ARTIST OF THE MONTH: JUSTIN BIEBER
The sound of millions of hyperactive teenage girls excited that the release of Justin Bieber‘s album, "Believe," had finally arrived on June 15, 2012, by Island Records. This was most definitely a more mature effort for the then 18-year-old Canadian pop prince, who’s traded his bubblegum pop persona for an edgier style. Looking to transition from the teen pop styles, Bieber opted to create a follow-up record that featured more prominent dance-pop and contemporary R&B and enlisted collaborators, including Darkchild, Hit-Boy Diplo and Max Martin, intending to create a mature-sounding project.
Overall, "Believe" is a respectable collection of obvious singles and crowd-pleasers. It started with the lead single “Boyfriend,” a high-pitched whistle noise that begins. It recalls Britney Spears's lubricious Toxic, and it's a welcome shock to hear a Justin Bieber song and wonder if we're allowed to describe it as "sexy." In many ways, it was the obvious progression from “Baby” but perhaps too slight to get fans and radio as exciting as hoped. That said, it did land on the charts in the top position, then flag, then fire right back up again—just a step backwards after the album’s first tune. The 13 tracks include the Motown-influenced “Die In Your Arms.” The dubstep-heavy “As Long As You Love Me” features rapper Big Sean, which served as the second single and was another one loaded up with those p-h-a-t beats that this album is all about. It’s got one of those lyrics certain to get right into fans' hearts and minds and entertain having JB be theirs.
The album has a whole list of guest stars who give a hand with all warm-and-fuzzy verses from Ludacris (“I love everything about you / You’re imperfectly perfect”), Big Sean (“I don’t know if this makes sense, but you’re my hallelujah”), Nicki Minaj (who at least squeaks a “bitches” into her verse), and especially Drake, whose desire to hug and kiss the object of his affection on “Right Here." At this stage of his career, the 18-year-old Bieber can’t quite pull off the “adult” thing just yet and still mostly registers as “angelic,” and veers toward a pubescent whine at times. More significantly, rigid respect to Bieber’s still-young core fan base keeps things resolutely PG. The closest "Believe" gets to scandalous is on the deluxe edition bonus track “Maria,” a response song to the woman who accused Bieber of fathering her child in 2011.
"Believe" was seeking a comfortable middle ground where Bieber’s impressively refined pop-R&B croon can rub up on techno blasts and garish dubstep drops. It’s an intersection that’s sometimes exhilarating, occasionally awkward, and always very polished—much like the highly disciplined life of an impossibly rich and famous 18-year-old forced to forgo or hide certain perks of fame that don’t agree with his image. Believe isn’t a grown album, but it is a step in the right direction.