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10 Years Of Justin Bieber: Fans Reflect On How Beliebing Changed Their Lives

'Looking back at it now, I’m like, 'Wow''

By Elizabeth de Luna

One of Justin Bieber's biggest hits asks "Where Are Ü Now?," a question that feels timely today as the singer celebrates a decade of pop stardom with the release of a greatest hits album, The Best. Over the last 10 years, Bieber has broken records, countless hearts and, yes, several laws. But he’s also found solace in religion and family and is happily married. The Bieber of 2019 has grown up, and so have his fans. We wanted to know, where are they now?

In 2009, Beliebers were the pioneers of online stanning culture and paired in-person community organizing with digital savvy. They led mass physical album buyouts while setting records for streaming and zealously adopted early forms of online engagement. By 2010, they were trending Bieber-related hashtags daily on Twitter, prompting the platform to alter its trending hashtag algorithm in an attempt to diversify the topics that appeared there (though Beliebers remained unbothered and quickly trended "Bustin Jieber" instead).

We talked to five current and past Beliebers about those first few years, whether they still consider themselves fans today, and what they're up to now. See what they had to say about buyouts, "Baby," and The Biebz below.

Maya, 22

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Favorite Justin Bieber Song: "Stuck In The Moment"

Courtesy of Maya

Maya today, age 22

MTV News: What is your first memory of Justin Bieber?

Maya: I remember watching a YouTube video that someone had embedded on their MySpace page of his "With You" cover. From there, I watched his YouTube videos and added him as a friend on MySpace and followed him on Twitter... He actually ended up following me in March 2010 after months of begging. He still follows me, and I always forget. I sometimes DM him just because I can and I know he won’t see them. In high school I DM'd him "please go to prom with me." [Laughs]

MTV News: When would you would you say you became a Belieber?

Maya: I saw on Justin's MySpace events that he'd be doing a concert with a local radio station at Fourth Street Live! in Louisville. This was September 2009 and, OK, listen to this lineup: Justin Bieber, Boys Like Girls, Push Play, Jay Sean, and Jessie James... for $5! He was headlining, and it was chaos. As soon as he went on, it was clear that that's who everyone was there for. It sold out and I had a soccer game just before, so my dad drove us from soccer straight to the concert. Justin played "One Time," "Bigger," and "One Less Lonely Girl."

Courtesy of Maya

Maya and a friend at the 4th Street Live! concert, with homemade shirts

MTV News: What a nice dad you have!

Maya: My parents were both super supportive, especially my dad. He's a professor at a community college, so whenever he introduces himself to his classes he likes to brag, "I went with my daughter to see The Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber way back when, before they were big."

MTV News: How long would you say you were a hardcore Belieber?

Maya: I probably was into him until Purpose. I still love him, of course, but I got into One Direction, and now I just support smaller bands.

MTV News: What do you do now?

Maya: I just graduated with a degree in Recording Industry Management and Music Business and want to go into VIP experiences.

Courtesy of Maya

A homemade collage of Maya with the My World 2.0 album and Bieber with the same album, posted to her Kentucky street team MySpace page

MTV News: Do you think being a fan of Justin contributed to your career?

Maya: Definitely. I just remember following how Scooter Braun [Justin's manager] managed artists and thought it was cool that the head of Bieber Army [a fan Twitter account] was hired to do digital marketing for SB Projects [Braun's company]. A lot of people in the fandom have ended up going into digital media jobs and touring.

I was so cringey... I'm just thinking about how much stuff I did. When My World came out I made a shirt that said "Bieber Day" in bubble paint and wore it to school to promote the album. And when My World 2.0 came out and they made a CD booklet that was a collage of fans faces, I submitted my photo and it got on the cover. I created a Justin Bieber "street team" for Kentucky on MySpace, and I was just a kid! I wanted to organize a buyout, but I was a poor 12-year-old so I just updated the page with TV appearances and his discography. Looking back at it now, I'm like, "Wow." It makes sense that I got the degree I did. I was a kid trying to promote an artist — and that's still what I want to do!

