Somewhere in Los Angeles, Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin) is sheltered in place in a deep white chair before a fire. Her little buddy Oscar, a blonde Yorkie, a Christmas present from her husband, is himself sheltered in place in her lap, which is arranged in a kind of modified lotus pose, one knee akimbo.
It’s chilly for Southern California. For our interview over Zoom, Hailey, 24, is dressed all in black—her oversize sweater and sweatpants are from Baserange. Because she’s sitting a few feet back from the camera that connects us, I cannot tell if she’s wearing any makeup. Likewise, it doesn’t appear that her straight, clavicle-length hair—about six inches of brown leading to a longer run of blonde—has been done for our afternoon meeting; a pair of earmuff-style headphones completes the look. Like the rest of us, she is hunkered down. Unlike many of us, she doesn’t seem to mind wearing a mask in public.
“Obviously, sometimes it can be a little frustrating, having to breathe my same air and wear this everywhere,” she says. “But one thing I do like is that the paparazzi can’t see your face. I’m a young woman, and it’s very weird having all these grown men following you around all the time. I’m still not used to it, and I don’t think I ever should be used to it, because it’s weird and not normal. Honestly, I may never stop wearing the mask in public, let’s just put it that way.”
With over 32 million Instagram followers and a modeling career that includes lucrative campaigns with Calvin Klein, Levi’s, bareMinerals, and most recently Versace (she is the face of the brand’s new Dylan Turquoise fragrance and appears in its spring 2021 campaign), Hailey is used to being dogged by the paparazzi. In addition to her modeling work, she spent three seasons cohosting the TV show Drop the Mic with rapper Method Man. The show, which featured snarky celebrity rap battles, was co–executive produced by The Late Late Show’s James Corden. More recently, she has used her celebrity platform to promote voter education and voting rights.
Of course, what Hailey is most widely known for (and also, in certain nooks of the social media universe, most bullied for) is being the wife of Justin Bieber.
Justin’s triumphs and foibles, equally grand, have been well documented as he’s grown up in the public eye. Today, the Biebs is 27. The couple married privately in a New York courthouse in September 2018. Justin was “at a stage of his life where he could make decisions like, ‘I’m done with girls, and I’m done with fooling around, and I’m done with partying,’ ” Hailey says. “We were friends first for a really long time before there was anything romantic. But we always knew that we were aligned on what we wanted in our future. We had talked about wanting to be married young and having a family young and building a life. Even before we knew we wanted to be with each other.”
With Hailey’s help, Justin was coming to terms with the psychic fallout of his fast and crazy life—including a well-publicized bout of Lyme disease—so an official wedding ceremony was not held until one year later. Hailey didn’t mind waiting. “I mean, I was married when I was 21, two months before I turned 22, which is insanely young. And sounds almost ridiculous when you say it out loud. Although I do think for somebody like me and somebody like Justin, [it’s different]. We’ve seen a lot for our age. We have both lived enough life to know that’s what we wanted.”
As the wife of Justin Bieber, it didn’t take long for Hailey to find herself in the frying pan. “In the beginning of our marriage, I just wanted to hide. I was like, ‘I don’t want people so in my business. I feel like everybody’s up my ass.’ I was like, ‘Can there be no anonymity? Can I have any of it back?’ ” At one point, about a year ago, the trolling become so acute that she decided to indefinitely turn off public comments on her Instagram. Today, only people she follows can comment on her photos. “I remember someone telling me that [turning off the public comments] really lowers your engagement. And I was like, ‘I could give a fuck about engagement! People are terrorizing me. Engagement, enschagement. I don’t care!’ ”
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In March, she launched Hailey Rhode Bieber’s YouTube Channel, a modest effort to take back control of her own story. In it, she will cover topics “close to my heart,” from mental health, marriage, faith, and politics to fashion, skin care, and makeup. Along the way, she hopes she’ll also have some fun, offering fans an intimate look at her personal life, like the recent girls’ night she hosted for her close buddies, the Jenner sisters. Hailey made mac and cheese; Kylie made green bean casserole and fried chicken; and Kendall made sweet potato soufflé. “We hang out, we giggle, we talk like any other girlfriends,” she says. “It’s very casual.”
For now, Hailey and Justin are living in a rental while they renovate their 11,145-square-foot, $25.8 million French Tudor house in a gated community in Beverly Park. Before she married Justin, she had only rented. Since they bought the house last summer, she’s had “multiple meetings to pick out light fixtures, furniture, and fabrics.” When the project is finished, it will reflect “a sleek, rustic vibe.”
While Oscar the Yorkie made the move to the rental with the Biebers, the terms of the lease prohibited the couple from bringing their two spotted Savannah cats. Reportedly purchased as cubs at $35,000 for the pair, Sushi and Tuna are a cross between a domesticated cat and a medium-size, large-eared, wild African serval. “The cats are amazing, but they are psycho,” Hailey says. “At one point, we had them in this room with a big sliding glass door. We’re sitting in the kitchen and we hear this giant thud, and we turn around and one of the cats has jumped off the ground and is sprawled out like this.” She holds her arms and legs out, spread-eagle style. The half-wild cat had secured itself to the glass “like Spider-Man,” she says. He hung there for at least 30 seconds before he finally succumbed to gravity.
