The Stunning Transformation Of Justin Bieber

From mousy-voiced kid with a shaggy mop to married man with a close-cropped coif, Justin Bieber has undergone a stunning transformation. In less than 15 years, he catapulted off YouTube with a cover of Ne-Yo's "So Sick" and cemented his place in music history, proving himself to be more than just a teeny bopper's dream. 

His story has reached near mythical status. Plucked from online obscurity for a life of mega-stardom, he almost lost it all as he made the rocky transition from child celebrity to respected entertainer, and tried to keep a fan base while doing so. But, by the mid-2000s it was officially cool to like Justin Bieber, according to Fast Company. After Justin Bieber's relationships with a string of famous exes, he found love with Hailey Baldwin, he found love with Hailey Baldwin. He's gained respect by joining the ranks of stars speaking out about their mental health issues (via NBC). So great is his influence on culture that the popularity of his 2021 hit "Peaches" prompted The A.V. Club to investigate whether it was increasing sales of the fuzzy fruit. Ooh baby.

Read on to learn more about the stunning transformation of a Canuck kid who became a global pop star.

Justin Bieber is a small-town boy

As is the case with so many big stars, Justin Bieber's story starts with humble beginnings. He grew up in Stratford, Ontario, about 90 minutes from Toronto, Canada's largest city. It's a quaint little town of around 31,000 residents, according to Statistics Canada

His early years were far from idyllic. Bieber was raised by his mother, Pattie Mallette, who was just 18 years old and yet to finish high school when she gave birth. For years, she had struggled with drugs and alcohol after facing the horrors of sexual abuse, she wrote in her 2012 book, "Nowhere But Up" (via The Oklahoman). After her son was born, she turned her life around, obtaining her high school diploma while working part-time. 

In 2020, the singer kicked off his YouTube documentary series, "Justin Bieber: Seasons," with a tour of Stratford, showing fans for the first time the modest apartment building he lived in for 10 years, and which he had been "ashamed" to tell friends about. But, despite the hardships, the family got by. "I didn't have material things and was never motivated by money or fame," Bieber said on Instagram. "I just loved music."  

Justin Bieber's first gig was busking on the streets

Despite its small size, Stratford plays a major role in the world's theater scene. The Stratford Festival, around since 1953, attracts thousands of people each year and adds $107 million to the local economy, according to Global News

Young Justin Bieber knew an opportunity when he saw one. His musical prowess was already evident and he was, of course, cute as a button. So, the little entrepreneur sat down on the steps of the Avon Theatre, pulled out his guitar, opened its case in front of him and started playing. To no one's surprise, he was a hit — and pulled in a nice chunk of change. Starting at just 6 years old, he earned thousands, according to his mother (via The Oklahoman). "I actually got enough money to bring my mom to Florida to go to Disney World, because I always wanted to go but we never had enough," Bieber told Interview

The spot is a now a hallowed piece of Stratford history. The city even commemorated it with a bronze star, and it's stop No. 1 on its Bieber-iffic! map

YouTube led to Justin Bieber's discovery at age 13

Back in 2007, YouTube was just two years old (hard to believe, right?) and still finding its place. MySpace was where budding artists were spending their time, according to CBC. But, Justin Bieber was about to help change that. 

That year, he was 12 years old, and participated in a local singing contest. Unfortunately, some of his loved ones missed his performance. But, he and his mother had a brilliant idea. "My friends and family that couldn't make it wanted to see me so I posted those videos on YouTube and I guess it just kind of blew up," Justin Bieber said on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Even that is putting it mildly. By the time he caught the eye of his soon-to-be manager Scooter Braun, he was the No. 2 independent artist on the site, according to The Guardian. Both Usher and Justin Timberlake competed to sign Bieber, The New York Times reported, with the singer ultimately going with the former. By October 2008, he had a contract with Def Jam records and his career was about to take off.

Success was instant for Justin Bieber

Less than a year after landing his big contract, Justin Bieber had hit the big time. He didn't go from zero to 60, he went from zero to 2 million. His first single, "One Time," was released in July 2009 and made its debut on the Billboard Top 100 chart at No. 95, Reuters reported. By that time, its video had already racked up millions of views on YouTube. And, what did the nascent superstar think of his overnight success? "It was really cool going from my webcam to professional videos." Little did he know what was to come. 

His first full-length album, "My World 2.0," landed in March 2010 and instantly topped the charts, according to Billboard, spurred by the success of "Baby," one of the catchiest pop songs of the decade (admit it — you're singing the chorus right now in your head). Bieber's first tour kicked off at the same time, with more than 40 dates, including a night at New York's famed Madison Square Garden (via Billboard). According to The Guardian, it went on to gross more than $53 million. His album was also a critical success, earning rave reviews from outlets such as Rolling Stone and two Grammy Award nominations in 2011. All this, and he was still just 17 years old. 

