If you’ve been trying not to catch the Bieber fever, now might be the time to let yourself get infected. Sure, some of us have been annoyed by the constant clamor of Justin Bieber mania since his 2009 debut, but with his coming-of-age release Believe, Bieber has grown up from his “Baby” phase showing musical maturity on this solid album. The record will naturally appeal to his tween fan base, but the superb production quality, roster of impressive collaborators and differing styles of musicianship on Believe is sure to resonate with the 20-somethings female demographic as well.
The album opens with the clubby dance tune “All Around the World,” which features his “Baby” collaborator Ludacris. While I expected this track to be a copycat of their previous work, filled with broken record lyrics, the song showcases Bieber’s deeper sound and stronger vocals than seen on My World 2.0. The next track and lead single “Boyfriend” grabs my attention with the swag of Justin Timberlake’s “Señorita” and a beat mimicking the Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song)” (only without the naughty content). I’m digging Bieber’s ability to blend R&B and pop genres on this track.
The album continues to keep me hooked with the Skrillex-esque “As Long As You Love Me,” featuring Big Sean. This groovy tune shows that Bieber not only has versatility, but he can rock a dubstep song. He then chills out with the slower, slicker “Catching Feelings,” “Take You” and “Right Here” featuring Drake. These sensual songs remind me musically of Bieber’s mentor, Usher, and while flirtatious, they're still nonsexual enough to make parents sigh with relief.
“Fall” is the track that sells me on Bieber as an artist and not just the bubblegum pop music machine that I previously viewed him to be. The stripped-down and vocally decorative song is that a-ha moment on the record where you realize, “Hey, Justin Bieber can really sing!”
Bieber continues to impress with the Motown-influenced track “Die In Your Arms,” which samples Michael Jackson’s “We’ve Got a Good Thing Going.” Bieber is established enough in his career to pull off risky moves like toying with a song by Michael Jackson, who he’s cited as his biggest musical influence. Producer Rodney Jerkins, who has worked with both Jackson and Bieber, told him that MJ “would've been really proud,” Bieber revealed in an interview on The View. I couldn't agree more. There's no doubt that Jackson would have been on board with the finished product.
At a point in the record where the listener could start to get lost, Bieber pulled me back in with his falsetto in the gushy track “Thought of You.” After giving this song a listen, Bieber comes off as a super sensitive guy who knows the true value of a love song. Even if it could be just an act to sell records, it’s comforting to believe the notion that guys like this are still out there.
Bieber keeps the party going when he is joined (and is even slightly upstaged by) Nicki Minaj in the fun track, “Beauty and the Beat.” While the meat of this song belongs to Nicki, I find it amusing that the Biebs would allow her to poke fun of his girlfriend Selena Gomez when rapping, “Justin Bieber, you know Imma hit 'em with the ether/Buns out, weiner, but I gotta keep my eye out for Selener.” It’s good to know that even with his superstardom, Bieber still has a down-to-earth sense of humor.
The album winds down with the inspirational tracks “One Love,” “Be Alright” and “Believe,” which is reminiscent of his previous hit “Pray.” I was glad to see that while Bieber didn't take any huge risks with his sound on Believe, he also didn't deviate from the squeaky clean motif that made him famous. These characteristics that define him as an artist are present in these three final tracks.
And just when I thought I was Bieber-ed out, I found the several bonus tracks on the record to be as good as the rest. Bieber pulls a bold stunt similar to his pal Taylor Swift in the poppy song “Maria” by calling out Mariah Yeater, who accused him of fathering her child. Bieber’s camp hasn’t confirmed if the track is about the scandal, but it’s pretty obvious with lyrics like, “I’m talking to you, Maria/Why you wanna do me like that?/That ain’t my baby, that ain’t my girl.” Well played, Biebs. The song is not only funny, it’s catchy.
While it’s nothing groundbreaking lyrically, Believe is a fun, upbeat and highly optimistic record. Overall, the album felt like an experiment with musical styles from all over the map. It’s important to remember that Bieber is naturally still figuring out who he is as an artist. While he’s not quite a grown up, Bieber has started to come into his own and seems to feel comfortable in his skin. His style will probably continue to evolve in the future, but for the moment, Believe has given us something to pay attention to other than his haircut.
Image: Island Def Jam
Katherine Epstein (@RTNowRadio) for Cumulus Media © 2012