When Justin Bieber: Seasons—the ten-part documentary chronicling Bieber’s life between 2015’s blockbuster Purpose record and the lead-up to this year’s comeback record Changes—dropped on YouTube Originals in February, it quickly set a record for the platform’s most-viewed original content ever released with 33 million views in its first seven days. The blockbuster series, which touched on Bieber’s marriage, his Lyme disease diagnosis, and his struggles with addiction and mental health with surprising candor, was hailed by his fans as an impressively intimate window into the world of their beloved hero. As the series reached its conclusion, we saw Bieber on the verge of the album’s release and gearing up for a year-long worldwide tour in support of Changes—and his fans getting ready to once again experience the Bieber show first-hand.
Then, of course, everything abruptly ground to a halt. “We left things off just before life as we knew it changed for everybody in March,” says Michael D. Ratner, the director of the documentary. “The universe forced everybody to slow down, so very quickly Justin and I talked about the fact that it was a really unique moment in time, and that capturing what he’s up to during this impromptu change firsthand could be really compelling.” Within weeks, Ratner picked up his camera again, and set about filming a second series, Next Chapter, produced by Ratner’s OBB Pictures, Bieber Time Films, and SB Projects, and released on YouTube Originals today. “It’s a different approach this time, with very much a slice of life feel, but I think I think the fans are really gonna like that,” Ratner adds.
Where the previous series captured the hectic pace of life as an international superstar—and, of course, the endless carousel of meetings, recording sessions, and tour rehearsals that comes with it—Next Chapter paints a more intimate picture of Justin and Hailey Bieber’s relationship while living under lockdown. “I think Justin was always so cognizant of the fact that other people were dealing with much larger issues and losing jobs, and obviously having health concerns too, but it was also a time to work on himself and his relationships,” Ratner explains. “I think that continuation from the previous season where he was in a rough spot and talked about his vulnerability, to now being in a better place, and working on himself and those relationships is really interesting to see side by side.”
The process of filming the series came with its own set of logistical challenges due to the pandemic: Ratner notes that he “never expected to know this much about virus testing.” But the other obvious challenge of filming a celebrity like Bieber, namely the level of trust required to really get under his subject’s skin, was easier to overcome. Having worked with Bieber not only on Seasons, but also on the music video for his single “Intentions”—which highlighted the stories of three Los Angeles women and their struggles, while also launching a charity fund to benefit families supported by the charity Alexandria House—their rapport was such that Ratner was able to craft something that felt very genuinely like a slice of life.
“I think when you have that successful track record together, whether it’s a visual album or a music video or a documentary series, there is this sort of efficiency and trust,” Ratner says. “In Seasons, we were dealing with some very heavy subject matter, mental health was a big focus, and the marriage was newer. I think this piece sort of checks in on all of that, but because of that built-in trust you can hit the ground running. I think there was a willingness to just be themselves, and I think some of the best stuff is when they’re watching some of the old wedding footage, and sitting there taking it all in as a moment of reflection. With our history of having so many projects together, I think you really get that magic and then authenticity.”
For Ratner, it was also cheering to see Bieber’s focus and clarity during a time of immense turmoil. “I think he’s in a really healthy mindset. I think his faith, and his relationship to God is something that he credits for how he got to this point. I think you can see it in his physique, and in his body language during the interviews, everything from his skin to his smile, to the way that he’s presenting himself and articulating his thoughts, he’s just got a healthiness about him,” Ratner explains. On the subject of whether Next Chapter feels like the final chapter of their fruitful collaboration, however, Ratner is less certain. “It’s always hard to find an ending to these docs with him, because it’s easy to forget he’s only 26 years old still,” Ratner concludes. “In this case, I really feel like this is just that: the next chapter.”