Selena Gomez was Justin Bieber's first love

It was an incredibly down-to-earth first date. In December 2010, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez went to a Philadelphia IHOP. Gomez brushed rumors of romance off, telling Us Weekly it was simply friends getting pancakes, but the syrupy rendezvous was actually the start of a multiyear relationship that wasn't always so sweet. 

The couple finally went public at Vanity Fair's Oscars Party in February 2011, Vogue reported, but, by November of the following year, they hit a rough patch. Still, they couldn't stop talking about each other. In 2014, Gomez released the blistering "The Heart Wants What It Wants," which, she told Ryan Seacrest was about the Beebs. Then, in 2015, Bieber told Access Hollywood about the breakup, "It was really tough. I don't know if I'm over it yet," and the pair were spotted together yet again, People reported. Things continued in this on-again, off-again manner until May 2018, when sources told E! that Gomez — who is doing just fine (check out Selena Gomez' whopping net worth) — was finally over the singer. 

Years later, it seems Bieber is willing to take most of the blame for how it all went down. "In my previous relationship, I went off and just went crazy and went wild, just was being reckless," he told Apple Music's Zane Lowe.

Justin Bieber went through a very public rough patch

Sometimes celebrities have a bad year; Justin Bieber had a couple. To recap: First there was the monkey incident. In March 2013, he left his pet capuchin monkey, OG Mally, behind in Germany; the reasons why depend on who you ask, GQ reported. A few months later, he was accused of spray-painting graffiti in Brazil (via Rolling Stone) during a trip in which he was seen leaving a brothel, and accused of trashing his hotel room, according to the BBC (which also reported that the defacing charge was dropped after he made a charitable donation). 

Yet, things were about to get much more serious. In 2014, he was arrested multiple times, the CBC reported. He plead guilty to street racing in Florida (he had originally also faced charges of resisting arrest and driving under the influence) and no contest to a misdemeanor vandalism charge for allegedly egging a house. He was also charged twice with assault. He was found guilty in one case — along with a charge of careless driving, as reported by CNN – but the other one was dropped (via CBC).

In 2016, Bieber reflected on his past troubles, telling GQ: "If I could go back, I wouldn't really change much. I think it's all my journey. That stuff made me who I am."

Justin Bieber abused hard drugs

It was obvious to anyone watching Justin Bieber's downward spiral that the star was in trouble. A blood test administered when he was arrested in Florida for street racing revealed he had marijuana and the anti-anxiety prescription drug Xanax in his system, but that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his drug use. 

In a 2019 Instagram post, the singer opened up about his substance-abuse problems and what led to them. He acknowledged he began abusing drugs when he was just 19, citing the pressures of instant stardom at such a young age. He disrespected women, he added, and withdrew from those around him.

Bieber delved further into the subject on his YouTube series "Seasons." On the show, he revealed the first time he smoked marijuana was at age 13, and said he also used "lean" (a drink made using codeine cough syrup, according to the American Addiction Centers), psychedelic mushrooms, and MDMA (aka molly). "People don't know how serious it got," he shared. "It was legit crazy scary. I was waking up in the morning and the first thing I was doing was popping pills and smoking a blunt and starting my day. It just got scary." 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

This album marked a turning point in Justin Bieber's career

After all of his legal troubles and reckless behaviour, Justin Bieber's image was in need of rehabilitation. But, the singer himself was also in need of some healing. He managed to achieve both with his 2015 album "Purpose." He explained to Billboard how personal the release was — much more about his wants than giving in to the demands of his record label — and how he wasn't afraid to delve into the heavy stuff. "I'm self-expressing with this album," he said. "I can't skip on the moments that were dark, the moments that were happy, the ex-girlfriend stuff. It makes it real." 

But, as one of the album's top track's asked: Is it too late now to say sorry? Would fans still be open to hearing what he had to say? 

The answer was a resounding yes. "Purpose" made its debut atop the Billboard 200, his sixth album to make No. 1. Three of its singles reached the premiere spot as well, with "What Do You Mean?" being, shockingly, his first No. 1 track ever, Vulture reported. Critics warmed to the album, including those at Rolling Stone and EW, and it earned him another four Grammy nominations.

Justin Bieber canceled a world tour: 'I want to be sustainable'

To cash in on the popularity of "Purpose," a major world tour was planned for Justin Bieber. It launched at Seattle Key Arena on March 9, 2016 – his first full concert first in three years — to mixed reviews, according to Billboard. By the time the tour rolled into Melbourne, Australia, a year later, the cracks in his show were even more apparent. A reviewer with The Guardian said the singer looked lonely up on stage and as if he perhaps no longer enjoyed performing.  

