Justin Bieber: Master at the game of viral marketing? Or just putting the punk in Punk'd?
The 19-year-old heartthrob's new video featuring Nicki Minaj hit the Internet today—and it hit with more punch than usual, thanks to a Twitter hoax intended to make people believe that some spiteful soul was planning to leak personal videos ripped from the Biebs' stolen computer.
And that's where things got weird. Here's everything we know:
Oct. 9: Bieber performs at the Tacoma Dome in Washington.
Oct. 10: In a seemingly unrelated waste of time, a prankster called the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to Bieber's home via teletype machine (a device often used by deaf people to communicate) at around 1:40 a.m.—the type of tomfoolery that has recently befallen the homes of Miley Cyrus and Ashton Kutcher. Deputies arrived to find nothing amiss.
• Bieber tweeted at 12:09 p.m.: "yesterday during the show me and my tour manager josh had some stuff stolen. really sucks. people should respect other's property." A Tacoma Dome source tells E! News that Bieber's tour manager told venue personnel that a laptop had gone missing and asked to look at their surveillance footage. Staffers advised Bieber's camp to report the alleged theft to the cops. Tacoma police told us they had no report on file.
Oct. 11: A from-the-neck-down nude photo rumored to be of Bieber hit the Internet in the morning. Fans immediately eyeballed certain portions of his anatomy—namely, his nipples and belly button—and quickly determined that something didn't, er, add up.
• At 1:19 p.m., Bieber tweeted a fellow Twitter user going by the handle @gexwy: "no matter what you have and what you post tomorrow i know my fans wont leave me. screw it.
• At 4:48 p.m., @gexwy tweeted a link to a shaky YouTube video of an even younger Bieber, what appeared to be the first tweet from the account, then proceeded to claim they had easily outsmarted the teen's password-protected laptop.
• Also that afternoon, Perez Hilton posted the story "Justin Bieber's Stolen Personal Footage Leaked On Twitter! Watch a Clip of It HERE!" with a snippet of video, purportedly from good ol' @gexwy, of the Biebs romping in a pool with some non-Selena Gomez females.
• @gexwy posted more than a dozen tweets purportingly taunting Bieber about the big reveal coming Friday, writing things like, "u have no idea what i have and when u see tomorrow u will feel different."
Oct. 12: This morning, @gexwy was back at it, tweeting, "@justinbieber u have dealt with a lot of rumors for a very long time. as a kid. with the whole world watching. u ready for more?"
• The big "joke's on us" reveal comes at 9 a.m.: @gexwy tweets a Vevo link to Bieber's new video for "Beauty and a Beat," featuring Nicki Minaj. "Since I was 14 i have had a lot of things said about me, from dying, to taking hormones, to dying again, to stuff about my family," Bieber tweeted. "To saying i had a baby with a woman i never even met. nude pics, drugs, my family, my character...but today...today i get to be in on it."
• But what about the stolen laptop with all the private stuff?! Bieber's rep tells E! News that a computer really did go missing from the Tacoma Dome and a police report was filed. Another source says that the laptop was reported missing Thursday, two days after Bieber's show.
Did Bieber and his cohorts make the alleged thievery part up, or did they craftily turn loss into opportunity, using the laptop's disappearance to make people think that there was some possibly embarrassing Bieber footage on the loose and then use that to drum up excitement?
A PR stunt for the ages, in any case.