Arts·Point of View

Forget the gossip — Justin Bieber's public messiness is a very real reminder of the mid-20s struggle

Bieber's trials and tribulations show us that no one is exempt from how emotionally volatile growing up is.

Bieber's trials and tribulations show us that no one is exempt from how emotionally volatile growing up is

Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin. (Instagram/@justinbieber)

Despite finding himself on a conveyor belt of major life events, Justin Bieber is having a real time.

Which I don't think is very surprising. Back in September he married Hailey Baldwin shortly after purchasing property in Cambridge, Ontario, and is currently debuting pieces from (what I assume) is his upcoming clothing line. But this week, it was reported that he's "missing a feeling of happiness" despite his abundance of success and wealth. Recently, he was even seen putting his head in his hands and crying in public.

All of this is arguably par for course if you're Justin Bieber's age. After all, regardless of how much you think you have figured out, your 20s are a landmine of confusion, upset and desperately trying to latch on to something that feels real and permanent. Justin Bieber is all of us. Which makes watching whatever it is he's going through a little more understandable — and all the more upsetting.

When I was 24, I'd just dropped out of school for the second time and had moved from my parents' place in Cambridge to a small apartment in Toronto. Hell-bent on "making it" as a music journalist without the financial backing of a savings account or my family or the second job I should've sought out, I spent the following years on a crash course with rock bottom — especially after draining the remainder of my bank account in a matter of months and self-medicating with all the booze I could afford (which, regardless of how poor I was, I would find a way to buy). By 25, I'd moved back home. And thanks to patient parents and the friends I still (somehow) have, I sought out the mental health help I needed and stopped drinking by 27. But nearly ten years after the misery marathon began, I'm still processing the aftermath of flailing so dramatically and in such a self-destructive way.

Justin Bieber and model Hailey Baldwin. (

Of course, logical me knows that growing up is painful and terrible and that the trials and tribulations of figuring yourself out is awful for everyone. But emotional me still grapples with the myth that I should've known better; that I should've had the insight and perspective I finally have at 33 — as though insight and perspective aren't earned or don't come with age. And the thing is, I'm not a famous pop star. While I was blowing up my own life, the only people who noticed were the ones close enough to feel the aftershocks. When Justin Bieber makes a misstep, the entire world is on his ass.

It's easy to look at a young man like Justin and see an overt inability to acknowledge his own privilege, especially since he's a white, rich, young man. And it's frustrating to watch as he makes choices we ourselves wouldn't make (unless a whole lot of you reading this are super into face tattoos). But while it's important to bookmark the obvious advantages Bieber has over the rest of us, it's also important to identify their context. Being famous doesn't exempt anybody from the messiness of being young or the struggle that comes with trying to decide who you're going to be. Instead, it makes it even more difficult. While some of us have spent evenings crying in the comfort and privacy of our mice-ravaged apartments, his moments of vulnerability are captured and written about. His relationship is dissected. His haircuts are scrutinized. We form hypotheses about what types of drugs he could be on. It's a lot of pressure.

Being famous doesn't exempt anybody from the messiness of being young or the struggle that comes with trying to decide who you're going to be. Instead, it makes it even more difficult.- Anne T. Donahue

Of course, none of that exempts him from following the basic rules of human decency. Neither Bieber's own issues or the challenges of living under the gaze of millions means he gets to act out inappropriately or to revel in ignorance. But it is an added layer to the already complicated narrative of being a young adult trying to find his way. And because his movements and behaviours are tracked under such scrutiny (and you can't escape the Bieber-centric headlines), it puts us in a front row position to confront our own incarnations. Ultimately, by watching him flail through his mid-20s, we're automatically reminded of what we've done as young adults and of the people we used to be.

Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin reportedly spotted by fans as they strolled in downtown Kitchener, Ont. Sept. 27, 2018. (@BeiberFanClub)

It may be uncomfortable, but it's also important. It's easy for me to read about Justin Bieber's marriage or his tattoos or the claims that he's partying pretty hard and roll my eyes as if I know better because I'm older and wiser and not an internationally renowned pop icon. But I'm also a person who, at 24, was equally unsure. I was also sad and confused and trying desperately to assert my adulthood while still feeling very much like a little kid. And while watching his trajectory is painful (because it's never pretty to watch someone live through what will likely be referred to as their own personal dark ages), it's also a reality check.

Right now, I may think I've escaped my mid-20s and the horror show that accompanied them. But years from now, I will think the same of this age. Because that's the thing about growing up and confronting your past, your present and your impending mortality: you never stop learning or changing or maintaining the boundaries that help keep you alive. Even in the moments when merely being alive feels like a miracle.


Anne T. Donahue is a writer and person from Cambridge, Ontario. You can buy her first book, Nobody Cares, right now and wherever you typically buy them. She just asks that you read this piece first.