Ida, 23

Oslo, Norway

Favorite Justin Bieber Song: "All Around the World"

Courtesy of Ida

Ida, age 23, on a trip to Seoul, South Korea

MTV News: What is your first memory of Justin Bieber?

Ida: It was lunch break or recess in middle school. The girl who would later become one of my best friends showed me "Love Me" on her iPod Touch because it sampled "Lovefool" by The Cardigans, which was a song we already knew. The first thing I said upon hearing his voice was, "Who is this girl?" My friend got really offended and corrected me. I then listened to "One Less Lonely Girl," which is one of the first things I remember doing on my way to becoming a Belieber.

MTV News: Do you consider yourself a Belieber still?

Ida: No.

MTV News: Why not, when did you decide that?

Ida: When I met him.

MTV News: Get out!

Ida: Yep! It was his Believe tour in April 2013 and my friend and I got Diamond Circle tickets. She had joined a contest on BieberFever.com where could be entered to win a meet and greet with Justin if you submitted a photo of yourself with lots of Bieber merch. She happened to check her phone while we were waiting for the concert to start and we started screaming, "We're meeting Justin Bieber!" and every Belieber around us was so excited for us. We had an amazing concert. Bieber has amazing stage presence, so it's fun to see him in concert — I will always say that.

The next day was the meet and greet and I was so nervous. I see him, I walk up to him, and I say, "Hi, Justin!" and he looks at me like he would rather be dead than say hi to me. I remember that so vividly that I got this really weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. Before we could say anything else to him, security started to push us out. We tried saying goodbye and he didn’t even acknowledge us or smile in the picture. I did think it was kind of sweet that he held my hand behind one of my friend's backs in the photo we took, but it sort of felt like an automatic reaction to make me feel like he cared.

Courtesy of Ida

Ida, second from the right, at her meet and greet with Bieber

Anyway, it doesn't sound as bad when I say it out loud, but as a person who had been a fan of him for over three years, it just wasn't the best feeling. That night we went to see him in concert again, and I barely remember it because we just didn't have as much fun. That was April 18, 2013 and by the time June 2013 came around, I was already an EXO-L [a fan of K-pop group EXO].

It was kind of sad, but that was a nice way to end it. He still follows me on Twitter, which is funny. He is my oldest mutual on Twitter! He retweeted me once, so I had done everything a Belieber could want — I was followed by him, retweeted by him, saw him in concert, and met him. Everything except being the One Less Lonely Girl!

MTV News: What were some of the craziest things you did as a Belieber?

Ida: When I was 15, me and my best friend at the time made the first Bieber parade in Norway. The girl who had created the first Bieber parade ever was from Denmark, and I knew her and asked if we could do the same thing in Norway. And me being 15 years old, we just did it; we didn't ask the police. There is a statue in front of the Norwegian palace in Oslo, and we decided we would meet there. The soldiers standing guard literally told us several times not to stand there, and we did it anyway. I was barely allowed to be in Oslo alone, and my friend and I were hosting an event! We also made a street team and used the printer at our school to print posters before putting them up everywhere. My friend and I did a buyout of Under the Mistletoe and gave the albums to the Oslo University Hospital. And then I also saw Justin in the amazing chaos that was May 30th, 2012 on the roof of the Oslo Opera House.

Courtesy of Ida

Ida, front right in the blue Converse sneakers, at the Justin Bieber parade she organized in Oslo

MTV News: There’s an incredible overhead shot of the scene that day!

Ida: Exactly! We decided we were going to go to the airport and wait for him to show up. A friend had a camera crew following her for an NRK (Norway’s public broadcaster) show called Normal Madness the entire day. We waited overnight and when he landed he didn’t come through either of the VIP exits we were waiting at, so there's a nice recorded shot of me swearing because we had been given the wrong information about where he'd be.

