulent hotel on the French Riviera is the spot for Hollywood players during the Cannes Film Festival, but tonight everyone’s in town for the NRJ Awards, where the main attraction is Justin Bieber.

JayBee’s team—publicist, manager, marketer, and security guards—huddles in a room just off the lobby. Justin’s running 30 minutes late, and the squad is getting worried that he may miss the red carpet. Just as panic is about to set in, Justin strolls through the back entrance of the hotel wearing a bright blue MCM x TI$A perfecto leather, a white shirt/black tie combo, saggy black skinny jeans, and $900 Balenciaga high-tops. His hair is swoop-less and perfectly slicked back, and he carries himself with confidence. When Allison, the GM at his management company, asks who smells so good, JayBee quickly replies, “It’s me.”

“I missed the red carpet?” Justin asks as the team piles into the blacked-out van that will take him to the awards. Then, only half-kidding, he adds: “Hopefully, right?” He makes a point of saying that
Taz Arnold designed the blue leather jacket he’s wearing especially for him—and that it’s a one of one. During the short ride, his hairstylist grooms his eyebrows and asks Justin if he brushed his teeth.

Despite the tinted windows, when Justin pulls up to the Palais de Festivals, his fans know he’s arrived. The van door slides open, Justin emerges, and the reception is overwhelming. You've seen how it looks on TV—flashing lights everywhere, girls with camera phones screaming—but when you witness it live, it’s a lot to take in.

Justin Bieber’s growing up. He turned 18 on March 1—it’s hard to believe he stepped on the scene just three years ago. It’s not often that a pop star transitions to adulthood before our eyes. Michael Jackson did it, as did the other Justin—Timberlake, that is. Both are legends in their own right who graduated from boy bands to spectacular solo careers. But there haven’t been many who’ve done it as a solo artist on both sides of the jump. Bieber’s about to break the mold with his new album, Believe. When all is said and done, this kid could be the biggest pop star of this generation. But are his current crop of fans ready for their idol to grow up? And equally important, does Justin want to make the sacrifices that go along with being the new King of Pop?


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