"I thought he was an amazing kid, charming with loads of personality," recalls Reid, who adds that the lack of a TV platform never discouraged him from doing a deal. "I've never had the benefit of an 'American Idol' or Disney type of platform. Maybe it's dated, but we launch artists in the traditional sense. Oftentimes, while these kids may be very talented, we think of them as TV stars first, and the music is secondary. Justin is music first."
Bieber signed a multirights deal with Raymond Braun Music Group, which was created specifically for him and which in turn inked a 50/50 joint venture with IDJMG in July 2008. The latter also reaps benefits from touring and merch.
Video: Bieber sang Kanye West's "Heartless" and Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" at Billboard's video studios last year.
Braun moved Bieber and his mother to Atlanta and got to work on recording original material. He and Hicks booked studio time with top R&B/pop producers and songwriters the-Dream, Tricky Stewart, Bryan-Michael Cox, Johntá Austin and Kuk Harrell.
"It was my first time ever being in the studio," Bieber says. "I think my emotion has always been there, but I know what to do better now, and my voice has developed."
As for writing for a 14-year-old, Stewart says that "it's just about making a universal-sounding record. In a way, it kind of helps you write better, because the lyrical content is limited and there's a lot less you can say. The melody really has to be there."
Braun cut eight songs before playing them for Reid at his Grammy bungalow in February 2009. "He was like, 'We've got singles. We're ready,' " Braun recalls. Reid signed off on a $50,000 budget for the "One Time" video, and the single was released in April. It didn't pick up steam, though, until mid-summer when the video hit YouTube, where Bieber's subscriber base already stood at 40 million. "One Time" debuted at No. 95 on the Hot 100 in late July, and the dominos fell from there, with traditional media outlets gradually catching up to the notion that a viral sensation without any national TV presence had fans eager to forge a deeper connection.
"He had such a huge online fan base that our biggest challenge was, 'How do we convince the traditional partners we work with that this kid is real, that these viral fans really exist?' " IDJMG senior director of marketing Gabriela Schwartz says. "So we did the more traditional promo tour and started getting out some of our creative assets, and we saw immediate reactions." An almost comical series of PR boons followed, in which Bieber would arrive for a promo appearance and the host venue was completely unprepared for the crowd that showed up to see him.
Top 40 WHTZ (Z100) New York PD Sharon Datsur describes an online chat that Bieber did for the station in September 2009. "When the chat started, it nearly crashed the system and we had record-breaking numbers for any celebrity chat we've ever done. We started playing his music shortly after that."
Bieber's "Today" show performance Oct. 12 drew more than 2,000 fans, according to NBC, the most of any act in 2009. Things got out of hand at a much-publicized Nov. 20 appearance at Long Island's Roosevelt Field Mall, where a surging crowd led to the event's cancellation. IDJMG senior VP of sales James Roppo was arrested and held overnight by Nassau County police for not sending a tweet from Bieber's Twitter page that instructed his fans to disperse. (Only Bieber and Braun know the password.) Roppo wouldn't speak on the incident, which is still under investigation, but Braun says his lawyer is cooperating with authorities. The Nassau County district attorney's director of communications Carole Trottere said in an e-mailed statement, "We are working with the attorneys for Def Jam Records to further investigate what happened on that day. We are also in the process of looking into the level of responsibility held by the various corporations involved in the event and their agents."
In the middle of all this pandemonium is a kid whose music is quickly catching up to his popularity. Bieber turned 16 March 1, and "My World 2.0" reflects a more mature sensibility. It has dance-pop ear candy like "Somebody to Love" and "Runaway love," a slow-burner ballad in "Up," a catchy Sean Kingston collabo in "Eenie Meenie" and one potential career-maker titled "U Smile" -- a piano-driven ballad that directly addresses Bieber's devout followers. "Baby take my open heart and all it offers," Bieber croons, his voice straining as much from puberty as emotion. It's the closest he's come to fulfilling Braun's wish, by sounding like a certain young Motown star. "This is as unconditional as it'll ever get/You ain't seen nothing yet."
Needless to say, Bieber is pretty tired these days. Between interviews and appearances, he studies a required three hours daily. "School sucks," he says defiantly, between bites of Chinese takeout while en route from biology lessons to a photo shoot with Seventeen magazine. His handlers also make sure he gets at least one day off per week, to just relax or play sports (basketball, hockey, skateboarding). About 30 of his friends were flown to Los Angeles for his 16th birthday, where he sumo wrestled with Young Money upstart Lil Twist.
"I'm only 16 once," Bieber says. "I got to live like it." In the same breath, though, he announces that he's excited to tour throughout 2010, an AEG-produced trek that Braun says will likely be followed by either a repackaging of "My World" and "My World 2.0" or a Christmas album for the fourth quarter. Bieber will headline arenas and theaters in 40-plus North American cities, and he says he's confident he can sell out New York's Madison Square Garden. "I just think that I have enough fans, so I could pull in the people. I don't really get nervous anymore. I've already performed at Madison Square Garden, and I've performed for an hour before. What's the difference?" Bieber also wants to act, and Braun has raised funds to develop feature film projects. "I don't want to do the 'Hannah Montana' thing," Braun says.
Bieber doesn't let cries of "teen pop fad" faze him, either. "There's more people that like me than there are who hate me, so I kind of brush it off," he says. "People say, 'Oh, people just like him because he's pretty.' Or the funniest one: 'When he goes through puberty, he's not going to be a good singer anymore.' How does that make sense when we've seen people like Michael Jackson and Usher and Justin Timberlake do it?"
In the interim, Bieber's schedule is about to get even more hectic, with bookings lined up for "The View," "Saturday Night Live" and Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards. He also recently performed three sets on QVC, which helped propel Susan Boyle's sales last year. The shopping network is offering an exclusive DVD with pre-orders of "My World 2.0." "It's not an obvious look for Justin to be on QVC," IDJMG's Roppo says. "But every one of these kids' moms is a potential QVC viewer."
Millions of daughters and moms uniting for the common cause of Bieber fever surely won't hurt sales. But it's clear that the biggest driver in all of this is Bieber himself, who still replies to his fans on Twitter as though the past whirlwind eight months haven't turned his world upside down. "I still [use Twitter] as much as before," he says. "People write to me and say, 'I'm giving up, you're not talking to me.' I just write them a simple message like, 'Never give up,' you know? And it changes their life."