By this time I was feeling pretty ill, but we still went to the Opera House. They weren't letting anyone else onto the roof to watch him perform, and I was so sick that I fainted in line. That gave me this amazing idea for a lie. I walked right up to the security guard and told him that we were with that friend who was filming a documentary but had to stay back because I was not feeling well. We were supposed to meet them on the roof. He didn't look convinced so I whipped out my phone and, even though I didn’t have the number of the girl being filmed, I still said, "I can call them right now and confirm that we are part of the team." And he let us onto the roof! I was so intense as a Belieber. That same day, a pap offered us $2300 to tell them where Justin was and we refused to tell him. I went home and it turned out that I had bronchitis for those two days.

MTV News: How has being a Belieber affected who you are today?

Ida: I learned to speak English by being a fan of Justin Bieber. We learn English in school in Norway, but I talked to people on Twitter every day when I became a Belieber. I went from being an average student in English to getting top grades because I was speaking English every day, just talking about what I loved.

Khoi, 22

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Favorite Justin Bieber Song: "Favorite Girl"

Courtesy of Khoi

Khoi today, age 22

MTV News: What is your first memory of Justin Bieber?

Khoi: I was in Germany, and my cousin showed me the song "One Time" on her phone. I remember immediately loving the song, even though I recall being a hater before that. I watched him on YouTube, busking in front of the Avon Theatre, at least a hundred times.

MTV News: When did you start your Justin Bieber fan Tumblr?

Khoi: It must have been around that time. I was already into Photoshop and making GIFs and he had a lot of content, interviews, etc., to work with. I would make GIFs and create promo photos. I had a pretty great URL (thebiebs.tumblr.com) and, at my peak, I had 11,000 followers!

MTV News: Would you say you’re still a Belieber? Why or why not?

Khoi: I wouldn’t say I'm not, because whenever he plays a gig in Rotterdam I always go, but around 17 or 18, I stopped being so into him. This was around the time that he and Selena [Gomez] broke up and he went into a downward spiral. He had to appear in court and had a mugshot and that’s when I was like, "I can't do this anymore."

For five years, I protected him. I would always stick up for him whenever anyone talked trash about him. Even when he was doing bad things, I could still make very good excuses for him. I think I saw him as a friend. I'd say, "You only see what they say about him on the news, you don’t know him." Not that I knew him, but I felt like I did. I knew the names of his best friend, of his mom, of his grandparents, of his dog. I felt like they didn't know the Justin I knew and the Justin I knew was so much better than anything that was ever portrayed on the news.

MTV News: What's your best memory from being a Belieber?

Khoi: I remember him retweeting and following me on Twitter and that was such a big deal. That was on July 8, 2013, and I used to think about that date whenever I was upset because it made me so happy. It was 2 a.m. and I started screaming and my parents woke up and asked me what was going on. When they discovered why I was shrieking, they were like, "Are you kidding me?"

MTV News: What did your parents think?

Khoi: I think they were kind of worried about me because I would spend so much time on the internet. I would do Skype sessions with a few girls from the Netherlands, the Philippines, and America. I remember having long talks about how he was super misunderstood, how he was 12 when he got famous, and how he obviously had to learn to grow up coping with the fame. I don't think my parents understood why I was talking to so many people around the world or how big of a fan I was.

Courtesy of Khoi

Khoi in her room with Bieber posters. At the peak of her devotion, there were 40 posters on her walls.

MTV News: When you look back on that time, what do you think of yourself?

Khoi: I definitely could have been less obnoxious about Justin Bieber, but I do remember that time very fondly because I really found a sense of community I hadn't had before. I clicked with people who I would have never met otherwise. I grew up in a small town in the Netherlands, and I'm Vietnamese and there weren't many Asian people where I grew up, so to have that sense of community was a really good time.

