Justin Bieber will no longer take photos with his fans – an announcement Beliebers probably never thought they would hear. Explaining his reasoning in a candid Instagram message, the Sorry singer says he feels like a "zoo animal" while being constantly hounded for photos by his devoted supporters.
This development, coming after Bieber walked around a Boston public park barefoot, crying on-stage at a Purpose tour show and a previous comment about depression has led fans to speculate about the star's welfare. Are Beliebers solely responsible for Bieber's quest for normality?
In his announcement regarding the photo ban on 10 May, Bieber, 22, said: "It has gotten to the point that people won't even say hi to me or recognise me as a human, I feel like a zoo animal, and I wanna be able to keep my sanity. I realise people will be disappointed but I don't owe anybody a picture."
Of course, catering to the requests of those who buy his music comes with the territory of being a celebrity, underneath the sheen of his superstar status Bieber is still ultimately a person. Body language and behaviour expert Judi James sympathises with Bieber feeling the pressure from fans who demand his attention every minute of every day.
James told IBTimes UK: "[One of] Bieber's problems is his fans. As much as viewers might want to they cannot use empathy to understand what he is going through right now. On the one hand he has a charmed life. Super-talented, good-looking and rich beyond a normal guy's dreams he will tend to provoke aspirational thoughts or even envy in his audiences. And we need to remember that a Bieber 'audience' is no longer just the ones queuing to fill seats at one of his concerts. Thanks to social media and intrusive press his audience are a constant in his life."
She continues: "When we see a 'normal' person suffering symptoms of anxiety, stress or pressure we use empathy to understand and help them. But Bieber will be well off the scale of our understanding, which will make it easier for some people to label him 'attention-seeking' or a 'spoiled brat' rather than feeling pity for this very isolated young man who seems to be doing his suffering in public."
According to James, Bieber suffers from child star syndrome due to his meteoric rise to global fame at the tender age of 13. It explains why he now desires to feel "human" again and live more of a normal life than he has in recent years. Explaining his transition from an unknown teen living in Toronto, Canada to a worldwide heartthrob, James says: "Justin would have been forced to change from the pretty, squeaky-clean kid to a guy immersed in rebellious teen behaviours at a speed that must have confused him more than his fans. Child stars might grow up in terms of looks and outrageous behaviours but their hot house upbringing means they often never mature properly in terms of emotional responses."
It is no secret that the key to Bieber's fame is his fans. After cancelling the meet-and-greets on his current tour and now banning photos, it is clear the singer is trying to create a demarcation between himself and Beliebers for the sake of his sanity. Likening their bond to a relationship, James says of the dynamic: "Someone like Bieber will have had their fans as the key constant in their lives.
"In terms of relationships they can be the one thing that they feel they can share and connect with. But when fans turn fickle and start to heckle the last emotional security can be undermined, which is probably why Bieber is currently talking to his fans like a date he has fallen out with."
Regardless, Beliebers still care about their icon. One fan tweeted after the photo ban announcement: "Oh Justin, we don't feel disappointed, we feel worried about your metal [sic] issue, we just want you to feel better," while another wrote to him: "I'm worried about you, I just want you to be okay, I hope you're feeling better. You are my everything."
Ultimately, James states that Bieber will only achieve normality if he gives up the spotlight. She explains: "His comment about no more pics was less about refusing to pose than about his follow-up comment about 'say hi or recognise me as human', which is a loud plea for normality. If Bieber really does need support and normality the world stage is probably the last place he is going to get it."