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Similar promises are littered all over almost any pop star's Instagram comment section and come in a variety of forms. Some assure that the "rest were fake, this # is real." Others offer bonus content, like nudes that never materialize. Were some of the numbers shady hotlines charging dollars per minute? Or Bieber stans who wanted to talk shop? Neither, it turns out. Every single number was a prank — usually on the person who picked up the phone as well as myself, but occasionally just on me, by a fake Bieber who answered all my questions with some variation of "these nuts on your chin." More on that later.
The experiment confirms several notions about teens that I've forgotten while slowly decaying into old age. The most obvious one is that pranks are rampant in their world. Instead of randomly picking out numbers in the phonebook and asking if refrigerators are running, however, enterprising youngsters discovered a method to prank friends, enemies, or crushes and strangers that takes minimum effort, but achieves maximum annoying impact.
The odds of Bieber picking up is probably equal to dying in a plane crash piloted by Selena Gomez, but what if.
Simply by leaving phone numbers in Bieber's comments, the pranksters ensure that each victim will be inundated with young superfans. Skylar Towne, who's on the latter end of his teen years, and thus represents the more mature of my prankster and prankee sample, put his friend's number on Bieber's Instagram. "I was hoping that tons of people would bombard his phone with texts and calls to annoy him. That's all," Towne says. "I did it just for fun because he gets mad pretty easy."
The "tons of people" tended to fall in a certain demographic. "90% of all phone calls and texts that he got were from girls in middle school," he told me. "They were actually dumb enough to believe it [was Bieber's number]."
Other youths said that they had received several calls before mine and confirmed that people did hope it was Bieber. Many reiterated that the callers were mostly teenage girls and fans. One kid took a geographic inventory: "Two from South Korea, one from Florida, a couple from Illinois and similar states." When I asked whether people were disappointed to hear something other than the star's chart-topping pipes over the phone, I got responses like, "I guess yeah lol" or "Yeah, they're kinda upset." No screaming or teary voicemails.
Middle school girls who believe their idol's phone number might actually leak onto the internet and make its way to Bieber's comments are not unlike adults who participate in the Powerball. Yes, the odds of Bieber picking up is probably equal to dying in a plane crash piloted by Selena Gomez, but what if.
The calls were also a reminder that teens play pranks on each other as a way of showing affection. Putting your crush's phone number on Bieber's Instagram is the new pulling a girl's pigtails. When I mentioned the Instagram handle that posted their phone numbers, the majority of the victims responded with something along the lines of "that's my girlfriend/boyfriend." One boy told me, "That's a girl from school playing a prank on me." So while you swipe away on Tinder, know that teens out there are falling in love through Instagram pranks involving Justin Bieber.
The experiment also reminded me that teens can be terrifying, cruel, and incredibly offensive, especially when cloaked in anonymity. The very first prank victim to pick up his phone responded to my inquiry with expletives before promptly hanging up. I called him back, at which point he told me in more congenial terms that he is not Justin Bieber, and that some kids at school were screwing with him. Another person just whispered "fuck you" and hung up.
Now, before you go rambling about how teens these days are lazy, hover-boarding lards, and back in your day, you had to actually dial a number and speak to your elders to pull off a prank, may I present the one teen I spoke to who claims to have the put his number on Bieber's Instagram, inviting unsuspecting fans to call him. My conversation with this teen, who we'll call Carl, started like this:
Me: What made you want to put your phone number on Instagram?
Carl: These nuts on your chin.
Me: That's a good one. Have you been getting a lot of calls?
Carl: These nuts have been getting a lot of calls on your chin.
Throughout our conversation, Carl kept turning to his trusty "these nuts on your chin" joke. When I recapped the conversation for him, mentioning his singing and the onslaught of "these nuts" jokes, he responded, "No dip, Sherlock," as if this were the only way to prank someone.
My interview with Carl lasted about 20 minutes. He sang Bieber's "Baby" to me and then called me an idiot. He said things I still don't quite understand, like, "Justin Bieber, he's my role model. His abs attract my eyes like this is the shine of my life." Also this: "My mama don't like you and she likes everyone. Is it too late now to say sorry? ‘Cause I'm missing these nuts on your chin." These nuts on my chin were a constant theme.
Carl: Who's mostly been calling this number? I'd like to say these nuts on your chin.
Me: Can you actually tell me?
Carl: Uh, these nuts on your chin, I actually just told you.
Carl abruptly hung up around the 18-minute mark of our call after his one-liners took a dark turn. A couple minutes later, he called me back. When I asked him if he was just bored, he asked me what I was going to do that day as casually as if he were maturely chatting with a friend. I almost started to feel bad for the little twerp despite his very specific agenda involving my chin and his nuts. By the end of the conversation, it just seemed as though Carl might be lonely, or, at the very least, unable to deal with boredom.
Like Carl, the rest of the teens were much more willing than I am to talk to random strangers who call from unknown numbers. Unlike Carl, many were incredibly polite and helpful. One picked up saying, "No, this is not Justin Bieber," but stayed on the phone for several minutes afterwards while I ask him questions. Another teen called me back at some point to make sure that I'd gotten everything I needed for this story.
If you're looking to talk to Justin Bieber, calling the numbers left on his Instagram is, at best, a long shot. However, if you're looking to have mostly sweet conversations with a younger generation that's staggeringly open about its activities and motivations, the numbers on the pop star's Instagram are a good place to start. But don't do that. They're just kids. No dip, Sherlock.