Justin Bieber’s YouTube Originals series Justin Bieber: Seasons gives Beliebers an all-access look into the singer’s life.
The 10-episode documentary series, directed by Michael D. Ratner, chronicles the making of Bieber’s first album in four years and gives a raw and intimate look into his process of creating new music.
Justin Bieber: Seasons reveals the motivation for his new album told through the lens of his closest friends, collaborators and, of course, Bieber himself.
The series also promises to share never-before-seen footage of his wedding to his wife, Hailey Bieber, and his day-to-day life alongside the people in his inner circle.
Bieber’s YouTube Originals docuseries has already broken one of the streaming platform’s biggest records.
In only its first week, the debut episode of the 10-part series became the most-watched YouTube Originals premiere to date, pulling in more than 32.65 million views.
The Yummy singer, 25, broke another YouTube record last Wednesday by becoming the first musician on the platform ever to surpass 50 million subscribers.
Bieber got his start on YouTube in 2007 under the username “kidrauhl.” He posted videos of himself performing music covers in the streets of Stratford, Ont., before eventually being discovered by his longtime manager Scooter Braun.
Global News sat down with Ratner in Toronto to talk about directing the YouTube series and his time working with Bieber.
Global News: How did this collaboration with Justin Bieber come about?
Ratner: About… you know you’re in Canada when (laughing). I was working on another music anthology series with SB projects. Scooter Braun said to me, you need to check out this footage of Justin and I was just blown away by his maturity. It was this footage of Justin back working at his craft, he was putting together Changes. I just thought what an opportunity there was and such potential to go and make a great series with the narrative tissue being lead up to the album, and the album-making process. What really would make it special and set it apart was if he was going to go and use it as an opportunity to talk about how he got there to that moment in time and talked about this chapter of his life that so many, so many people are interested in it. He has been pretty private … and if he was going to use that as a vehicle to tell his real story, not with a laundry list of restrictions. I thought we could make something quite impactful and special.
They put me in a room with him and we sort of hit it off from there. Over many months, we gained trust and the process resulted in the series now officially being the most viewed original series that YouTube’s ever done.
Did you feel a lot of pressure as director because this series is basically re-introducing Justin Bieber to the world?
I didn’t look at it as pressure as much as an opportunity. I thought it was such a big opportunity as a team. We had an amazing team, my whole team that OBB produced this alongside the SB Projects team and obviously, Justin. Then you’ve got Poo Bear, Josh Gudwin, Scooter Braun, Alison Kay and his wife Hailey and countless tight-knit family members that made this thing possible. It was a team effort to make sure that we did it right. And by right, I mean truthful. That was really the goal, it wasn’t to make a Justin Bieber commercial or visual component accompanying the album. It was really to go and tell the story.
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How would you describe your experience working with Justin Bieber? Did you really have to get to know him before he opened up?
I think he obviously, like anybody, opens up over time. He was so invested in this project. I think he took ownership of the fact that he was going to be able to tell his narrative through his voice, and that was really exciting. It wasn’t gonna be reporters or articles. It was him sitting in the chair telling a story, then us, fly on the wall, Verdi style. And that’s a nice mix in the dock. Got some really polished, glossy interviews then paired with like what looks like almost a cell phone footage of a room you shouldn’t be in, in a doctor’s office. I think that authenticity and that style of hearing from everybody in his world and getting people to really see what’s on their mind paired with access at that level is what made it so special. I think it just took time to get to the level of comfort that we ultimately got in order to make a special piece as we ultimately did.
Did you find it inspirational when he opened up about Lyme disease or even showing the world what people would have to deal with?
Yeah, I did. I thought it was incredibly commendable. I think it’s amazing to share your troubles with the world no matter what they are, Lyme disease or otherwise. And it’s not like Lyme’s the only issue that he shares with the world and specifically in episode five. But throughout the series, he talks about a mixture of obstacles that he’s faced and I think using his platform to tell people,’ it’s OK not to be OK’ and to go and say, ‘I’ve sought help and you should, too, if you don’t feel right.’ I think that that’s going to ultimately actually result in helping people. And to be able to go and promote an album and help people get that levity that’s so needed that people hold on to a lot of baggage no matter who you are, for whatever reason about things in your past, I think that being able to go and make this project was cathartic in many ways.
What has been the fans reaction to the docuseries so far?
People love it. I read comments on Twitter, I read reviews and I think everybody really has responded to the raw nature. I don’t think anybody was expecting it to be quite like this and that’s what brought the stars to align for us to have such an enormous opening week. I think we had all hoped for it. Just the Justin Bieber name can get you quite far — don’t get me wrong — but when you pair that with really compelling content, honesty and a fantastic team putting together a documentary, that’s when you get these jaw-dropping numbers that we just heard before this interview started. That only happens when the content matches the subject matter and the celebrity and all of those things.
A lot of fans were shocked that each episode was around 10 minutes. I think a lot of people expected longer episodes. What are your thoughts on that?
I think that we cater to the audience and I think Justin’s audience likes watching things in those sorts of bites and chapters. I always look at this thing as really a feature that was just broken down into chapters, with the chapters being episodes here and finding natural breakpoints and what’s ultimately a feature story at this moment in time. I think that there’s some serendipity toward to selling this project to YouTube and he was catapulted to super-stardom on YouTube. Now he’s prepared to tell his story at 25, returning home. He’s crossing these finish lines and these accolades all at once with 50 million subscribers, being biggest YouTube star on the planet, getting the biggest premiere audience and viewership ever for an original series, having his album about to come out and just had his wedding not too long ago. There’s a lot of things happening and I think it’s a really special time.
Would you say he had a strong focus on religion while you guys were shooting the series?
Absolutely, I think he does a beautiful job not pushing his faith on others, but being outspoken about how faith is a huge part of his life and helps him get through some tough times.
Would you say you learned anything about Justin that you didn’t know before?
I was just blown away by his work ethic. I think there’s undeniable talent there. You don’t need to meet him to know it, he’s just so incredibly talented at sports and all these other things. But specifically the singing and music, I think I was blown away. He also has a level of perfectionism and attention to detail and loves his craft. There’s many times when he would go in and cut a song and I’d be amazed but then he would do it a hundred more times and he never settled. I think that probably many gifted people may just be like, gotta move on because they just got that gift. And that’s not what he wants to be perfect.
How was your experience being in the studio with him while he recorded his new album?
It’s amazing. He really keeps it quite intimate. I always pictured before doing this project — and I’ve seen doing other projects — studios that are filled with tons of people is like a party. Justin’s process is Josh Gudwin, who’s his mixer and producer of many years, Poo Bear, his songwriting partner, and then Hailey was there quite a bit. Not only was she the subject of the album and inspiration for a lot of the album, but she was also weighing in on the music.
If you could go back and change anything about the project, would you do anything differently?
I think that I’m really happy with the product. We haven’t finished Episode 10 because we’re filming that after the album is released, which is kinda cool because we’re catching up to real-time. He has so many hours of footage, but I’m really happy with the choices we made. I think the proof is in the numbers.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
You can watch the latest episode of Justin Bieber: Seasons here.
—With files from Adam Wallis