The critic was right — Bieber wouldn't be able to keep up the charade for much longer. After 16 months of touring, for a total of 140 concerts, the singer canceled the remaining 16 shows on July 24, 2017 (via Billboard). As he explained on Instagram a few days later, he was taking 'me time,' sharing, "I want to be SUSTAINABLE ... so that I can be the man I want to be, the husband I eventually want to be, and the father I want to be."

Marriage turned Justin Bieber into a new man

The coming together of Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin has not been the most straightforward love story, but no one can now doubt its integrity. While it seems as if the romance came out of nowhere — and in a way, it did, considering their official courtship was only 12 weeks before they got married in September 2018, Vogue reported — the model was in the singer's life for 10 years as a friend. And, as Bieber told GQ, he didn't want to commit to her until he had, essentially, sewn his wild oats. 

Today, the two are fully committed, joined together through a shared faith and a willingness to put in the effort needed to make a marriage work. They often speaking frankly about how difficult it can be (via GQ), and Bieber has shared what he really thinks about marriage. Baldwin is, by all accounts, a grounding force in his life who has finally brought him the calm he was seeking. "With the lifestyle I live, everything is so uncertain," Bieber told Vogue. "I need one thing that's certain. And that is my baby boo." 

Justin Bieber opened up about his mental health issues

In 2019, People magazine reported that Justin Bieber was receiving treatment for depression. Again, it seems most people did not realize the extent of his troubles. Speaking in his YouTube documentary special "Justin Bieber: Next Chapter," the star says he was suicidal. "Like, man, is this pain ever going to go away? It was so consistent." 

As outlined in the "Seasons" YouTube series, proper medical diagnoses, Hailey Baldwin, a supportive team, and medication have helped show him a way forward (via GQ); setting boundaries and establishing routines has also helped. As well, he attends therapy with and without his wife, although he is careful not to push himself too much, he told Vogue. It's also important for him to use his platform to support others who are suffering. In 2020, for example, he gave $100,000 to a fan who works for a mental health organization (via Billboard). And, of course, by speaking out, he helps remove the stigma of mental health, and shows how it can affect any one, at any time.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Justin Bieber was diagnosed with Lyme disease

In 2020, Justin Bieber announced on Instagram in a since-removed post that he had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, as well as a severe case of the infectious disease commonly known as mono caused by Epstein-Barr Virus (via Esquire). 

According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, the inflammatory illness is commonly contracted through a tick bite and can affect several parts of the body, including skin, joint, organs and the nervous system. And, indeed, in his post the hitmaker blamed his recent unhealthy appearance on the sicknesses, writing that it has affected "affected my, skin, brain function, energy, and overall health."

In the fifth episode of his YouTube series "Seasons," Bieber gave fans an intimate peek into his health battles during a visit to a doctor's office. He had been experiencing low energy for years, he said, adding, "It feels good now to know why I feel so crappy all the time."

A long-time Christian, Justin Bieber has turned his back on organized religion

Justin Bieber's first TV appearance was not on a big-name talk show or entertainment program, but on "100 Huntley Street," a daily current affairs program on Crossroads, Canada's Christian network. It was 1999, and his mother, Pattie Mallette, was the main guest — on to talk about how her young son's YouTube success. At the end, the host urges viewers to keep the family in their prayers.

Faith, namely Christianity, has been a huge part of Bieber's life since the beginning. Devoutly Christian, his mother questioned whether they should sign with Scooter Braun  because he is Jewish, she told The New York Times. For years, Justin Bieber was part of the high-profile Hillsong church, although he has since left, reported Vanity Fair. He has spoken about God several times on social media and in interviews. 

Which is why a January 2020 Instagram post might have surprised fans. "Many people would mistake me for a religious man, which I am not," he wrote, explaining that he sees religion as dwelling too much on personal shortcomings. Instead, he said, he focuses on God and Jesus. This belief, he said, has brought him "extraordinary peace." 

Justin Bieber continues to smash records by legendary musicians

Despite all the highs and lows — or, perhaps, because of them — Justin Bieber continues to churn out hits. He's settled into a quieter life, but that doesn't mean he's lost his creative spark. He released his album "Justice" in March 2021 and it reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — though Bieber is hoping to accomplish even more with it. It's his eighth album (out of 10) to reach that spot, and he's now the youngest solo artist ever to hold that record, according to Billboard. Previously, it belonged to Elvis Presley. 

Even more remarkably, in July 2021, he saw one of his songs land on the Billboard Hot 100 for a 100th time, Forbes reported. 

But, thanks to the stunning transformation that led to his new outlook on life, Bieber isn't letting it get to his head. As he told Billboard: "At this point, I've reached a level of success so many times that I know success isn't a be-all, end-all to my happiness."