2018 has already been a banner year for celebrity tattoos. Ben Affleck’s back abomination, a giant all-encompassing phoenix, was bad enough that a The New Yorker headline pegged to its discovery read: “The Great Sadness of Ben Affleck.” You know you’ve made a mistake when someone treats your massive tattoo as if it’s the visual manifestation of sorrow. Give credit to Affleck, however, for this cheeky response:
@NewYorker I’m doing just fine. Thick skin bolstered by garish tattoos.— Ben Affleck (@BenAffleck) March 29, 2018
But the Backfleck pales in comparison to Justin Bieber, and all of the ink he’s had permanently spilled on his body. A year ago, the Biebs was already quite tatted up—his left arm alone looked like the wall of a Bushwick bar’s bathroom stall. But since then, he’s been even harder at work covering seemingly every part of his chest, a feat he celebrated with an Instagram post on Wednesday.
There’s a lot to unpack in the caption alone, which includes “I ABSOLUTELY LOVE ART” in all caps, a mention of “hart work” (yes, “hart”), and the confident avowal that “If tattooed didn’t hurt everyone would have them.” Bieber also says that altogether, it’s taken over 100 hours to tattoo his chest, and that might not be hyperbole; there are so many tattoos, and tattoos overlapping with other tattoos. Bieber’s chest is to tattoo heads what Westworld is to puzzle-box aficionados.
But which of the tattoos are the best tattoos? Allow me to rank the ones just from Bieber’s chest and torso—by my count, there are 15 (!!) of them, so we better get started.
15. The Gothic Tableau
At some point between now and last October, Biebs added some gothic-looking architecture that serves as a backdrop for most of his chest. Maybe he was really captivated by the marketing for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story? The style isn’t the problem, however—it’s that the whole thing has spread far enough that it engulfs all of his other tattoos. The overlap with “Son of God” is unsavory, and a bit confusing—like those coffee shops that are pouring a latte into an avocado.
14. The White Dove (?)
Again, the gothic stuff is to blame here, because between that ink and the “Son of God” etched across his torso, you can’t even see the bird’s face! There are lots of religious undertones to Bieber’s tattoos—for he is, I quote, “A CHILD OF THE MOST HIGH GOD”—and doves typically represent peace, but this dove is obscured from sight. Could that mean … chaos?!
While tattooing the name of your own album is definitely a flex, it’s not all that interesting. And where’s the consistency? Can we get My World 2.0 somewhere on the Biebs’ ankle, at least?
12. The Hebrew Tattoo
There’s nothing wrong with a Hebrew tattoo that says “Yeshua,” meaning Jesus. The issue is Papa Bieber.
Bieber’s dad, Jeremy, got a matching tattoo on his ribcage. Sharing a tattoo with a significant other? It’s cute, if not suuuuuuper risky. Sharing a tattoo with your dad, though? Not as cute, no matter how good Jeremy’s pro-milk Twitter presence is.
Milk is life— Jeremy Bieber (@JeremyBieber) September 29, 2017
11. The Nipple Tattoos
It’s wild how realistic—oh, I guess those are just his real nipples.
10. The Skeleton
There’s something really alarming about the skeleton; it’s hard to tell if it’s supposed to be poking out of a cave or a flap of skin.
If it’s the latter: WTF?!
9. “Son of God”
This one looked way better and more pronounced when the gothic stuff wasn’t in the background.
8. Jonathan Livingston Seagull (a.k.a. the Very First Tattoo)
There’s something special about that first tattoo; it must have had some resonance, before Bieber chose to make his body a “canvas.” For his 16th birthday, he got a very tiny seagull on his left hip, a tribute to Richard Bach’s 1970 novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull. There’s some sweet symbolism here about learning to “fly”—and this was back in the early stages of his superstardom.
Is there another metaphor in play about all this other ink completely enveloping this tiny little seagull? Probably.
The tiny, unassuming “Forgive” tattoo showed up at the height of Bieber’s DUI controversy from 2014, and the timing certainly doesn’t feel coincidental. In fact, it might be kind of brilliant.
If I keep pissing off my roommate by forgetting to take out the trash, maybe I’ll just etch “My bad” on my left forearm and never speak of it again.
6. The Stomach Eagle
Points deducted because Justin Bieber is Canadian, and because his stomach hair makes it look like the eagle is … defecating. Also, I feel like we should retire full-chest bird tattoos out of respect to Rihanna’s Isis tat.
5. The Pectoral Grizzly Bear
Is Bieber’s bear in appreciation of any specific bear, like the one from The Edge or Dr. Dolittle 2, or is it just out of a general love of bears? There is no wrong answer in my heart, because bears rock.
4. The Little Crown
The crown was pretty cool in its own right—and as some fans have theorized, it may be a tribute to one of Bieber’s idols, Michael Jackson. That’s nice and good.
3. The Lion
IT LOOKS LIKE THE LION IS WEARING THE LITTLE CROWN!
2. The Large Cross
I’m a sucker for symmetry, and the giant cross is firmly in the center of Bieber’s torso. It is so cool and pronounced that nothing overlaps with it, which, at this stage of Biebs’ never-ending quest to ink every fiber of his being, is quite impressive (and telling).
That said, though, it definitely looked better without the clutter:
1. The Roman Numerals for Mom
The numerals are for 1975, the year Bieber’s mom, Pattie, was born. That’s adorable, and a better son-to-parent tribute than the one Bieber gave to his milk-loving dad. But really, this tat is no. 1 because Patricia has the most correct opinion about her son’s tattoo game: “I wish he didn’t have tattoos but I do like them. I’m torn. Weird right?” Agreed!