In general, I was very in the Justin Bieber bubble. I remember getting in a fight with a friend because I could remember Justin Bieber’s birthday and not hers. And I remember her being significantly upset about it and back then, I couldn't understand why. In hindsight, it's super weird that I would know a celebrity’s birthday and the time he was born but not when one of my best friend's birthday was.

MTV News: What are you up to now?

Khoi: I'm doing a BA in International Communication and Media at a university here in Rotterdam. I'm really interested in pop culture and how things are portrayed in the media and want to go into marketing... In a way, always wanting to be up to date about all things Justin helped me figure out that I was really interested in popular culture and made me want to apply for this degree.

Lama, 20

Saudi Arabia

Favorite Justin Bieber Song: "Down to Earth"

Courtesy of Lama

Lama today, age 20

MTV News: What is your first memory of Justin Bieber?

Lama: Everyone was talking about him, and I remember I pulled up YouTube on my mom's computer to listen to "One Time." Then I started looking at his older videos. I really liked his music and I still remember most of the lyrics to the My World album. I remember he always talked about his mother and how much he loved her and that was one of the things that made me really like him and gave him points with my mom, too. Pretty quickly I changed my Twitter account to "LamaBieber" with a couple of random numbers at the end.

MTV News: Did you have friends who were Beliebers?

Lama: I befriended a lot of people during that time and I actually met one of my best friends before I actually knew her. She had a Bieber fan account and said she was Saudi, and there weren't many Saudi Beliebers, so it was really fun to find another one. My friend group was obsessed with Justin. That was kind of our thing, being Beliebers. I remember once on his birthday, we got him a cake even though we knew he'd never see it.

Courtesy of Lama

A photo taken at the May 2013 concert that Lama attended

MTV News: What's different about being a Saudi Belieber?

Lama: We didn't have as much opportunity in terms of merchandise and movies because back then Saudi Arabia was really behind on media. Physical albums would arrive months after their release. We didn't have a cinema until recently so when his movie came out, I needed to travel to see it. I've never purchased something Bieber-related in Saudi Arabia. Whenever my family traveled and saw something Bieber-related them would buy it for me. It was just harder to be a fan, and we got all of our info from Twitter.

MTV News: Would you consider yourself a Belieber still?

Lama: No. The first experience that annoyed me was when Justin came to perform in Dubai in May 2013 and was three hours late. I was alone, it was really hot, and I was really tired because we were standing. There were so many people who came from Saudi Arabia to see him. It was a very exhausting experience for us, and he issued no apology... I started seeing photos of him and realized I didn't feel the same way anymore.

MTV News: How did being a Belieber shape who you are now?

Lama: When I look back at what I did, I think some of it was cute, but overall I am embarrassed by it. But at the same time, it was fun and a lot of it helped shaped my childhood. When I was in middle school I remember writing a lot of essays about Justin Bieber and I was into Tumblr and would write there, too. I also used to read a lot of fiction. Of course, I read Danger.

MTV News: What's that?

Lama: It was one of the most popular fanfictions of Justin Bieber at the time. Now when I think about it, the story line was kind of problematic — Justin was a bad person and he had killed people. One girl witnessed one of his murders and he stopped her to make sure she didn’t say anything and then took her to meet his friends… I can't remember the rest, but I do remember the author’s name, JaileyOverboard. "Jailey" — like Justin and Miley Cyrus. She was really popular at the time and even made sequels to Danger, though I never read any of them. Anyway, I am studying English Literature so it's possible that my reading and writing as a Belieber affected that.

Courtesy of Lama

Lama's birthday cake, with cake toppers in her and Justin Bieber's likenesses

MTV News: Anything else you'd like to add about your time as a Belieber?

Lama: My friend and I had a Twitter account called "BieberClimax," but we had no idea what that meant. I was pretty upset when she deleted it because we had Hailey Baldwin's follow, and even Tom Cruise and Britney Spears. It was so weird! Hailey used to DM us because my friend was her first hardcore stan. She used to write to us to ask about our days, stuff like that. It's so funny to think that she's married to Justin now.

