Backstage at Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, Justin Bieber is lounging in a dressing room, quietly nursing a cold. Despite it being a balmy afternoon in Burbank, Calif., he’s at the tail end of a phlegmy, throat-clearing cough that rattles his slight frame like a pair of maracas. His eyes, brown and Keane-painting wide, are heavy. He’d much rather be under the covers than under the probing watch of this reporter. So, he coughs again and wipes a bit of spittle from his perfect pout. It’s hard to believe that moments earlier he was driving the Ellen audience into screaming, hip-swiveling hysterics with “Boyfriend,” the first single from his latest album, Believe.
“You can’t let it show,” Bieber says, sounding like a seasoned performer. “You have to be a professional.” While most kids his age are readying themselves for beer binges and other college high jinks, pop’s reigning prince is preparing for more money, minimal problems. No time for sick days and even less time for sleep. A new album, a worldwide tour, dozens of businesses and investments and a longtime girlfriend—Selena Gomez, if you’ve been in a coma—all require his full attention.