The conversion from child star to grown-up artist is a tricky one for anyone to make, and Believe is Justin Bieber’s first big step in that direction. The surprise is that it’s a step he takes with pretty good results.
Biebermania has been one of the 21st Century’s biggest pop phenomenons, with his cherubic little face and pudding-bowl haircut launching a thousand sighs and ensuring that a horde of pubescent girls become more dangerous than drunken football fans whenever they get the chance to be near him. His music has always come second to that.
Ask your average person in the street and they probably couldn’t name more than one or two Justin Bieber songs, and could hum the chorus of only one (the ubiquitous Baby). Believe is his attempt to change that, and it’s a surprisingly sophisticated pop R’n'B album that straddles (if that’s an appropriate word) both his tweenie past and his desired future as a Justin Timberlake/Michael Jackson of his generation.
Both of them managed to throw off the musical shackles of their pop past to become respected grown-up stars and there’s plenty of signs on here that Bieber has the quality and (perhaps more importantly) the connections to follow them. With the likes of Diplo and Rodney Jerkins on-board for production duties, Believe is slick, modern-sounding and a world away from Baby.
There’s also guest stars like Ludacris (returning, of course), Drake and Nicki Minaj, which surely says more about their respect for him as an artist than just a desire to sell their wares to his massive audience. Well, probably. But before throwing too much more praise in his direction, it should be pointed out that this is no Off The Wall. It’s a very good album, but it’s no classic and he’s still got a way to go to complete his transformation.
If anything, the Jackson album this most resembles is his last (proper) album, Invincible, which was equally full of slick R’n'B and sophisticated ballads, and we all know that it was seen as a disappointment when it was released. Jerkins was heavily involved with that album too, so it’s easy to see where the similarities come from, but that was an album released over a decade ago by an artist long past his best, not an 18-year-old sensation.
But, while tempering the praise with that reality check, you have to commend Bieber and his team, because Believe is still a really good album. All Around The World, Boyfriend, Right Here, Jacko-sampling Die In Your Arms and Beauty And A Beat are all as good as any other pop song you’ll hear this year by any cooler musician. The messages in the title track, Catching Feelings and One Love might be cheesy, but the songs are done well enough for that not to matter.
Even more impressive is that the bonus tracks are also pretty good, and it’s a surprise that She Don’t Like The Lights and Maria have been relegated to that status. The former has the not-original-but-still-works use of camera clicks as percussion, while the latter is his own take on both Leave Me Alone and Billie Jean, complaining about fame and crazy women saying that he’s fathered their baby. Perhaps it was seen as a step too far towards apeing the King Of Pop…
But whatever, this is a huge step for Justin Bieber away from ‘irritating teen popstar’ to ‘grown-up pop star’. His voice sounds much better now that it is deeper, and he’s chosen his musical collaborators wisely. It seems like he’s on the right path to being taken seriously, so all he needs to do now is to try not to let the incredible fame damage him in the way it has damaged so many before him. In that way, he needs to ditch Jacko as his idol and stick with Justin Timberlake…
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