Reece, 21

Manila, Philippines

Favorite Justin Bieber Song: "Be Alright"

Courtesy of Reece

Reece today, age 21

MTV News: What is your first memory of Justin Bieber?

Reece: I was at my friend's house and MTV was on and they started playing "One Time." I thought Justin was handsome and the song was so catchy — it was really a bop in 2009. I started looking him up and watching his YouTube videos and from then on I knew I was going to be a Belieber for a long time. And here I am, still a Belieber.

MTV News: How did you keep up with Justin from the Philippines?

Reece: I pretty much grew up with Justin through the screen of my laptop. Whenever he announced that he was going to release new music at a certain time, I would literally sit in front of my laptop, waiting, counting down the time with him. Being on the other side of the world from him, I followed him through his social media and interviews.

Whenever he released an album, I had to make sure that I got my hands on the physical copy. When I had a daily allowance of 100 pesos for lunch, I would always save up 50 pesos every day so that at the end of two weeks I could have enough to buy the album. For iTunes, I had to ask my mom to buy it for me since it was her credit card. My family and my mom were definitely very supportive when it comes to me fangirling. They saw how inspired I was to save money and saving money young is considered a valuable trait here. I think Justin was really a great influence on me.

MTV News: Have you ever seen him in concert?

Reece: The first and last time I saw him perform was a small concert when I was 12. It's hard for Asian countries, especially the Philippines, to hold a concert for that big of an artist so it really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tickets are expensive, and the Philippines is a third world country.

Courtesy of Reece

Reece holding her Justin Bieber concert ticket, age 12

MTV News: What's one of your favorite things about being a Belieber?

Reece: One of my most memorable experiences as a Belieber was meeting other people who shared the same love for him and his music. For example, when he released Purpose, I remember there was a fan gathering here through @JPhilippines, the official fan club here in the Philippines. Also, my friendship with one of my good friends was strengthened by being co-fangirls. At one point we started posting covers of Justin's songs to YouTube and then started writing our own songs. We were inspired by him and wanted to do our own music as well. He had a really big impact on our lives back then.

MTV News: At some point, there was a video accusing him of spitting on fans. What did you think about that?

Reece: I had a friend who moved to Canada who once saw Justin walking down the street, mingling with fans. He said he was really approachable and friendly with fans, and that’s what made me really love him not as an artist but as a person in general. His personality was really down to earth and loving with the fans, and he has a really strong relationship with the fans even now. He knows that he has us.

Of course, I was shocked when he acted that way. I can't say that I wasn't disappointed, but that was when I really proved to myself that I was a true fan. I stayed by his side during those times. Here in the Philippines, there were many who left the fandom. As a fan since 2009, I was confident that he would overcome that phase. When he started going to church, I was really proud of him. He started to share how God played a part in turning him into a better person and I said to myself "Wow, I am so glad that I stayed despite all those mistakes that he made."

MTV News: What are you up to now?

Reece: I'm a fresh graduate and just got my first job two weeks ago with a concert production company, mainly because of how much I loved going to concerts when I was young. There's something about concerts that really makes my heart feel alive and that made me want to pursue a career in it. The thrill and the feeling of being in an arena with your favorite artist, seeing them live, that's really fulfilling.

MTV News: When you look back at your days as a hardcore Belieber, what do you think?

Reece: Being a Belieber made my life colorful. Being a fangirl in general, and being a fan of Justin, was really a whirlwind of emotions and experiences — getting to see him at his best and his worst and sharing those experiences with him and with other Beliebers. When I look back, the only thing I can remember is that it was pure happiness. Talking to you, it's all coming back to me — the thrill and excitement when you get your new album, when he releases new music, and especially when it's your first time to see him in concert and you hear him perform live. It's one of the most fulfilling experiences there has to be for me, and it's had a very positive and lasting effect on me.