Having effectively entered adulthood at the tender age of 14 when the baby-faced YouTube phenom signed his first record deal (that initial studio album would go on to be certified triple platinum), Justin Bieber always assumed he'd be on an accelerated track.
After all by 15 he'd already "had a couple of girlfriends," as he put it to Chicago's B96-FM, and at 18 he was so serious about one of them—you may recall his romance with Selena Gomez?—that he was sharing a home with her doing "a marriage kind of thing," as he told Complex and getting his first real taste of the daily ins and outs of committing yourself to one partner.
So when he declared around that time to WWD that "By 25 or 26, I want to see myself, like, married or start looking for a family," it pretty much checked out. As he explained to the outlet in that 2011 interview, "I want to be able to have done what I wanted to do—to be successful, to do a movie or whatever. But if the time is right, I definitely want to be married by 25."
Though, this past spring, with today's milestone birthday less than a year away, consider us among the skeptics who doubted he'd hit that particular milestone. His revived romance with Gomez seemed to have fizzled for what easily felt like the umpteenth time and his sole romantic prospect was 22-year-old model Baskin Champion who he'd gone cold on after a couple months of hanging out, with a source telling E! News, "He has a lot coming up and is working on new music, and isn't focused on dating right now."
And while he had a collection of career highs already firmly in his pocket (12 American Music Awards, a $99 million grossing 3D concert film and a Grammy for a track off his most recent album, 2015's Purpose) and he had come out of his self-imposed hiatus for a surprise performance at Coachella in April, even his professional momentum had ground to a halt since his decision to call a premature end to his 2017 Purpose World Tour with just 14 shows left on the docket.
Dare we say, one of the world's best-selling artists was in a bit of a rut and it was becoming hard to envision how he'd find his way out of it. It certainly didn't seem fathomable that he'd wrap up 2018 as a married man—lavishing non-stop praise on his wife, the increasingly bankable model Hailey Baldwin—with a promise to release new music soon.
But considering everything he'd already overcome in his two-plus decades on earth, shame on us for not being beliebers.
After all, the 10-time Grammy nominee had successfully battled his most challenging of demons that emerged during that period in 2014 that saw him transform from an endearing scamp, one half of the cutest teenage couple you ever did see, into an insufferable, immature punk making one bad choice after another.
A 19-year-old Bieber, outfitted with a $1.2 million car collection, his own six-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot digs and an entourage eager to encourage his worst impulses, egged a neighbor's house in Calabasas, hot-boxed his private jet, drunkenly peed into a mop bucket and earned himself a DUI while drag racing his Lamborghini in Miami as the world lamented over what had happened to the precociously talented teen with the undeniable charm and sweet lyrics about first loves.
Those closest to him were among the most concerned. Manager Scooter Braun, who with the help of Usher, had plucked Bieber from Canadian obscurity worried he had failed the 13-year-old boy he'd promised to always champion.
"There was a time when I would go to sleep almost every night—when he had the money to fly away from me—and I was worried every night that I was going to lose him," he shared on Van Lathan's The Red Pill Podcast in September. "I thought he was going to die. I thought he was going to sleep one night and that he would have so much crap in his system that he would not wake up the next morning."
Braun forced him to take a hiatus from touring and making music— "He used to yell and scream at me, and he wanted to put music out, he wanted to tour, but I thought if he did that, he would die. So, I just refused,"—but he insisted it was Bieber that really fought to get his life back.
"I see people pointing, saying what a great job I did orchestrating his comeback," Braun told Billboard in 2015. "I'll be frank. I failed for a year and a half. He shut himself off and went into a dark place. Every single day I tried to help him turn it around, and every single day I failed. And I tried desperately. The only person who deserves credit for this is Justin."
Speaking to March's Vogue, on which he posed with his new bride, Bieber acknowledged his darkest years were born from his runaway success. "I was real at first," he told the fashion bible, "and then I was manufactured as, slowly, they just took more and more control." At 16 with a fanbase of adoring young girls, "I started really feeling myself too much. People love me, I'm the s--t—that's honestly what I thought. I got very arrogant and cocky. I was wearing sunglasses inside."
At the same time, Braun said, Bieber he used to fight against the extraordinary life he had been given. "And that's when he got into a dark place, but when he accepted his responsibility and took a hard look at himself and not what everyone was doing, that's when he owned it and he got healthy."
That involved a weeks-long 2014 detox at the New Jersey home of Carl Lentz, the pastor at his beloved Hillsong church, to do away with the Xanax Bieber had begun to abuse, the drug often encouraging him to indulge his worst impulses. "Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing," he told Vogue. "It got pretty dark. I think there were times when my security was coming in late at night to check my pulse and see if I was still breathing."
That's not to say everything was instantaneously made better when he recommitted himself to his faith, finding the purpose that drove him to release the 2015 disc of the same name, complete with the aptly named single "Sorry".
Submitting to public penance in the form of a harsh Comedy Central Roast and a genuine MTV Video Music Awards performance that left him in tears, he was determined to get back in the public's good graces, apologize for his ego-driven decisions and put out music that inspired. "Enough with the Justin Bieber Show. I want to veer away from the self-centered attitude," he told Billboard. "I'm just focused on the people who have been there since the start, on people who are taking the journey now. I want them to feel like we're doing this together."
It was a successful ride with Bieber making bonafide hits out of "What Do You Mean?", "Sorry", and "Love Yourself" before picking up his Best Dance Recording for "Where Are Ü Now." And then he spent most of the next year and a half criss-crossing the United States, Canada, Asia, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, including some shows where he was forced to fend off rousing boos from the crowds.
So when he announced in late July 2017 that he'd be skipping his final dates in North American and Asia, well, you could see how he got there. "Me taking this time right now is me saying I want to be SUSTAINABLE," he wrote in a heartfelt Instagram post. "I want my career to be sustainable, but I also want my mind heart and soul to be sustainable. So I can be the man I want to be, the husband I eventually want to be and the father I want to be."
As he explained it to TMZ, when a reporter caught up with him in Santa Monica, he was simply exhausted: "I love you guys, I think you guys are awesome. Sorry for anybody who feels disappointed or betrayed, it's not [what's in] my heart or anything, and have a blessed day."
His predicted resting and relaxation came with a side of courting his old flame Gomez, the pair reigniting in late 2017. But when that relationship proved to be a non-starter, well, it became hard to imagine what lie ahead for the on-hiatus pop star.
That answer came in the form of Hailey Baldwin, the on-the-rise model (she scored her first fashion campaign for French Connection in 2014) who Bieber once predicted could end up "being the girl I'm gonna marry." When the former paramours reunited at the June VOUS Church Conference in Miami, turning up the heat on a romance that had been dormant for some time, Bieber made a snap decision that set him on the successful course he's enjoyed ever since.
Longtime friends, the pair had gone from "homies" as Baldwin put it to Vogue into what she could only describe as a "weird limbo" while chatting with pal Kendall Jenner on Zaza World Radio's Valentine's Day Special on Apple Music: "We were friends and then it was, like, more, and then we weren't. And then we didn't speak for a very long time."
She declined to get into specifics with Vogue, but to suffice it to say, their relationship took a hit got ugly: "Negative things happened that we still need to talk about and work through," she admitted. "Fizzled would not be the right word—it was more like a very dramatic excommunication. There was a period where if I walked into a room, he would walk out."
But when they found themselves back in the same space, single and unfettered, "We were past the drama," Baldwin said. "I just gave him a hug. By the end of the conference, he was like, 'We're not going to be friends.' I was like, 'We're not?'"
The answer, of course, was that they were destined for more. From that first Miami night, a source revealed to E! News, the duo were "inseparable," taking their love to New York City and then to the exclusive Bahamian resort of Baker's Bay in July, where he knelt in the sand and pulled out a sizable oval engagement ring. The grand gesture was "sudden," admitted the insider, but this was the person he'd labeled as "someone I really love" to GQ two years earlier and who had remained in his orbit throughout his most troubling days and relationships. Said the insider, "Justin always knew Hailey and him had a special bond that was incomparable."
Looking back, his 2016 chat with GQ proved that the dramatic antics of his youth had given way to a man surprisingly self-aware about his limitations as a partner. "I don't want to put anyone in a position where they feel like I'm only theirs, only to be hurt in the end," he said, explaining his reasoning for not going fully exclusive with Baldwin at the time. "I know that in the past I've hurt people and said things that I didn't mean to make them happy in the moment. So now I'm just more so looking at the future, making sure I'm not damaging them."
