It’s been said that a man risks his marriage by coming home late—and may put it in even greater jeopardy by coming home early. Though he turns 25 next month, Justin Bieber believes that his late nights and their ruthlessly documented excesses are behind him. In their place, at this moment, the uncounted, uncertain hours of marriage stretch out, a red carpet hung like a tightrope.

It’s just before Christmas, and white, tinseled trees festoon the lobby of the hotel where for years Bieber has lived when he is in Los Angeles. His suite is not quite in keeping with the holiday spirit, piled instead with the giant suitcases that are hardly worth unpacking only to pack again, and there is nothing much to eat, except for potato chips and grapes (simultaneously, as he demonstrates later). Bieber has just returned from an abortive attempt at the Hoffman Process, a weeklong intensive group-therapy retreat with a devoted Hollywood following. He feels that he wasn’t ready. He rushed through the pre-Process questionnaire, and he wasn’t comfortable with the exercises. “There were these séances,” he explains. “Or not really séances but these traditions. They light candles, and it kind of freaked me out. You sit on a mat, you put a pillow down, and you beat your past out of it. I beat the fact that my mom was depressed a lot of my life and my dad has anger issues. Stuff that they passed on that I’m kind of mad they gave me.”

So Bieber left Hoffman’s Napa Valley campus and flew to Seattle, where he joined his wife, the model and TV presenter Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin). They had a meeting with a marriage counselor recommended by their good friend and pastor Judah Smith and then drove to Suncadia, the forest resort where the Smiths have a weekend home. “The thing is, marriage is very hard,” says Hailey. “That is the sentence you should lead with. It’s really effing hard.” The couple, who got married at a lower Manhattan courthouse last September after a twelve-week romance in the context of a nearly ten-year friendship, and who are still finalizing plans for a real wedding, sit side by side on the living room sofa in the oversize and expensive sweat outfits that represent their shared style. But the configuration shifts according to Justin’s restless maneuverings: No sooner has he settled in than he jumps up to do a little jig; he climbs over the sofa, squeezes between Hailey and the bolster and enfolds her in his arms; he spins his body around and puts his head in her lap, then jumps up again, bathes her neck in kisses, and whispers endearments (“Guess what? You’re amazing”) before jolting himself out of his reverie. “It’s hard for me to do just one thing at a time,” he says, his tooth-filled smile like a beacon.

Justin wants me to know that I am catching him at an especially vulnerable moment, and he is nervous. It’s been more than two years since he sat for a lengthy interview, around the release of his fourth (and most recent) studio album, Purpose. At the time he was in the middle of what many were calling an apology tour—a period in which he seemed to be asserting that he had put his now famously bad behavior behind him, coincident with a collection of songs that hit with critics, millennials, and men, not just the teenage girls who had propelled him to a decade of pop hegemony. But after performing more than 150 concerts in 40 countries in sixteen months for Purpose, in the summer of 2017 he canceled the final fourteen shows. “I got really depressed on tour,” he recalls. “I haven’t talked about this, and I’m still processing so much stuff that I haven’t talked about. I was lonely. I needed some time.”

It is impossible not to feel, in Justin’s presence, that he is still recovering from something—the fame whose price was his childhood, the mortification of a thousand magnified adolescent peccadilloes, an accumulated uncertainty about the attentions of those in his orbit—and these scars crowd the surface like his innumerable tattoos. Smith told me that when he first met Justin as a young teenager, he felt called upon to love and protect him. After an hour in his company, I heard some approximation of this call. Journalists have often described Justin as difficult to talk to, a criticism that seems unfair. The frequently interviewed become deft at pivots and obfuscations, and so Justin’s guilelessness can be disarming by comparison. He says just what comes to mind, no filters: “I like you”; “You’re stressing me out, bro.” He produces long, anxious exhalations, he gets the giggles, he apologizes if he’s making me nervous. “It’s been so hard for me to trust people,” he explains. “I’ve struggled with the feeling that people are using me or aren’t really there for me, and that writers are looking to get something out of me and then use it against me. One of the big things for me is trusting myself. I’ve made some bad decisions personally, and in relationships. Those mistakes have affected my confidence in my judgment. It’s been difficult for me even to trust Hailey.” He turns to her. “We’ve been working through stuff. And it’s great, right?”

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