“They’re really vocal. They legit talk to you,” Hailey says. “But they act half wild.” For the time being, they’re staying with Hailey’s cousin.
Over Hailey’s left shoulder, an arrangement of white roses sits on a small round dining table. Draped casually over a pair of dining room–style chairs hang two jackets, one leather and one down—a cozy tableau of everyday domesticity. In the background, a bank of large windows is framed with preppy, blue-and-white swag valances atop coordinating striped shades—clearly not the aesthetic choice of a woman who has “20-something” small and finely etched tattoos placed in various discreet locations on her body, including the J on her ring finger, rendered in fancy script beside a sparkling North Star.
Not long after she got the J at a New York shop—a bold move in any circle—the darn thing wore off. “And then everybody thought I was lying that I got the tattoo,” Hailey says.
Turns out the skin on that part of the finger is very thin. Once Hailey was back in L.A., her regular artist, Dr. Woo, reapplied the ink. She holds her hand before the camera, removes her 7-carat oval diamond wedding ring, and displays the tat in question. Just one finger north on the same hand, the middle finger, offers indelible evidence of a youthful mistake—a tiny tattoo of a hand-gun. “I think at 18, I was like, ‘Yeah! That looks cool.’ But now, as a 24-year-old, I would never do that. I think guns are violent.”
After a “very difficult” first year of marriage, Hailey says, this period of COVID quarantine has been a boon to the couple, an odd sort of silver lining in a year of pandemic. “I try to be careful saying something like, ‘The good thing about the pandemic,’ because I know there’s been so much sadness and devastation,” she says. “But over the last six years of my career, I’ve never gone this long without working. Quarantine has removed any expectations of work, and there is no pressure of having to be anywhere. It’s the same for Justin. We’ve gotten so much solid alone time. It’s like this long, extended vacation where we get to hang out together all the time.”
As if on cue, Hailey is distracted by someone off-camera.
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For a few brief moments, this Zoom call, this interview, this reporter…all of it disappears, and she is visibly transported to another place, a very happy place from the looks of it—she appears rapt, delighted, lit from within. They say a model’s ability to convey her beauty has to do with the thoughts she’s able to project. It makes me wonder, looking through her photos on the internet, if it’s Justin she’s thinking about when the camera clicks. Can’t a woman have a muse?
In the way of married couples working at home these days, Hailey mouths something on the order of “I’ll be rid of this bozo soon,” and turns back to our call.
I tell her it occurs to me she is uniquely suited to play the not-undemanding role of Mrs. Bieber. She does not disagree.
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Her dad, after all, is Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of the four Baldwin brothers of acting fame. Her mother hails from a celebrity family, too: Kennya Deodato Baldwin was born in Brazil, the daughter of the Grammy-winning pianist, composer, arranger, and record producer Eumir Deodato. Deodato, who is still active in the music scene, was huge in his time, producing for musicians as varied as Kool & the Gang and k.d. lang. He also wrote the scores for several films, including the classic The Onion Field. Google him. As much as anyone, he provided the funky, electric soundtrack of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Hailey’s parents met on a bus in New York City. The way her mom tells the story, she rode all the way to his stop and then got out, uncertain of where she was. The actor from Born on the Fourth of July and The Usual Suspects was, at the time, a 19-year-old pizza delivery boy crashing on his older brother’s couch. Kennya, 19, was a student at Parsons School of Design. Four years later, they were married and remain together today. “I know sometimes they drive each other crazy, but they love each other,” Hailey says. “When I was young and I would hear the story of how they met, it sounded like the most romantic thing in the world. You fantasize about having the same thing. I do think it influenced me to want to be married young.”
Hailey was even younger when she first met Justin. It was a “meet cute” story as well, but incredibly—or perhaps not—the fateful moment, in the Today show lobby, was recorded. He is 14; she is 12, accompanying her father, who first (and rather excitedly) introduces himself to Bieber, and then introduces his daughter.
You can tell Bieber has no clue who Baldwin is. But as he looks at Hailey—she is standing in a pose of mortification, with her arms crossed—he performs an involuntary hair flip in her direction. She uncrosses her arms, shakes his hand, crosses them again. Her face is a mask, unimpressed.
Looking back now, from her cozy chair by the fire in the house she is renting with grown-up Biebs, it’s hard for her to remember a time when the only thing he made her feel was in-difference. “I learn new things about him and about myself and about our relationship all the time. Do we have little fights and stuff that we have to work through sometimes? Yeah, of course, but it really doesn’t ever feel like work, because I love him so much. I see forever with him.”
I don’t want to rain on her parade, but isn’t she saying what young, beautiful, and blessed couples in Hollywood always say? “You mean,” she says, “if you look at celebrity relation-ships, most fail? Yeah, for sure. I think any relationship can fail,Hollywood or not. Is it harder in the public eye? Absolutely. But I think the two of us are grounded by our faith. I’m not saying it’s this easy-peasy thing that doesn’t take work. We talk to a therapist. We do what we have to do. And I’m positive that—”
Here again she gets distracted by someone off-camera. Her face lights up. She is transported to her happy place.
This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue.