Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureSeptember 7, 2023

Remember when Justin Bieber broke Aotearoa and we broke him?

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

It began with a hat burglary and ended with an L&P baptism. This week our pop culture nostalgia podcast Remember When looks back at the chaotic Bieber press tour of 2010. 

Cast your mind back to 2010. Donald Trump was just a guy asking budding entrepreneurs to manage a doggy day care on his reality TV show. The Social Network was just a lovely flick about a lovely website that we all loved very much. Justin Bieber was just a teenage boy, eating a Crunchie bar, pretending to be impressed that Drew Neemia could spin a CD jewel case on his finger like a basketball. A simpler time to be sure.

There’s a lot to love about Justin Bieber’s whirlwind press tour to New Zealand in 2010, poised at the scientifically recognised height of Bieber fever. He arrived to a tsunami of screaming girls with poker straight hair and, within minutes, his mum had been pushed over and his hat was taken hostage by a pair of opportunistic youths. The ransom? One hug from the Eenie Meenie man himself. They were forced to return it the next day. “I don’t condone thieves,” Bieber tweeted at the time. 

Thankfully, there were other treasures that he left with our nation forever. Everyone remembers the moment during Select Live when he didn’t know what German was, but fewer people are familiar with this phenomenal 12 minutes of behind the scenes, Drew Neemia-based action. From trying to hook up Bieber with free jeans, making idle chit-chat about girls or awkwardly trying to move a couch while Bieber is still lounging on it, ‘tis well worth your time.

Which brings me to the piece de resistance of 2010 visit: his interview on What Now. It’s a piece of video so bumbling, so excruciating, so Kiwi, that it should probably be added as a bonus verse to our national anthem. First of all, we must shout out to host Charlie Panapa’s distinctly 2010 uniform – coloured keffiyeh, checkered black and white belt, puffy skate shoes, diamante earring, striped colourful Jay Jays hoodie and a watch that looks like an actual iPod classic.

They have a brief yarn. What does Bieber think of New Zealand? It’s great. He went bungy jumping. But there’s much more important things to get to. They have New Zealand’s biggest ever Bieber fan in the studio, and it’s time for her to take the couch. “What’s going on?” smiles Bieber at her. “Nothing much,” giggles a beet red Alicia. I’m instantly transported back to the moment that I botched my time with Pete Wentz.

Alicia gives him a gargantuan fan scrapbook. The title page reads Cool Design’s. Your mouth should be getting dry at this point. 

They have a chat about fame, friends, hobbies. The tension is mounting towards something, but it is unclear what. Charlie goes to fetch a hamper of local junk to give Bieber, as is the Kiwi custom when any international celebrity visits our shores. The swag includes an impossibly small pair of gumboots. “You guys wear these?” asks Bieber. “Aaaallll the time,” says Alicia. The tat continues – a tomato sauce bottle, a jar of Marmite, a bag of Pineapple Lumps.

Charlie lingers on a bottle of L&P as he pulls it from the large nest of Kiwiana. “The best drink in the world,” offers Alicia. “The best drink in the universe,” corrects Charlie.

Remember that, reader, you’re going to need it later.

Of course, it’s not What Now without our national lifeblood of gunge, so Charlie produces a small gift bottle of the good stuff and spends some time explaining its gloopy, gooey, slimy properties to Bieber. “I’d pour some on you but I’d probably get arrested,” he concludes. How incredible, to witness some of the finest foreshadowing ever committed to video tape. Bieber doesn’t give a single shit about the gunge, slinging it back into the basket of crap.

“So this is the best drink?” he asks, producing the upside down bottle of L&P. “What does it taste like?” Just as Alicia launches into a treatise about it being a ginger-beerish lemon concoction, the shit hitteth the fanneth. Bieber twists open the shaken bottle of L&P and it sprays up hill and down dale – on his T-shirt, his jeans, his dog tags, the couch, the floor. He shoots up to his feet and holds it at arm’s length like a violently spewing baby. He’s pissed.

“Rookie mistake,” Charlie laughs nervously. “Rookie mistake?” barbs Bieber. “You guys gave it to me all shaken up!” He puts the bottle down and starts to leave the shot, just as Charlie hurriedly stands up to announce that he has one more present to give him. “I want to get dried off first,” spits Bieber, heading offscreen to be wiped down by his posse. Charlie and Alicia sit there, tails a’thumping like two guilty, guilty dogs.

Moments later, Bieber is back. “I’m pretty sure I hate this drink,” he says, giving the bottle of L&P one last vengeful flick, inevitably re-fizzing it for the next poor victim. “Bad first impression for the drink,” says Charlie. “But I want to fix it for you.” He starts unfastening something from around his neck – could it be the keffiyeh?! – “now this is called a pekapeka… it’s an emblem of New Zealand and I want to give that to you.”

Remember that bit in The Office where Gareth starts crying and David Brent tells him he can take anything? Yeah, that.

“We are so sorry that we covered you in L&P my friend,” apologises Charlie. Bieber appears to smile and high five him, but this eagle-eyed investigator sees something else. His mouth is upturned but he doesn’t look happy. Their hands make contact, but it is much less of a matey clap and more of a loaded thwack, like someone dared to high five a bit of jelly meat to win $5. The air is thick as molasses.


Bieber says nothing. 

“Thanks for your time and uh-”

Bieber says nothing.

Charlie, drowning, throws his arm around Alicia, who desperately pulls a peace sign in an attempt to alert emergency services. There’s no saving them as Charlie points his iPod-bearing wrist down the barrel of the camera, issuing surrender. 

“Uh- we’ll see you guys back in the studio.”

Bieber would be gone within hours, but the country would never be quite the same.

Keep going!