Justin Bieber: Fame Nearly ‘Destroyed’ Me, Talks Album Nerves, Nude Pics & Selena Gomez

Justin Bieber’s spectacular comeback amid chart slaying success ahead of releasing his highly anticipated album, Purpose, was by no means a sure thing. In his just-rolled-out Billboard cover story, the 21-year-old pop icon reveals his turbulent past two years were caused by a darker reality: Fame’s undercurrent.

The superstar stormed back to uber success in 2015, following up becoming the face of Calvin Klein with apologies, magazine covers followed, a hardcore Comedy Central Roast, before an onslaught of bangers. “Where Are Ü Now?” was topped months later by his No. 1 debut atop Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with “What Do You Mean?” before Justin offered the world an insanely catchy universal mea culpa with “Sorry.”

Chatting to Billboard’s Chris Martin’s, Justin doesn’t reveal the nitty gritty of what he was nearly destroyed by, but talks of previously feeling “empty” and “lost.” Weirdly, some find it hard to understand the dangers inherent with any youngster caught up the dream factory of teen idolhood, contending with having every moment criticized and narrated by a baying media, harassed by paparazzi — and the rest of the crazy. Is it any wonder Bieber stumbled?

Now, preparing to land Purpose, current music collaborators EDM titan Skrillex and Big Sean praise the Biebs’ climb back in the profile. So too does manager Scooter Braun, who says the singer’s phoenix-like ascent is all down to the 21-year-old.

“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 [comeback] is Justin,” says Braun.

“I couldn’t go to sleep during that time,” he continues. “Every night I was wondering, ‘Is something going to happen?’ I turned to my own dad and asked, ‘What do I do here?’ He said, ‘You just got to be a rock.’ “

So, to the music trade’s lengthy and juicy interview: Here are 10 highlights.

1: Not surprisingly, Bieber is cautionary about the Fame Game

“I wouldn’t suggest being a child star,” he tells Martin in a steakhouse. “It’s the toughest thing in the world.”

At another point in their conversation, he muses, “It might seem awesome from the outside, but I’m struggling. Certain things broke my trust with people. Situations happen that taint your mind. I started going through the motions.”

He went on, “I felt like people were judging me all the time. I came out alive. I came out swinging. But I was close to letting [fame] completely destroy me.”

2: While his current hits are being lauded, Justin says he’s nervous about the reception Purpose gets, and admits he wasn’t feeling some of his old music

Of his upcoming record, he said,”F***, I’m so nervous. It’s hard to make meaningful songs that make you want to dance because it can come off cheesy.”

He adds, “In the past I’ve recorded songs that I didn’t like, that I wouldn’t listen to, that the label was telling me to record.”

“I’m self-expressing with this album. I can’t skip on the moments that were dark, the moments that were happy, the ex-girlfriend stuff. It makes it real, rather than ‘Let’s call up Max Martin to write you a hit song.’ I want my music to be inspiring,” he adds.

3: The Biebs doesn’t know who Bette Midler is, but he knows he didn’t like her tweeting snark about his dad after elder Bieber cracked a joke about his son’s non-consensual nude photos

“This Britt Meddler [sic] … I don’t even know who that is — honestly,” he says. “I wanted to immediately say ‘Who is this lady?’, but then I’m just fueling this negativity… My dad made light of it (the naked snaps) but I don’t think that’s sick and twisted. It was funny. Dads are going to be dads.”

Justin also refutes (and he should know) the widely-held assumption that his father was a “deadbeat dad” and says his dad has been in his life since childhood.

4: The pop icon reaffirms he found those nude pics violating and settles any remaining confusion about shrinkage

“I do feel the photo was an invasion of my privacy. I felt super violated… I was scared [when I saw the first picture]. I first saw the one with the black bar over it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I just got out of the water. Shrinkage is real.’ “

Of his “size,” Justin said, “No, no. That’s as big as she gets.”

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5: The Biebs wants people to be kind to young famous people, especially females

“I want people to be more kind to young celebrities. Look at Kylie [Jenner]. Look at her world: She has been living on TV since she was a kid.” Justin adds, “Every time she’s looking around she sees a camera, and that’s affecting how she’s thinking and how she’s perceiving people and why she has to do certain things… Situations that happen taint your mind, especially in this industry. Especially for girls.”

The heartthrob went on, “I hurt for some people. Everything is so [based] on people’s looks and stuff… Look at the statistics on how many child stars have crumbled and turned out to be wack jobs. It’s because — it’s f***ed, bro, this lifestyle.”

6: On former girlfriend, Selena Gomez

“I’m proud of the woman she is today,” Justin says of his ex-sweetheart. “When you love someone that much, even if something comes between you, it’s a love that never really dies.”

7: Justin hasn’t heard Selena’s Revival album yet

Worried or sensitive about what he might hear on his ex’s, Selena Gomez’s, new album, the Biebs says he hasn’t heard it because “I know I had a lot of play in that one. I don’t know what she’s saying about me.”

Taylor Swift

8: The Biebs really is just friends with Hailey Baldwin but admits he and Kendall Jenner had a thing

The singer says it’s “too soon” to get into a serious relationship after his split with Selena in September, 2014. But he does level on rumors. He was never serious with supermodel pal Kendall Jenner, and says model buddy Hailey Baldwin is “one of my best friends in the entire world.”

He adds that Baldwin is “fricken awesome. She’s got the sweetest soul.”

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9: Justin’s relationship with his mother is now healing after he pulled away during the dramz years

In the past, the singer has talked about his close ties with his mother, Pattie Mallette. Now, he reveals he stayed away from her during his hectic years and says their relationship deteriorated to being “pretty nonexisting.”

“I was distant because I was ashamed. I never wanted my mom to be disappointed in me and I knew she was,” he says. “We spent some time not talking, so it takes time to rebuild that trust.” Justin added, “She’s living in Hawaii now, so it’s hard, but getting better. She’s an amazing woman and I love her.”

Justin Bieber

10: Bieber is resolved to being the best version of himself

We all know the rap sheet: a house-egging, the drag race that wasn’t a drag race, urinating in a kitchen bucket, South America, paparazzi face-offs. Actually, that last one is understandable.

But, the Biebs — as he has said many times this year — is committed to being a better person.

“Enough with the Justin Bieber Show. I want to veer away from the self-centered attitude,” he vows. “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.”

11: Like many, the singer also finds the Noah’s Ark story highly impausible

The Biebs renewed his faith in Christianity from October, 2014, onwards by staying at the family home of Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church NYC. He also receives daily guidance from Pastor Judah Smith of the Seattle-based, The City Church. Both pastors have been in Justin’s life since 2008.

Of Smith, the Biebs says, “I’d come and listen to him and try to hear him out. I had all these questions and things were not adding up. ‘Well, why is this, then? How did all those animals fit on Noah’s Ark, then?’ “

Now, the singer answers that burning question, noting, “That’s what it’s all about — not questioning it.”

Look for Justin Bieber’s Purpose album on November 13. To read Billboard’s cover story in full, click here.

[Images via Zoey Grossman / Billboard]