Over at Popblerd HQ, we had a good laugh about the then-impending release of Justin Bieber’s Believe. In between all the laughing, we decided to do something resembling a group post. In this review, three members of the staff grab a listen to the new album from the teen idol and share their thoughts. Once we actually sat down and listened to the album, turns out there wasn’t as much to laugh about as we maybe thought there would be.
Stephen: For as much of a cultural icon/effigy as he was, I was pretty blissfully unaware of most of his work, beside his gratingly saccharine “Baby” and the ubiquitous backlash against him all over the Internet. So I have to say, to my surprise, that when I actually sat down to listen to his newest album, I found the whole thing rather pleasant if forgettable. He’s trying to change his sound to something a bit more mature, and for the most part it’s working, even if that’s just a product of puberty and better production. The ballad tracks really excel, and outside the lead single “Boyfriend”, which finds the Biebs rapping (and causes me painful flashbacks of Aaron Carter), nothing really struck me as grating. Will the album turn haters into Beliebers? I doubt it. But I left the whole ordeal convinced there are far more vile cultural touchstones to lob hatred at than the Biebs.
GG: How you feel about this album may simply be based on your expectation. For instance, I was looking forward to Usher’s new album and when I heard it, I was slightly disappointed because I wanted it to be better. I want him to fulfill his full potential. On the other hand, I wasn’t really disappointed in Justin Bieber’s “Believe”. I didn’t really expect anything and what I’ve heard is totally fine for the genre. There are even a couple of pleasant surprises like bonus track, Maria which is about the baby mama drama that turned out to be false. Anybody can see that he’s totally copying Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, but if you’re going to use a song as a blueprint, why not one of the greatest pop songs of all-time?
Now is Usher’s new album of higher quality than Believe? Sure it is. But I’m less disappointed because of my lack of expectation. What I enjoy about this entire Bieber phenomenon is that I think he’s being marketed correctly. We’ve seen it so often in the past when teenage heartthrobs (who weigh about a buck-oh-five) grow older and they seemingly can’t figure out how to age with their fans. This is a smart play by Bieber and his people. It’s not too different from the music that made him famous. But it’s updated enough to where the youngsters who were his fans before are probably okay with how his new music sounds today. You can tell that Bieber wishes he had the chops to be a R&B superstar, but understands where his bread is buttered.
It’s hard to rate it because I’m not sure I’ll listen to the thing in its entirety ever again (not when I have John Mayer and Fiona Apple in rotation), but the singles like Boyfriend and Die In Your Arms are catchy enough to be around for a while. If my kid sings Die In Your Arms around the house and knows where the sample came from (MJ’s We’ve Got A Good Thing Going), I’m fine with that.
(By the way, I’m against the Justin Timberlake comparison because Timberlake was 3 years older when he went solo and had to deal with Britney Spears who was an absolute mega-star. JB doesn’t have the experiences that JT did and he’s so much younger still. I think Bieber is going to be everything that Joey McIntyre from the New Kids should’ve been.)
Big Money: The success of Justin Bieber isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to music. Actually, I’d argue that in the last 50 years or so of tween/teen-age pop idols, he’s one of the more talented cats out there. That said, he knows he can’t be young and cute forever, so his music has to grow with him. While Believe isn’t Off The Wall, or even FutureSex/LoveSounds, it’s still a step above his past work on the maturity scale, sort of in line with the type of music Chris Brown was doing before he turned into a psychopath.
His voice has dropped an octave or so (in what parallel universe do people not hit puberty until they’re 17?) and his music is a little more obviously R&B-based (a sure sign that he’s going for a mature audience) but he’s still enough of a kid to rhyme “swag on you” with “eating fondue.” Fellow Canuck Drake (who turns out to be a perfect fit for Bieber’s style) appears on the album along with Kanye protege Big Sean and Drake’s labelmate Nicki Minaj, but all turn in G-rated performances, making Believe one of those kid-tested, mother-approved type joints.
Biebs fares best when the tempo drops a step. Jordan Knight would’ve given a leg to have had a song like “Fall” back in the day. “Catching Feelings” has a mid-’90s R&B flavor to it, like a one-man Boyz II Men track, and those songs are good enough to make up for missteps like the title track, which does the typical overdone inspirational thing–complete with gospel choir.
As GG said a few lines above this: I won’t be pumping Believe on the regular-there’s a fair amount of music out there that makes me want to do more than nod intermittently, and in the event that I do want to nod intermittently, there are plenty of albums I already have that I can put on. However, some folks who may be dismissing Bieber as a teen idol flash-in-the-pan may turn out to be wrong. If Believe is any indication, the kid just might have a career in him.