In April 2014, a petition to the White House calling for the deportation of Justin Bieber went viral. At the time, the young singer found himself embroiled in a slew of negative circumstances, including driving under the influence and allegations of drug use, that suggested his career might be on the verge of implosion.
Talk about a transformation.
Fast forward to 2016, and Bieber is once again on top of the world. The singer has won his first Grammy, embarked on a tour for his fourth album that spans more than 100 cities around the globe and has at least two chart-topping singles this year. Meanwhile, the abundance of bad Bieber press hasn't done much to his bank account: The singer has a net worth of an estimated $200 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. He also topped Forbes' list of highest-earning celebrities under 30 in 2014, taking in an estimated $80 million over a one-year period.
How did Bieber transform his brand so dramatically, regaining much of the music world's respect, in less than a year? Not unlike a big company that struggles after a big blunder, the singer, who just turned 22 in March, essentially went through a rebranding.
"For most stars, as their fan base matures so does their entertainment choices," said Jim Joseph, Americas president of Cohn & Wolfe Public Relations, adding that like most troubled childhood stars, he needed to effect a major transformation to stay relevant in the ever-changing world of popular culture.
"He needed to mature to hang onto his own fan base and to grow beyond it," Jospeh added. "The stakes are much higher as an adult and he needed to prove his worth in entertainment in order to stay current."
After being discovered at age 13 on YouTube, Bieber spent his teenage years under constant public scrutiny. As the young impresario got older, the negative headlines appeared to multiply: Bieber's DUI arrest, racist jokes and the insulting of former President Bill Clinton capped a rough stretch that the singer himself described as turbulent. In a November 2015 interview with Billboard, Bieber said he was close to allowing his fame to "destroy" him.
Bieber is not shy about his personal life, sharing selfies and behind the scenes shots to his more than 66 million Instagram followers (more than any other male on Instagram) and more than 80 million Twitter followers. However, he ruffled feathers recently by declaring he wouldn't take pictures with fans anymore, as part of a newfound effort to create a zone of privacy around himself. According to observers, that is key to helping keep the focus on what's most important: Bieber's music.
"People have respected his music of late and that's helped him in his transformation," Joseph said. "If his 'product' wasn't any good, the consuming public wouldn't accept his transformed brand."
His "Purpose" album, released last November, sold more than 1 million copies within weeks of its release. Last year, he was one of only several artists (Including Adele and Drake) to reach 1 million album sales.
Bieber's rejuvenated brand has helped him sell out tours across North America and Europe through November, when he's scheduled to complete 114 shows. His second tour, "Believe," earned nearly $70 million in ticket sales from only 67 shows. Throughout his travails, the Canadian-born singer has never lost appeal among his core group of supporters.
"Justin Bieber's personal brand has been carefully crafted to appeal to his most passionate supporters — namely, teens and young women," wrote J.W. Dicks, a personal branding expert, in a recent blog post.
"His appeal cuts across all demographics, but Bieber's persona has been perfected to the point that it's hard to find a teen girl who isn't head over heels for him. By positioning himself as the ideal 'product' for his target market, Bieber was able to create such a sensation that the rest of society was forced to take note," Dicks said. "The lesson here is simple but critically important: give your target market what they want, and the rest will take care of itself."
Bieber has been careful to avoid controversy this year, but has demonstrated an ability to capture the public's imagination.
"He's been able to keep himself in the news, for better or worse, which shows a relevance," Joseph said. "He's also been open about his public life, which makes him more believable and it hasn't hurt that he's a good-looking guy and he's not afraid to show off."
In 2016, the scrutiny has been on his maturing music. Bieber is fresh off his first Grammy for one of his latest singles, "Where Are U Now," after being nominated twice before. The track, a collaboration with dance duo Skrillex and Diplo, helped him expand his core fan base.
"By borrowing brand equity from other relevant (and adult) stars, he's been able to increase his music credentials," Joseph said. "He's buying their fan base in the process as well. It's a very smart way to transition your own brand by using another one," he said.