If Baldwin were to be the one he committed his life to, he explained, he didn't want to screw it up now with a youthful indiscretion. "If I rush into anything, if I damage her, then it's always going to be damaged," he noted. "it's really hard to fix wounds like that. It's so hard...I just don't want to hurt her."
That foresight allowed them to reconnect relatively baggage-free this summer, picking up where they left off. And while Baldwin was "taken off guard" by the speedy proposal, a pal revealed to E! News, she was by no means hesitant. As she remarked to Australian magazine Stellar, "I'm beyond excited."
And just when speculation about just when and where these two crazy kids would make it official (his newly purchased 101-acre property in his native province of Ontario was a top contender), they up and did it when no one was looking, slipping into the back room at a New York City courthouse in September when even the most in-the-know members of their teams thought they were just inquiring about marriage licenses.
Taking the plunge was the brainchild of Baldwin, who had fended off criticism she was too young to wed in an interview published by The Cut just hours earlier, citing the ever popular when you know, you know reasoning. "It was 'you and me against the world,'" a source told People. "Let's show [everyone] we're serious and it's not some crazy fling."
Eager to follow the happy wife, happy life edict, Bieber was cool to go along, an insider told E! News. Equally caught up in the I-can't-live-without-you-fever, "He wanted to show her he was serious this time and wasn't going to split up with her," said the insider, "and that's why they got married so fast." (There was possibly one other motivation: a desire to put an end to a self-enforced celibacy, though Bieber insisted to Vogue that was just one factor. "When I saw her last June, I just forgot how much I loved her and how much I missed her and how much of a positive impact she made on my life. I was like, Holy cow, this is what I've been looking for.")
Ever since, Bieber has seemed content to enjoy an extended honeymoon, trailing along as his new spouse spent time in New York City for Fashion Week, jetted to London for their Fashion Week and her debut show as style creator for Adidas Originals and JD Sports and then made a visit to Italy's Amalfi Coast and an awaiting $13,000-a-night villa just for a fun.
The couple each expressed interest in pumping the brakes on their respective careers in favor of nurturing their brand new marriage, with Baldwin telling WWD just days before their quickie wedding, "I've tried to be really choosy with fashion week going forward, just because I want to have the time to spend being relaxed and being with family—and my fiancé." But Bieber has proven especially committed.
"He's happy and content," a source recently told People. "He is in love with Hailey. She encourages him to do whatever he wants to do, and is encouraging him in this season of self-discovery." As for everyone else wondering when his sabbatical will end, well, frankly, they can kick rocks. "It actually bugs him when people ask when he's going back to the studio or on tour. He has worked for years, and the first time he takes a significant break, everyone's all, 'When's he coming back?'" explained the source. "To Justin, those aren't just questions—those are demands. For years, everyone has tried to take a piece of him. Just let him be."
Seemingly unable to believe his luck at locking down the woman who has been in his corner for the last seven years, even when he didn't yet realize she could be his forever champion, Bieber has just wanted to bask.
He and Baldwin rang in her 22nd birthday at their Canadian home over Thanksgiving, and a source tells E! News they have plans to return for much of the holiday season: "They're having a really lovely time setting the house up and nesting. They're making it into a home."
And just maybe the sprawling expanses of nature and breathtaking sunsets over Puslinch Lake has proven a bit restorative for Bieber. Over Thanksgiving, he made his first public indication that he won't remain in musical limbo forever when he spied a social media video of a young distraught fan lamenting that he quit music "cause he was too tired." Sharing the clip with his 103 million followers, he wrote, "Don't believe everything you read sweet little girl you will hear something from me sooner than you think."
First, though, there's some personal matters to tend to, with Bieber committing to treatment for his depression in an effort to be the best potential husband he can be. These initial five months of matrimony haven't been the honeymoon period of their dreams, but Baldwin sees the joy in having to put in the work.
"We're two young people who are learning as we go," she told Vogue. "I'm not going to sit here and lie and say it's all a magical fantasy. It's always going to be hard. It's a choice. You don't feel it every single day. You don't wake up every day saying, 'I'm absolutely so in love and you are perfect.' That's not what being married is. But there's something beautiful about it anyway—about wanting to fight for something, commit to building with someone. We're really young, and that's a scary aspect. We're going to change a lot. But we're committed to growing together and supporting each other in those changes."