In recent months, Justin Bieber has taken steps to protect his privacy and mental health. In March, the Purpose singer canceled all future meet-and-greets on his world tour. He made the announcement on Instagram, where he revealed that the meet-and-greets typically left him feeling "mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression."
Two months later, after setting the Internet abuzz with a tiny face tattoo, he decreed that he was "done" taking pictures with fans. "It has gotten to the point that people won’t even say hi to me or recognize me as a human," he wrote on Instagram. "I feel like a zoo animal, and I wanna be able to keep my sanity."
Bieber has been a source of tabloid fodder since he broke through at just 15 years old with the release of his multiplatinum debut, My World 2.0. Just ask People, just one of many celeb mags that claims on any given day to know the "truth behind Justin Bieber's strange behavior." But to be completely honest, the so-called truth behind the singer's behavior is probably much simpler: He's coming of age in the world's most obnoxious fishbowl.
"He loves his fans more than any artist I've seen," Chu told me. "I think that's why he's survived. And at the same time, those things can eat away at you. So I feel for him as a human being. It's not a normal way to live.
"The fact that he's survived and has come out the other end ... it's pretty much a miracle," Chu added of the 22-year-old. "I admire that about him. What I see is someone who's finding himself along the way. Every day, he understands more of himself and how he can cope and get through these things."
After being discovered on YouTube, the Biebs dropped his debut single, "One Time," back in 2009, effectively grabbing and holding onto the public spotlight ever since. The photos. The smiling. The meet-and-greets. The performing. The game. The Beliebers. It's exhausting just thinking about a day in the life of one of the world's biggest pop stars. For Chu -- who directed two Bieber-focused documentaries, 2011's Never Say Never and its 2013 followup, Believe -- that's initially what had drawn him to his young subject.
"I didn't make two Justin Bieber movies just for fun," Chu said. "I think in that first movie I got to know him as a human being. He was like my little brother, and I never had a little brother. I saw what we can do to a kid like that ... I could see it in his eyes that he was just a young kid, and I don't wish that upon anyone. When that becomes a tradition in our society, that's not something wrong with all these kids, that's something wrong with us.
"When I see people grabbing him, that scares me. The amount of lies that get reported are also really damaging to these kids as well. The amount of people who try to cheat them ... you become distrustful."
It's no surprise that things are often misconstrued in the press. Talking to Chu, it became apparent that there are things that we will never understand about being subjected to that level of fame at a young age. Yes, Bieber was deprived of a real childhood, but what's even more concerning for the director is the way we feel ownership over him. Even something as personal as his tattoos are analyzed and publicly scrutinized.
Chu recalled asking Bieber about his tattoos while they were filming Believe. "I asked him, 'Why do you want all of these tattoos right now? You're so young.' And he said, 'Jon, you and Scooter [Braun] have a different idea of what tattoos are. To me, I remember being a kid, being in my father's arms, and looking at his tattoos.' And his father had the same tattoos. He said, 'For me, it's a family thing. It's a history thing. And you guys don't get that.'"
"Maybe he's right, I don't know, but I had never thought of it like that," Chu admitted. "Sometimes, we see him as one thing -- the thing that we want him to be, and the thing we want to tear down. And that affects him."
The director doesn't dismiss the possibility of coming back to helm a third doc in the Bieber saga. After all, it's not like there isn't an abundance of material to work with. "We talk about it all the time, figuring out how to continue the journey," Chu said. But if there's one thing he's truly certain about, it's that Bieber's passion for music will help him weather the storms.
"He writes music every day of his life," Chu said. "He has folders from every city he goes to, and he has songs in every single one. When I see someone like that, someone who's obsessed with [his] craft, [he's] going to survive whether people buy the album or not."