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Justin Bieber's YouTube docu-series reimagines the classic celebrity "tell-all"

Justin Bieber has been a pop sensation since he was 12 years old. His prepubescent yearning for the girl next door transformed as he aged and his music became more mature as he struggled to deal with the challenges common to childhood fame. In an often public way, Bieber has struggled with substance abuse and juvenile misconduct. At one point, he had to cancel a world tour. With his YouTube Originals series, Seasons, Bieber offers a deep-ish dive into that moment, and the rest of his life, in the form of a series of short documentaries.

Bringing the self-serious celebrity biography to the generation who grew up on vloggers and unboxing videos, Justin Bieber opens Seasons, by declaring: “I am excited to share my journey with you.” It begins where his life began, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. For the first time since the Never Say Never documentary in 2011, he revisited his childhood haunts, the places he spent time before his entire life became fodder for millions of fans all over the world.

Bieber comes across as a somewhat tragic figure — and that might be the documentary’s intention. This is aided by testimonials from those who know Bieber best. His manager, Scooter Braun details what it is like for someone to grow up in the spotlight as Bieber did, every moment dissected and analyzed by a social media that grew more sophisticated every year. His wife, Hailey Bieber emphasizes the journey too.

“He has gone through so much through these last four years since his album came out and he really came out on the other side of some really dark times,” Bieber says.

Episode one outlines why Bieber left the public eye as much as he could — and makes the case to abolish childhood superstardom — and episode two documents his return and recording of his upcoming album. It was during this episode that the docu-series finally tugged at a tenderness that felt more authentic than the goal of boosting Bieber’s album sales.

Technically just 15 minutes into the documentary, Bieber is shown in the studio, doing dances with his producer. Hailey is there, and sometimes so is Kendall Jenner. They seem to provide him with a sort of comfort and camaraderie that Justin didn’t seem to get earlier in his career. The tragic character outlined in earlier episodes is brought out again in full relief. He’s a perfectionist who has been locked into a life that includes the constant exploitation of his emotions and energy since he was a child. I don’t even like Bieber that much, but episode two even got me a bit choked up.

By episode three we’ve zoomed out to learn about the music that Bieber makes, and who he makes it with. Though it’s an interesting episode, it feels the most like it’s trying to sell albums, or appeal to the kind of Bieber fan who is in it for the technical aspects of the music, and not the cult of his personality. By episode four, we’ve careened back to the personal — the most personal — parts of Bieber’s life: his wife. “Since I was young, I always wanted to be like, married,” Bieber says. Later he adds, “I think she’s the only one that can put up with me, for real.”

It’s this final episode, currently only available if you’ve got a premium YouTube subscription, that is what seems at all revealing about Justin Bieber’s life. It’s known that the demands of his career have driven him to exhaustion and possibly worse. It’s known that childhood stardom warps the mind and should probably be abolished. But the material in the fourth episode is what people yearn to know. It’s partly why Justin has 126 million followers, and Hailey has nearly 25 million on Instagram. Everyone wants to see a fairy tale. Americans don’t have royalty, we have celebrity. Even though it also designed to add depth to their Calvin Klein ad campaign (which plays before each episode), it’s also the only part that reveals new footage and information to viewers.

And while the medium has certainly changed — celebrity documentaries used to be aired in primetime slots, then (like Bieber’s first documentary) released as feature-length films in movie theaters — the overall goal hasn’t. The YouTube Originals series wants to take you one step beyond what Bieber puts on social media, or what is written about in the news. And for a public trained to be fascinated by fame, this access to Bieber will certainly earn subscribers from their built-in viewership of millions. It’s a tactic that everyone else is trying too — Amazon Prime has Rihanna, Apple + has Billie Eilish, Netflix has Taylor Swift. Now all that is left to be determined is which fans are the hungriest for a behind the scenes look.