Justin Bieber’s Bad Bromance

The pop sensation has morphed from the fresh-faced boy next door into a ‘bro’-spewing frat boy in the making. Chris Lee reports.

Kevin Mazur, WireImage / Getty Images

Is Justin Bieber a “bro”?

There are any number of other pressing issues worthy of a nation’s divided attention during summer’s waning days: a certain hurricane making landfall, Prince Harry’s nude photo scandal, Pussy Riot. But in a troubling development, new evidence suggests that Canada’s Pied Piper of Pop has finally and irreversibly morphed from the cherub-cheeked heartthrob who bewitched millions of Beliebers to become something more sinister: a full-blown bro. A bro, of course, being what the Urban Dictionary terms an “alpha male idiot.” “This is the derogatory sense of the word (common usage in the western US): white, 16–25 years old, inarticulate, belligerent,” the dictionary entry for “Bro” explains. “Bros actually chose this name for themselves as they often refer to each other as ‘bro’ even though they are not related.”

Other child pop stars have certainly established their “dude” bona fides (Jaden Smith, Taylor Lautner), and there is no shortage of regular “guys” scattered across the cultural spectrum (Michael Cera, Two and a Half Men costar Angus T. Jones, the guy from those Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies). But none has matched Bieber’s embrace of the bro-lifestyle, bro-ing down with other bros in outsize displays of frat-boyish folly and carrying on the linguistic tradition that distinguishes bros from all other American males, with Bieber’s ebonic rallying cry ringing out loudest: “Swag, swag, swag.”

Exhibit A: The New Yorker’s recent profile of the 18-year-old singer’s manager, Scooter Braun. Braun discovered Bieber via YouTube, guides his every move and also oversees the careers of the British boy band the Wanted. While reporting the piece, writer Lizzie Widdicombe witnessed a veritable Broseidon Adventure that took place between the Bieb and a member of the Wanted at a taping of The Voice, where both were set to perform:

Bored, Bieber started a game, playfully jabbing everyone in the crotch with his fist. First, he jabbed at Braun, who, without looking up from the script, dropped his hands to block. Daly did the same. When Bieber jabbed at Siva Kaneswaran, a member of the Wanted, he connected. He called out, “Got you, bro.” Kaneswaran balled his fist but seemed unsure how to respond. “I don’t want to hurt his pretty face,” he said.

Braun said, “Just get him in the pretty balls. It’s fair game.”

“No, it’s not,” Bieber said.

Braun took a firm tone. “Justin, it is—fair game,” he said. “You hit him in the balls, fair game.”

Bieber was peeved. “Where’re we going?” he asked. “Where’s my dressing room?”

The unprovoked flash of genital violence, the churlish response to a voice of authority, the formalized use of the B-word: all textbook bro behavior. And that tiny point of light is hardly an isolated bro incident in Bieber’s world.

Over the course of a June GQ cover story, the Canadian pop prince is described trying and failing to bro-down with some other brosefs before connecting the dots with a jeremiad that would have made the brothers at Delta Kappa Epsilon proud.

In one telling sequence in the piece, Bieber’s brand-new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van has been given pricey custom upgrades by the exotic body shop West Coast Customs—including high-definition TVs, Alcantara-covered bucket seats, a computer dock, and a “fully operational recording studio along the passenger side”—and delivered to the 5-foot-7 singer’s home. He can’t contain his euphoria over his swaggy new ride, and in a misguided attempt at male bonding he proceeds to trash West Coast Customs’ rival, Platinum Motorsport, in front of an assembled entourage of bodyguards, managers, and musical hangers-on. “Platinum can suck a dick, man,” Bieber is quoted as having said in the story. “West Coast all day!”

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Gently reprimanded by West Coast Customs’ founder (who was on hand to personally deliver the vehicle, of course), Bieber backtracked with a gesture of bromance.

“I’m 18 years old and I’m a swaggy adult!” he is quoted as having yelled to the crowd before inviting them into his recording studio to hear some new tracks. “Come on, swaggy bros!”

The b-word is nearly omnipresent on the performer’s Twitter timeline, whether well-wishing a famous rapper: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my bro @asherroth,” or describing how Bieber spends time with the director of his concert movie Believe (“hanging with my bro @jonmchu”) or describing his contentment with his familial hierarchy (“love being a big bro.”)

Although he greeted President Obama with a Bart Simpson-ish, “What’s up, my dude?” at a December 2011 meet-and-greet, bro-ing down appears to have overtaken Duderonomy as Bieber’s default setting.

And that extends to the singularly extravagant vehicles the Biebs has been spotted driving. With the understanding that a cornerstone of bro raison d’être is staying on point with one’s clothes, chicks, shades, and designer basketball shoes, Bieber’s choice of vehicle screams his bro-dom from the mountaintops. There is, of course, the chrome-wrapped $110,000 Fisker Karma the performer was ticketed in while driving 100mph in L.A. freeway traffic, the matte black Ferrari F430 he was pushing two years ago at the tender age of 16, and even a matte black Smart Car that Bieber customized by swapping out the vehicle’s name plate for the words “Swag Car.”

It is perhaps a sad commentary on man’s true nature to discover that when one so young is handed so much—the fame, wealth, glory, female attention; essentially, the world on a string—that Bieber should grow up to become a bro rather than a more evolved human being. But the central irony is that he may not be well accepted by others of his kind—call it reverse brocism—at least to judge by an editorial about him on broslikethissite.com.

“Bros hate Justin Bieber,” a posting from last year reads. “You’re born a bro—and Bieber doesn’t have the fucking bro-netics to rock that shit.”