The pop star tells USA TODAY that he's eager to focus on music in 2014.

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The opening sequence of Believe, director Jon M. Chu's latest cinematic chapter in the life of pop phenom Justin Bieber, in theaters Christmas Day, finds the contemplative musical prodigy composing at the keyboard.

That image is as striking — tattoos lace Bieber's long arms, while a hint of a mustache graces his upper lip — as its message is unmistakable. The kid from the YouTube videos may be growing up, warts and all, in full public view, but in the end it's all about the music — despite that recent joke about retiring.

"I'm going to take my time (next year) to really find my sound as an adult," says Bieber, 19, in an e-mail to USA TODAY from the Philippines, the final stop of his 15-month Believe tour. "That takes time and patience, and I'm grateful I have the ability to step back and focus on my creativity."

Adds his manager and friend, Scooter Braun: "Next year will be less about the career. I expect Justin to be doing things like snowboarding, backpacking, working on his charities, but more often than not, he'll be in the studio. Music is his therapy."

Besides finding a new sound, the byproduct of such self-imposed seclusion would be a break from the ravaging claws of the fame monster. There was little that Bieber did since his tour began that escaped public scrutiny and, frequently, criticism.

Perhaps his first show was a harbinger: He threw up on stage from bad milk. In ensuing months, he mooned fans on Instagram after splitting up with Selena Gomez, nearly got into a fistfight with a British paparazzo after the photographer cursed at Bieber, and relieved himself in a restaurant mop bucket in New York. Among other things.

Chu and his cameras stuck close to Bieber throughout the highs and lows of the tour, and the result is a mix of concert footage and backstage reflections from one of the world's most famous young stars. While there are no pointed apologies for specific actions, there is Bieber's almost stunned reaction to Chu's direct question whether he is destined to become a pop-culture train wreck.

"I'm not going to be stupid enough for that to happen," says Bieber.

When asked how his mother, Pattie Mallette, might view some of his antics, Bieber is frank: "She doesn't agree with some decisions I make, like all moms."

Justin Bieber asks fans to forget the hype and believe the truth in 'Justin Bieber: Believe.' VPC

Bieber has "certainly taken some hits recently, so they're smart to put out a movie that reminds people that he's a drummer, a singer, a dancer and a songwriter," says Ian Drew, entertainment director for Us Weekly. "Their message is he's not some singing puppet. The problem is that a rough year image-wise has overshadowed some good music."

Chu, who also directed the Believe concert tour, says that while the precocious teen barely knew him on his first Bieber project, the movie Never Say Never, this time around there was a new comfort level between them.

"The fact that I could ask him if he thought he'd turn into a train wreck says a lot about him," says Chu, who agreed to direct the movie in between G.I. Joe projects and sees this as the second film in a possible trilogy of Bieber concert documentaries. "As much as he's in a bubble, I think he has perspective."

Chu says that whenever he'd read about the latest Bieber faux pas — which included being charged with spraying graffiti in Brazil and stepping on a flag thrown onstage in Argentina — he'd "ask and quickly find a lot of it wasn't true, often Justin wasn't where people claimed he was."

Ultimately, Chu says the subject of his film is "neither as crazy nor as innocent as he might let on to be. He's not perfect, but as a society it's clear we like to tear people down."

Braun says he and his camp got to the point where they just "stopped defending the accusations because there's only so many times you can say, 'That didn't happen.' You have to know your truth. People say, 'Oh, he's falling apart.' Well, he hasn't missed a show in 156 shows."

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Still, Braun doesn't deny that the past year has had trying moments. In a poignant exchange in Believe, Braun tells Bieber about those frustrations, and the singer responds by putting his arm around the man who pulled him out of rural Canada to perform for his eventual mentor, Usher.

"Look, this job takes a lot of patience," Braun says when asked about the scene. "But Justin's not just a client, he's like family. I want him to carry himself like a good man. I didn't do this to be a yes-man, and I don't mind fighting him. Because it always ends up with us hugging."

He acknowledges that Bieber's travails are that of a normal teen, only amplified by the klieg lights of celebrity. "His mistakes are the mistakes of adolescent rebellion," he says. "My bigger problem is he's bullied by people who don't know him, who see him as this business enterprise and not as a person. But he's human."

Braun relates an incident in which he lamented to Bieber how a fan said nasty things about the manager online, and how it deeply bothered him. "And Justin said, 'Imagine that times a million, every day,' " says Braun. "I said, 'Yeah, how do you deal with that?' He just said, 'I think I'm built for it.' "

In his e-mail, Bieber writes: "The last year has not been the easiest for me, as I think is probably the case for all teenagers. I'm just trying to grow up and figure out who I am, but I have to do it in front of the world.

"Like anyone in the public eye, the things I do are scrutinized and sensationalized, which makes things more difficult. But it's a side effect of my career and getting to do what I love every day, so I'm handling it the best that I can. My family, my team and my pastors have really helped me get through things."

As for his more egregious acts of rebellion, which have included dangerous driving antics and pot busts on his tour buses, he allows that "sometimes I rebel to try to show my independence, and that can be hard on everyone. But thankfully, the people around me love me and are understanding. When I make a mistake, we talk about it and try to learn from it."

For the moment, music and staying positive are his focus.

"I just try every morning to wake up and tell myself what I'm thankful for and make that day great," Bieber says. "I want to touch the world in a positive way and help people, and that is what I'm focused on."

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