Justin Bieber is a polarizing figure. Perhaps that’s putting it lightly: He is both breathlessly idolized and vehemently loathed — some would argue in equal measure.
All this bodes well for “Purpose,” Bieber’s first album in nearly two years. He has more or less been going on an apology tour for his past behavior — though there have still naturally been a few snafus along the way.
However, in order to understand where Bieber is now, you have to look at where he’s been. Let’s take a look at the highs and lows of the “Baby” crooner as he changed from teen YouTube sensation to troubled comeback kid.
High: Just a “Baby”
It was the epitome of the new American Dream (even for a Canadian): Bieber’s single mother, Pattie Mallette, uploads videos of her young son onto YouTube to share his musical talents with family and friends; eventual manager Scooter Braun discovers said videos and tracks down the talented youngster; Bieber signs with Usher’s label at the ripe age of 13. While a few songs he released performed well in 2009, it wasn’t until “Baby,” his 2010 hit with Ludacris from his first album, “My World 2.0,” that Bieber rocketed off into the stratosphere. Though the record would eventually be broken, the accompanying music video became YouTube’s most-watched. The 15-year-old and his soon-to-be infamous sideswept bangs took over the pop world and sent young girls everywhere into a frenzy.
High: “Never Say Never”
Generally when a pop star has a documentary about themselves, it will be a self-serving mess — especially when said celebrity has barely reached puberty. But much to the chagrin of critics and general non-Beliebers, 2011’s “Never Say Never” had fairly good reviews (considering the subject matter) and grossed nearly $100 million worldwide. Though arguably a piece of pop-culture propaganda, the film was fairly endearing as it showed a young, obviously talented boy on his musical journey.
Low: He said what?
Days after “Never Say Never” was released, a freshly-coiffed Bieber received his first widely publicized pushback for comments he made in a Rolling Stone profile as his thoughts on abortion and rape made headlines. The most repeated nugget? “I really don’t believe in abortion. It’s like killing a baby.” And when asked about how he felt about abortion if it’s the result of rape, Bieber noted: “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason.” People became quite incensed at the 16-year-old’s statements.
High: He’ll be your boyfriend
Finally 18 years old, Bieber released “Boyfriend” in 2012. It was his most adult track to date. It became the second-highest debut on Billboard’s (fairly new at the time) Digital Songs chart. “Believe,” the album to which it belonged, reached Billboard’s No. 1 spot. The album was heralded as more adult, but mostly superficially so. As The Post’s music critic Chris Richards said in his review of the disc, “Instead of sounding grown up, Bieber’s new album… merely sounds big.”
Low: He wrote what about Anne Frank?
The facade of Bieberdom begins to crack on a much larger scale in 2013. A few months after his official breakup with years-long, on-and-off girlfriend Selena Gomez in November 2012, a series of unfortunate events kept the pint-sized singer’s name in the spotlight.
His first solo hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live” on Feb. 9 resulted in poor reviews. Cast member Bill Hader said that he “really didn’t enjoy having Justin Bieber around. He’s the only one who lived up to the reputation.”
On April 12, his unfortunate entry in the guestbook of the Anne Frank House fueled rage across the Internet. His words — “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber” — were called “narcissistic and self-serving.”
The rest of the year was not much better: There was the confiscation of Mally, Bieber’s pet capuchin, in Berlin. (In the immortal words of animal shelter spokeswoman Judith Brettmeister, “The monkey belongs to Germany now.”) And lest we forget, there was also: a video of Bieber attempting to punch a photographer in March; a tour bus raid in April; a booed speech while accepting a Billboard award in May; a lawsuit in June over a paparazzo who claimed Bieber punched him; a graffiti charge in November; and perhaps most memorably, the mop bucket-urinating incident in July that ended with an apology to former president Bill Clinton.
To top it all off, Bieber’s album, “Complete My Journals,” released in December, was neither critically nor commercially successful in its short-lived, two-week release. Post reviewer Allison Stewart summed it up well: Bieber ended “a bad year with a bad album.”
Low: Believe it — or not
Never say never — unless it’s to another movie idea. Barely two years after releasing his first documentary/concert film, “Justin Bieber’s Believe” debuted in December 2013 to poor reviews and dismal returns — $6.2 million total. In The Post’s one-and-a-half star review of the film, critic Stephanie Merry noted that “Bieber may technically be an adult, but he’s really just a kid, and one who’s been groomed by PR people to say certain things. It must be exhausting; he’s human, after all. If only the documentary would show it.”
Low: The (non-musical) hits keep coming
There was the “felony egging incident” in January that resulted in a misdemeanor; an arrest for DUI and drag-racing (also in January); the “arrogant and angry” deposition in March in regards to a bodyguard-paparazzo scuffle from the previous year; the resurfacing of a young Bieber using the n-word in two previously unseen videos in June; a charge of assault and dangerous driving after a crash in Canada in September; and a booing from the crowd after a striptease at “Fashion Rocks.” A small handful of other charges and incidents remained on Bieber’s record, though the aforementioned events made the biggest news splashes.
High: Boom, roasted
A surprise collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo proved fruitful in the musical endeavor for “Where Are Ü Now.” Released in February 2015, the song — the first Bieber had released in over a year — slowly but surely took off, its dancey, more electronic vibe opening up the singer to new fans.
And then, a few weeks later to the bewilderment of, well, everyone, Bieber asked to have Comedy Central roast him. The show was uncomfortable to watch, and an odd choice for the still-beleaguered singer. Comedian Hannibal Buress called it an “extremely transparent attempt to be more likable in the public eye,” a joke that was later cut from the broadcast. But Bieber’s attempt to lay bare all his issues seemed like a step in the right direction for the arguably directionless star. For the first time in a long time, Bieber seemed to acknowledge, and vaguely apologize for, his past indiscretions.
Still high off the success of “Where Are Ü Now,” Bieber released “What Do You Mean?” in August. Two days later, he performed the song in a medley on the MTV Video Music Awards, notably breaking down in tears at the end because, “I just wasn’t expecting them to support me in the way they did. Last time… I was at an awards show I was booed.” He became “the youngest male artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100” with the song, earning a Guinness World Record.
High: The age of apology
With the release of songs like “Sorry” and “I’ll Show You,” Bieber is being fairly transparent — again — in his attempt to get back into pop culture’s good graces. It seems to be working. “Sorry” (which many think is a response to Selena), is doing well both commercially and critically.
But it hasn’t all been roses. Bieber has made waves in the press three times in the last three weeks for walking out on a radio interview, canceling a show after performing one song and angrily knocking over a chair at a restaurant.
Whether or not Bieber can stay on a forward, positive path remains to be seen. But you know what they say: Never say never.