The Great Outdoors

A Commissioner’s Legacy

Who Breaks a Butterfly Upon a Wheel?

An open letter to dangerous criminal Justin Bieber

Justin: On Wednesday I drove to Beverly Hills to see the new Lars von Trier movie, Nymphomaniac: Volume 1. Are you into Von Trier’s movies at all? He directed Breaking the Waves and Melancholia and a bunch of other great movies, and one time he expressed sympathy for Hitler during a press conference at Cannes and everybody freaked out. It was kind of his “Anne Frank would have been a Belieber” moment. Von Trier wasn’t serious about the Hitler thing, obviously. I think that’s what nobody gets about him — that he can actually be really funny, in a caustic, bleak, Germanic, easily misinterpreted kind of way. There’s a segment in the new movie with Uma Thurman as a woman whose husband leaves her for the nymphomaniac that I found totally hilarious. It was like if Donald Barthelme got a sketch onto Saturday Night Live in that weird 12:50 dead slot right before the goodnights. I think I was the only one laughing, though, so maybe I’m a creep. There’s certainly a lot of stuff in the movie that isn’t at all funny. And a lot of uncircumcised peen.

Nymphomaniac is also what I call a “parking-lot movie” — one of those films that puts you in such a weird headspace that your walk to the car afterward feels like an extension of the movie. As I validated my parking and left the screening room and rode downstairs on the elevator and said goodnight to the receptionist in the lobby, everything seemed creepy and Von Trier–y. In the parking garage, I could hear people talking to each other and getting into their cars, but I couldn’t see them, and because of the movie I felt like they were all going off to have graphic but joyless intercourse with Shia LaBeouf. And then I stopped, because on the TV in the little valet-station waiting area where you’re supposed to sit while the guy brings your car around, Piers Morgan was talking to some other vulture about a “BIEBER BOMBSHELL” that had gone off, metaphorically speaking, earlier in the afternoon, while I was in the theater.

I thought maybe you were dead, or in rehab, but instead it turned out — as if I need to tell you — that you’d surrendered yourself to the police in Toronto on an assault charge. A limo driver who picked up you and your crew from the club after a Maple Leafs game is accusing you of hitting him “on the back of the head several times.” This is your third run-in with the law in as many weeks. Last Thursday you were busted for drag racing your yellow Lamborghini on a street in Miami Beach while apparently high on drugs. (A yellow Lamborghini, seriously? You might as well ride around in a Wienermobile with “I AM ON DRUGS” written on the bun.) The week before that was the egg raid, which ended with your mixtape-rapper pal Lil Za getting hauled off to jail for possessing a powdery substance that was probably MDMA. I guess it’s theoretically possible that the powder Lil Za got caught with was Lil Za’s and Lil Za’s alone, and that Lil Za strictly used it in private, when the pressure of being Lil Za and living rent-free in your $6.5 million estate became too much to bear. No one knows what it’s like to be the sad man, to be the hype man, behind double-gated-community walls. Maybe Lil Za wrote “Lil Za’s Drugs” on the baggie, the way uptight roommates label their yogurt.

Keith Richards once said, “Let me be clear about this — I don’t have a drug problem, I have a police problem.” It’s one of the best Keith quotes ever. Of course, if you have to make it clear to people that your apparent drug problem is actually a police problem, you probably also have a drug problem. In the last few days, Justin, we’ve seen the usual clown-carload of sources-close-to pop up to speak authoritatively but anonymously about how you’re pretty much constantly on that weed, and also that lean, and possibly also them bars. Which is, in the abstract, totally fine — although, seriously, bruh, doubling up on central-nervous-system depressants like lean and Xanax is kind of the “land war in Asia” of drug cocktails. You could stop breathing. Do you want that? Do you want your homey Chris Brown to have to graffiti you an R.I.P. mural? That would be tragic, and not just because that guy sucks at art.

I understand, though. One of the few things you can control right now is your brain chemistry. You’re trying to define yourself, which is hard when you’ve been famous for more than half your life. From an absurdly early age, you were under a level of scrutiny that pretty much qualifies as psychic molestation — I really believe that. If anybody deserves to get a little trippy, it’s you, and nobody is more excited than me about the possibility of a “psychedelic” Justin Bieber album. But listen: You can’t be a dick to service-industry people. At the level you’re at, a cleaning person is somebody you pay to not send pictures of your bong room to Harvey Levin, and the only way that sacred covenant gets broken is if you’ve somehow made the cleaning person hate you. Either learn how to show respect for people, or get a Roomba. Same with limo drivers. That guy’s job is to forget what transpires on the other side of the partition. You could fuck a squid back there and he wouldn’t say anything, but all bets are off when you start hitting him in the head. You can’t King Joffrey the help, Justin — the irony of your situation is that they can buy and sell you as easily as you can buy and sell them.

You have to remember that there’s a whole clickbait economy built around people pretending your behavior is shocking and depraved, even if it’s just stupid — this will be the case until you go to rehab, at which time they’ll switch to pretending to be concerned. (No matter how many people sign that petition calling for you to be deported, you probably have nothing to worry about — President Obama would never willingly send that many gossip-industry jobs to Canada.) Also, keep in mind that as a white teenager who thinks he’s Lil Wayne, you’re a member of one of the few remaining minority groups almost no one feels bad about making fun of. You can’t be a sympathetic character in those leather pant-balloons.

But the other irony here is that your pretensions to cold-ass honkydom finally bore actual fruit last year. That singles-of-the-week compilation Journals, released in 2013 to thunderous indifference, was your best album yet. Some of the swaggy R&B moves kind of felt like the sonic equivalent of that adorable little My First Mustache you’ve been rocking in recent photos, but you took some risks and achieved a few true jams, like “What’s Hatnin’,” and “All Bad,” where you whisper, “I ain’t all bad” into the void like you’ve just finished crying all the way through Spring Breakers for the third time. It’s the first Justin Bieber album that sounds like an actual human being made it, and it’s the first Justin Bieber album that’s made me curious about what your next album will sound like.

Who knows — maybe all of this is happening for a reason. Maybe some strife is what your music needs. The Rolling Stones made Exile on Main St. in a basement studio — Keith Richards compared it to the Führerbunker — in a villa in the south of France, where they’d gone to hide from British tax collectors. Sly Stone made There’s a Riot Goin’ On while driving around L.A. in a Winnebago, gacked out of his mind. Both of those records ended up tapping into the fears and sorrows of their moment in an eerie and profound way. There’s something creatively energizing about a state of siege, and I kind of love the idea of you someday issuing a bulletin from the Bieberbunker that turns out to be the swagged-out-in-Room-1009 AutoTune-era Exile a generation of Beliebers didn’t know they needed. The difference between “entitled dipshit Justin Bieber” and “troubled genius Justin Bieber” is one classic album. But if you don’t feel like climbing that mountain just yet, deportation might be exactly the break you need. You could go back to Canada, get your head together, maybe even try something different professionally. At this point, I’m pretty sure you’re qualified to be mayor of Toronto.

Filed Under: Justin Bieber, celebrity, Music

Alex Pappademas is a staff writer for Grantland.