Monday, 3 September 2012

Pop Corner: Justin Bieber - Believe


Justin Bieber obviously needs no introduction, for better or worse. What may be more necessary, however, is an advocate for him (follow me on this one). Most have based their conceptions of him based on his boyish looks, runaway hit "Baby," adolescent fanbase, and various jokes encompassing these themes and more. But as he's growing older, it seems Bieber is actually trying to distance himself from past aspects with his latest album Believe.

Some of the most notable things straightaway is a deepening in Bieber's voice, the liberal usage of dub-inspired (no surprise) beats on the opening songs, considerably more (albeit unmemorable) features from rappers, and some warm singer-songwriter material--all of which to suggest that our little Justin is all grown up.

Keyword being "suggest."

"I might have a reputation", he explains on "Take You Home," but if we're to get serious, that reputation is being an approachable boy-next-door type. Unlike some of the other (largely generic) male R&B/electropop singers of yesteryear, Bieber cannot afford to break-break your, break-break your heart or play the sex-hungry womanizer. He can, however, be...there for you? I guess. "As Long as You Love Me" sadly is not a Backstreet Boys cover, but rather a conditional promise that love conquers all, even when the two are "starving/homeless/broke." The youthful romanticism of it is excusable for what it is, and there are some fairly satisfying buildups before the choruses and during Big Sean's feature, with other strengths in a serviceable matching up of Bieber's "la-la-la-la-la-love" falsettos rising and falling against the pulsating synths and bass. "Right Here" goes for Drake-lite, even featuring the rapper on the icy-sounding track. This is where Justin's new vocals fail him, however. As much as he wants to assure you that he is, indeed, "right here," his voice falls short of a proper note to land on; thus, it sounds about as comforting as whiny as a five year old begging for attention ("I'm riiiiight heeeeeere"). Furthermore, nobody sounds particularly invested in the song anyway, but--for as bad as it is--at least it's a short and forgettable inclusion.

But there are also times when things work out quite favourably, channelling another tween-pop breakout star otherwise known as Justin Timberlake. This similarity is especially evident in songs like the lead single "Boyfriend." The mind-numbing "SWAG SWAG SWAG SWAGGY" chants aside, it's a solid track that competently showcases Justin's shifted vocal range and one hell of a smooth chorus. There are also times when Bieber aims but doesn't exactly hit his mark, see: "Out of Town Girl" a rightfully omitted bonus track that sounds painfully dated and resembles something from Timberlake's Justified, but in all the wrong ways. Or then he ends up in a weird middle ground as he does on the deluxe edition's "Maria." Referencing the 'baby daddy' scandal brought upon by Mariah (subtle thing there, dropping the 'h,' right?) Yeater, the song seems to be over-reaching to be the current generation's "Billie Jean." Though, it's less Michael Jackson than it is Timberlake aiming for MJ, all with a pretty limp hook that feels ripped from a transcript of a Maury Povich episode ("She ain't my baby, she ain't my girl"). By far, however, it's still one of the more intense songs he's released and the passionate Jackson impression at the end isn't a total embarrassment.

Midway is a suite of three songs that pull away from club-oriented and present a more 'adult-contemporary' side. The kind of agreeable Jason Mraz/Bruno Mars music you could play in a waiting room. But that isn't to say it's all so terribly bland: "Catching Feelings" sustains a sweet melody, with a sort of balmy summer atmosphere perfectly catered for a junior prom, even if the sentimental lyrics take some head-scratching turns: "Everything about you girl is so contagious"? Gross. "Fall" enters balladry territory with a with room-filling string section and chorus. It's one of the better produced songs on Believe, and Justin even sounds more convincing as he reasons, "I will catch you if you fall," than he does whining that he's "Riiiight heeeeeere." Rounding up the block is the motown-esque "Die in Your Arms," sampling Michael Jackson's "We've Got a Good Thing Going." The occasional spoken bits are bit silly, but Bieber definitely sounds like he's having fun in the moment. It's utterly harmless sunny throwback pop, and there's nothing wrong with that sometimes. If Bieber ever plans to further pursue music in these styles, it might just be a pretty rewarding endeavour.

"Thought of You" brings us back to more upbeat pop. Even if hardly creative, it's nonetheless wildly bright and one of the most playful songs on the album. "Beauty and a Beat" keeps up the pace with a goofy breakdown and a naturally ridiculous feature by none other than Nicki Minaj--leave it to her to rhyme "Bieber" with "ether," "wiener" and "Selen-er." "One Love's" airiness brings everything back down and is largely inconsequential filler before we go into the acoustic ballad "Be Alright." Done live, it probably makes for a very tender, intimate moment in the full arena concert setting, but on the album it just sounds a bit too polished to feel candid, with the soft chuckle at the end coming off as cliché. But, in its favour, it features some rather impressive guitar work, further illustrating potential to build upon.

The standard edition finishes up with the title track, going for full-blown, background-church-choirs-swelling-violins-stripped-down-piano-moment-self-esteem-me-the-fuck-out anthem. Used in the right context (graduations, reality show montages, etc.) it'll work great. Used from the point-of-view of a platinum-selling Youtube success story whose musical career has barely exceeded a three-year span, it's a bit of a heavy-handed, eye roll-inducing spectacle. But hey, for however long he stays, there's no doubt it would make for a great "Best of" compilation closer. And truth be told, I actually am rooting for Justin. He may still have a long way to go as both a singer and an artist, but that's the excitement of it: some of these songs do demonstrate both a potential and an interest in branching out and as well as developing his talents (yes, he IS talented. there, I said it). It's only a matter of him finding the right mentors (when is Usher retiring anyway?) and collaborators to help bring it out of him.
~Jake

6.0

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