Can someone who isn’t much of a Justin Bieber fan do an honest and genuine review of his music? One would say they can only try, right? It’s not that I’m not a fan, it’s just that I don’t listen to him on a regular basis. I did like the remix El-P did of “Baby”, but one can argue that Bieber is not a part of my demographic. However, that’s when you get into target marketing and audience crap that has nothing to do with the music and more about trying to sell the brand known as Bieber. So, I have established that I am not a regular listener of Bieber, and that I am arguably not in his target audience. I’d like to think that he and his people are thinking wiser and more global. While he has a massive pre-teen and teen-following, he is also 18, which means he’s looking for grown-up audiences, those that will hang on to him, his music, and all directions of his career from this point on. The long haul. Bieber also has his share of haters, so people are wondering “what now?” This is that “what not”.
Believe (Raymond Braun/School Boy/Island) is an album that is meant to morph Bieber from a child star to a grown-up star, so naturally everyone looks back at previous success stories of young artists moving into adulthood. With the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson‘s Thriller later this year, many wondered if this album would be Bieber’s Thriller. For me, not quite. When you have a team of executive producers that includes singer Usher, who also was a teen star before maintaining a career once he became an adult, you know there has to be a bit of thought and planning, and that can all be heard here. Most of the songs sound like they’re on the line of transitition, as you’ll hear sweet and wholesome songs that come off a bit like puppy love, as if Donny Osmond was the greatest pop singer in the world. There are also songs that have him becoming his own person, or at least someone’s idea of what a grown-up Bieber would sound like. He has the attitude and swagger, and that comes off through songs that are more R&B oriented with vocal stylings that touch on him rapping. Is he good? If you’re looking for the next Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, or Eminem, you’re looking at the wrong album but he does enough to get buy to show that he at least cares to do well, and that by doing a bit of rap, he isn’t trying to fake it for the sake of being “down”. He’s young, and he’s ready to let ladies know that he’s out there, even if he does have a girlfriend.
With that said, Jackson’s Off The Wall was one that positioned him as an artist to not mess with, with songs and production that were solid back then, and sound incredible and highly influential today. I don’t quite hear that full power *yet* in most of this album, but I do hear an artist in transition, aiming for the golden ticket. One song that I hope will be considered for a single is called “Catching Feelings”, which has some acoustic guitar going on. It’s pop with a slight soulful feel, think about Robin Thicke with a pinch of Babyface appeal in the background and it’s a song that would do well among pop, R&B, and adult audiences. It may be the one song that doesn’t intimidate older audiences, and will make younger audiences go “ooh Biebs, you are dreamy”. In other words, a multi-purpose lure that could be the key to greater success.
Some of the choices for cameos on this album are unique, and while all of them are successful (i.e. Ludacris, Big Sean, Drake) today, I would have loved for him to take more risks. However, making this album in itself is a risk, to try to make something that will not turn him into Remy Shand so that Bieber could say “Remy, I don’t know where you are, but I’m going to hunt you down and we can get lost in the abyss.” If Bieber is ever open to a remix album, then maybe he will play with his chips and try some interesting things. The cameo that I did like a lot is Nicki Minaj, whose lines in “Beauty And A Beat” shows someone who still knows how to make people go “damn, that woman is hot”. She wants to cater to a pop/wider audience, and people will bitch at her for that, that’s her thing. Yet when she commits herself to a project, she will be ruthless. In the song, she basically states that she is now in Bieber land, and now that he is of legal age, she will show him what it means to be in Nickiville, with the great line “buns out: wiener, but I gotta keep an eye out for Selener”, a reference to Bieber’s current girlfriend, actress/singer Selena Gomez. Nicki is basically saying “hi Bieb, thank you for bringing me onto the album young man. See my ass? It’s hanging out, and I see you’re excited. You better watch out, Justin, I may be able to work you over.” It’s lyrical flirting that works on both sides, because there are some young ladies who would love to be the one to do exactly what Nicki is saying, but that will also piss off those who wish for nothing more than harmony in Bieber’s life. At every angle, Nicki’s verse works and she moves out of the song and the rest of the album continues. You may not like Nicki’s pop side, don’t listen, but this is probably the best track she has done in 2012 thus far.
Is Believe the equivalent of New Edition‘s Heartbreak, the album that moved New Edition out from the ashes of “Candy Girl” and into being men? No. I feel that with this album, Bieber is proving that he wants to make music, loves to play, write and sing, and is fully capable of doing anything he wants within reason. He can and most likely will obtain the power where the world will be in his hands, and thus understands that when he is truly ready, he will create the next Off The Wall, Heartbreak, or a modern equivalent of George Michael‘s Faith. Fans will know it because the critical response will be “I was not ready for that”. Believe is not a bad album by any means, all of the songs do what they intend to do, and the brighter spots are a sign of what may lie ahead for him. Don’t rush him to do it, let Bieber take his time, for he has all the time in the world.