Music

Telling Justin Bieber's story: a 'wildly time-consuming' effort, says docuseries director

Justin Bieber: Seasons is now the most-viewed YouTube original video ever.

Justin Bieber: Seasons is now the most-viewed YouTube original video ever

Justin Bieber's new YouTube Originals series, Justin Bieber: Seasons, shows the Canadian star gearing up for the release of his upcoming album, Changes, but also confronting his past struggles with mental health and addiction. (YouTube, graphic by CBC)

In 2017, Justin Bieber cancelled the remaining dates on his Purpose world tour. Since then, the Canadian singer has laid as low as a star of his status is able to — until now. This year marks the return of Bieber in a big way: a new album out on Feb. 14, his first tour since he unexpectedly ended his last one and a YouTube docuseries that premiered on Jan. 27. 

The first episode of that 10-part series, titled Justin Bieber: Seasons, has already made history as the most-viewed YouTube original video after getting 32.65 million views in its first week. (The previous record holder was YouTube's original comedy, Liza on Demand, which accumulated 25.4 million views.) That success, according to Seasons' director Michael D. Ratner, is all thanks to Bieber's willingness to be open and honest with what he's been going through for the past few years. 

"We had very similar visions for this project," Ratner explained to CBC Music, "and that vision was the truth." 

A lot of what is revealed in Seasons may not come as a surprise to those who have read the tabloid headlines in the interim years. From rumours of drug addictions to the paparazzi storm surrounding his wedding with model Hailey Baldwin (now Hailey Bieber), it's tough for Bieber to avoid the press, but this documentary is the first time he will tell his side of those stories. 

Now that Bieber is back in the studio finishing off Changes, his first album in five years, he's ready to take responsibility for his past, but most importantly forge his path forward. "He's in the best place he's been in his life," Ratner observed. 

Seasons shows you some of the work that led up to this healthy moment in Bieber's life. The pop star finally reveals the extent of his drug use, which included "sipping lean, popping pills, doing molly, shrooms, everything," as Bieber described in episode 5, "The Dark Season." 

"People don't know how serious it got," Bieber frustratingly tells the camera. "My security was coming into my room at night to check my pulse." The reason he finally quit, he says, was because he felt like he was dying. 

In that same episode, Bieber also reveals that he was diagnosed with Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr (commonly known as mono) and bouts of anxiety. Ratner says that 10-minute segment was one of the hardest for the singer to watch. "He was very uncomfortable," Ratner remembers, but said that Bieber ultimately wanted to put that footage out because "he thought it could help people. He thought by saying 'I went through tough times and I sought help and I'm doing better as a result,' that maybe other people would follow." One of Bieber's mottos, according to Ratner, is "There's power in weakness." 

While Ratner did contemplate a full-length feature at first — and truthfully still sees the 10-episode arc as a cohesive story when put together — he says YouTube made the most sense as the home for this project. After all, Bieber got his big break by posting home videos on the service a decade ago. "There's a nice homecoming story there," Ratner says.

But it also makes sense because Seasons exists somewhere between a full-fledged music documentary and a daily vlog, a genre within YouTube's universe where people document their day-to-day activities. While most of Seasons has been shot and edited already, its final episode is still a work in progress that will include footage of Bieber completing and releasing Changes, promoting it on shows like this weekend's Saturday Night Live, and gearing up for his upcoming tour.

"You're going to catch up all the way into real time," Ratner says, both excitedly but with a wince of stress because of the mountain of footage he still has to sort through in the coming days. "It's wildly time-consuming but it's worth it. It's already paying off with those crazy YouTube numbers."

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