LOS ANGELES — For more than a year, Justin Bieber has had more tabloid hits than Billboard hits: The singer’s music career has taken a backseat to his wild antics.
Bieber’s arrest Thursday on a DUI charge is another sign of the crazy lifestyle that has taken over the 19-year-old pop singer’s image – but a more serious one given the gravity of his charges. Authorities say Bieber failed a field sobriety test early Thursday and is facing driving under the influence charges after driving nearly twice the speed limit on a Miami Beach street. Police said he also resisted the arrest and smelled of alcohol.
After he was charged, some industry watchers were hesitant to talk about the Canadian-born singer’s woes and what it would mean to his imploding career.
Rapper Macklemore, 30, was sympathetic. He said that if he had become a mainstream musician when he was Bieber’s age, people would also see his struggles.
“I think it’s challenging for anybody to have your life be a spectacle and to be challenged and critiqued and judged. And it’s definitely hard if you’ve never had any normalcy in your adult life or in your teenage life,” said Macklemore, who has struggled with substance abuse.
The new year kicked off in dramatic fashion for Bieber: Detectives searched his California home looking for surveillance footage that might serve as evidence that the singer was involved in an egg-tossing vandalism case that caused thousands of dollars in damage to a neighbor’s home. The investigation garnered more attention than his album release, which happened just days earlier.
Journals was released in December and has had limited success: Some singles have hit the Top 40 thanks to digital sales. But it’s miles away from the phenomenal chart-topping success he enjoyed when he debuted as a cherub-faced, soft-voiced teenager in 2009. Since his arrival onto the music scene, he has released platinum albums – five of which have debuted at No. 1 – and has clocked hit single after hit single, from Baby to Boyfriend. His full-length 2010 debut, My World 2.0, was nominated for two Grammy Awards, including best pop vocal album and best new artist.
Bieber hasn’t had that kind of success for a while.
His second 3-D film, Justin Bieber’s Believe, flopped when it debuted in December and grossed just $3.1 million during its first three days around the Christmas holiday. In comparison, his 2011 film, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, grossed $12.4 million on its opening day and $29.5 million in its opening weekend.
He has also lost edge on stage during his recent tour. At a stop in New Jersey in August, he was sluggish and appeared to lip sync throughout the night. He didn’t dance as strongly as he has in the past, and he seemed to be uninterested at times.
He has remained in the headlines, though – for all the wrong reasons. Last year represented a litany of lows, from clashing with a paparazzo to fainting at a show to being photographed smoking marijuana. German authorities charged him thousands of dollars after he abandoned a pet monkey that they seized from him for failing to have proper vaccination papers; the singer had to apologize to Bill Clinton after cursing the former president and spraying his photo with cleaning fluid in a New York City restaurant kitchen.
In an interview in December, Usher, Bieber’s mentor, said his troubles are part of his maturation.
“The beautiful part about it is that those that are invested in a long-term story, you understand that there are peaks and valleys in every person’s life some,” the R&B singer said. “Unfortunately the reality is he has to live with a camera in front of him, but what he chooses to do on or off camera is analyzed or scrutinized in some off way.”
As a result of the charges, Bieber could lose his driver’s license for a year and could face a fine up to $1,000 and 50 hours of community service. The ramifications for his career are less clear.
There have been plenty of music stars who have been entwined in far more serious legal trouble or scandal and have rebounded thanks to the power of a hit single and/or an image makeover.
While his fan base may be dwindling, he still has key support from those in the music industry.
“I don’t know Justin and I don’t know what he’s involved in. All I know is if drugs are involved and I hope they are not, they’re lethal,” music mogul Clive Davis said Thursday after Bieber’s arrest. “He’s a young man with strong talent that has really found an audience, so I’m sure we wish him well.”
“I guess he could just focus on his career most of all,” added Jennifer Hudson, sitting next to Davis. “All we can do is wish him the best, you know. He’ll find his way.”