Justin Bieber. Say the name in a crowded room and you’re bound to get an assortment of responses: “He looks like a girl.” “He flips his hair too much.” “I love him.” The Canadian pop/R&B singer has gone from YouTube sensation to international heartthrob in a span of four years. Why? As music journalist Amos Barshad states in his article, “Why Is Justin Bieber This Popular?” “[There] is a level of nonthreatening adorableness even other teen pop stars find impressive.”
It’s true — the singer’s asexuality and innocence have greatly contributed to his appeal and success. Although Bieber is now experiencing the pains of growing up (the recently-turned 18-year-old started out at the young age of 15), he’s maturing more slowly than his contemporaries, allowing his progression to be digested a lot easier by his fans.
Inevitably, Bieber, like those who have come before him, made the long and perilous journey through adolescence, acquiring a deep voice and newly-cropped haircut along the way. Now the question seems to be, will Bieber successfully make the transition from preteen lover-boy to that of R&B singer and mentor Usher, or forever be remembered as the former? The singer’s latest single, “Boyfriend,” seems to show Bieber caught in between.
“I got money in my hands that I’d really like to blow (Swag, swag, swag), on you,” raps Bieber on his latest single. Yes, he raps; it almost comes off as laughably forced, but the compressed guitars and lay-you-down-gently synths indicate that the singer means business. The hip-hop inspired boasts production by fellow R&B artist Mike Posner provide a taste of Bieber’s maturity as an artist and person.
The steps to Bieber’s adulthood have been gradual and cautious: a public kiss with girlfriend Selena Gomez here, a punk-rock-inspired Rolling Stone cover there (did anyone else think Sid Vicious upon seeing that photo?) and a battered and bruised Bieber on the cover of this month’s Complex to top it all off. Of course there have been a few minor stumbles (Bieber flipping off reporters last March), but for the most part, Bieber seems ready for his growth.
The young artist’s perseverance and growing maturity is reminiscent of another Justin: Timberlake. Timberlake and Bieber may not have identical career trajectories, but there are some parallels. For example, Timberlake’s rise to fame also began in innocence as a cast member of The Mickey Mouse Club and a member of the boy-pop group, ‘N Sync.
Fast forward to 2006, and Timberlake released his sophomore album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. The album showed Timberlake’s racier side — I don’t think we’ll ever forget the singer’s video for “What Goes Around.../...Comes Around,” a nine-minute epic that featured lust, love and lies.
Obviously, Bieber’s “Boyfriend” has nothing on FutureSex/LoveSounds in quality, but it is an indicator that Bieber knows that with age comes more sexually suggestive ways of expression. “Spend a week wit your boy/I’ll be calling you my girlfriend,” he raps. It’s not surprising lyrically, but the deep-voiced rhymes, and an atmosphere that channels the sounds of Usher and The-Dream are head-turning, because Bieber has never been known to be a rapper.
The song is not completely bad, but there’s a level of awkwardness in Bieber’s forced delivery and lyrical content that indicate the singer is not fully prepared for the shift. His rapping delivery attempts to show signs of maturity, but the awkwardness and childish flirting stop it from being taken too seriously.
For example, towards the end of “Boyfriend,” Bieber relies on Disney pick-up lines to get his interest’s attention: “I could be your Buzz Lightyear/fly across the globe.”
Fans will still like “Boyfriend” because, although the rapping may come off as unfamiliar, the singing won’t. Even though the lyrical content doesn’t indicate a significant shift in maturity, fans will appreciate that Bieber has not completely abandoned his childish appeal. It’s smart that Bieber is moving slow. As we’ve seen with Miley Cyrus, rushing to appease an adult audience sometimes isn’t the best method.
“I’m constantly thinking about my future,” Bieber said in an interview with Barshad in 2010. “I always listen to what Michael Jackson has to say, and Usher and Justin Timberlake, and how they came out in interviews, and how they were able to transition from teen stars into adult stars.”
Bieber seems to know what he’s doing — as long as he continues to grow naturally with his fans, rather than try to appease one specific age group, the Bieber fever will continue to spread.
Printed on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as:'Baby' singer grows up in 'Boyfriend'