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Justin Bieber's image has a bit of tarnish, but Charlotte show sells out

By Mary Colurso
Birmingham News

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Sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll.

At age 18, Justin Bieber seems to be steering clear of the latter. The teen idol remains firmly entrenched in the pop world (with forays into hip-hop lite), entrancing young audiences with singles such as “Boyfriend,” “Baby,” “Never Say Never,” “As Long as You Love Me” and “Beauty and a Beat.”

The first two parts of the equation? Well, let’s just say that Bieber’s fresh-scrubbed image has been tarnished of late, with controversies involving pot, paparazzi and other fodder for the gossip columns.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Young stars raking in gazillions are surrounded by heady temptations, and many make dubious choices. Websites such as TMZ, The Huffington Post, Perez Hilton and The Hollywood Gossip are quick to pounce on celebrity missteps large and small.

Also, today’s social media – YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook – allow such reports to be immortalized, scrutinized, dissected and parodied by folks all over the globe.

Fan? Hater? No matter which camp you fall into, Bieber’s a hot topic. Some of the chatter surrounding him would suit any bubbly teen magazine – Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez split! Bieber gets a tattoo! Bieber changes his hairstyle! Jelena back together! – while other topics are far more serious.

In 2011, for example, Bieber faced a paternity suit from a California woman named Mariah Yeater, who claimed the singer had fathered her son Tristyn. Bieber denied it, and said he’d take a DNA test to prove it. The suit was dropped that year, but paternity rumors continue to surface. (The New York Daily News resurrected the story in November.)

Although we’re just a couple weeks into 2013, Bieber has faced three new controversies. It’s time to break ’em down, mostly because he’ll be in Charlotte on Tuesday, performing at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Where there’s smoke: On Jan. 4, TMZ posted photos of Bieber holding what appears to be a joint, taken at a Jan. 2 party in a hotel room in Newport Beach, Calif. The heat was shared by Bieber’s pal Lil Twist; TMZ pointed to the Dallas rapper and his brother as the guys who rolled the reefer. Bieber has yet to address the photos directly or deny that he was caught with cannabis. He did, however, compose a rather remorseful-sounding tweet on Jan. 5: “everyday growing and learning. trying to be better. u get knocked down, u get up.”

Paparazzo tragedy: While chasing Bieber’s Ferrari, photographer Chris Guerra was struck and killed by a passing SUV on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles. The accident happened on Jan. 1, one day before Bieber attended the hotel-room party. According to TMZ (who else?), Lil Twist was behind the wheel of Bieber’s auto. Police stopped the Ferrari; Guerra walked across the highway to shoot some photos. TMZ says Guerra had been staking out Bieber and his entourage at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.

Bieber issued a statement: “While I was not present nor directly involved with this tragic accident, my thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim.” He also called for tougher laws to keep the paparazzi in check.

Disturbing Twitter trend: The hashtags #cutforbieber and #cuttingforbieber started trending on Twitter last week, signaling a nasty hoax. According to Complex Music and other websites (including Gawker and Huff Post), the hoax started on the message board 4Chan, where an anonymous post urged Internet trolls to tweet photos of arms that had been cut. In the tweets accompanying the bloody pictures, they’d pretend to be fans who wanted to hurt along with Bieber – showing a twisted form of solidarity after the marijuana scandal.

Bieber has yet to respond to the repulsive prank, but Miley Cyrus weighed in with a few tweets, including this one: “If people are really saying they are gonna cut themselves cuz Justin Bieber could’ve smoked some weed the world really is coming to an end!”

Bieber appears to be a lightning rod for trouble this year, but faithful Beliebers are having none of it. He’s amassed more than 32 million followers on Twitter, and many of them are counting down the days to his “Believe Acoustic” record. It comes out Jan. 29, bearing remixes of songs from his 2012 “Believe” album, plus two new tracks, “Yellow Raincoat” and “I Would.”

Even in the face of controversy, Bieber fever endures.

On Jan. 8, he tweeted: “ily so much I’m so excited for #believeacoustic!!!! never forget who you are and where you came from. @justinbieber”

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