The XX Factor

Full-Frontal Photos of Justin Bieber: What Do They Mean?

Justin Bieber VMAs
Justin Bieber on the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards in August.

Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Justin Bieber, in case you’d forgotten, is Canadian. In an exclusive video compilation of the star going for a naked swim while vacationing in Bora Bora, the New York Daily News chose to censor the star’s private parts with a patriotic red maple leaf. Elsewhere, a giant eggplant emoji provided coverage.

The Daily News video is a mesmerizing thing. In the absence of actual video footage, it is a slideshow of several stills, with illustrative captions such as “Justin’s Bieber was on full display as he went into the water … as was his backside as he went into his swanky bungalow.” They also could have gone with “A Naked Justin Bieber Flaunts His Stripped Bod and Is Nakedly Loving It, With His Penis Out.” The video is accompanied by music that one might hear while waiting on hold with a 1-900 number masquerading as a singles service or maybe an online sex toy retailer.

Other news outlets reported on the photos cautiously. People said the photos were “circulating the Internet” but did not link to them. The Daily Beast noted that “uncensored [photos] exist—don’t act like you don’t know how to find them,” commented on the size of Bieber’s penis, and lamented that it was probably wrong to make said comments. Gawker revisited the many other times when Bieber’s naughty bits have received media attention and scrutiny. Noisey mocked the situation by making you scroll all the way to the end of its post, past questions and answers like, “Do you want to see a picture of Justin Bieber skateboarding? Here ya go!” for a fulfillment of its headline, “Do You Want to See Justin Bieber’s Dong?”

Every celebrity nude-picture incident is its own moral quandary. With Jennifer Lawrence and the others whose photos surfaced in last year’s online hack, it was misogynist and criminal. With Lenny Kravitz, it was kind of awesome. Even though Bieber’s reputation is somewhere between everyday immature jerk and King Joffrey of the pop charts, that doesn’t give us all the right to violate his privacy … right? There’s the moral high ground, but—aside from the fans tweeting #RespectJustinsPrivacy—not many people seem to be taking it, maybe in part because these photos fit with the bad-boy narrative he’s been so keen to construct in recent years.

We don’t yet know if these photos will help us redraw the contested boundaries of celebrity privacy, or just the contested boundaries of belieberdom. As his 2010 song and concert film of the same name warned, never say never.