Many of you will be wondering WTF PlayGround is doing reviewing Justin Bieber’s latest album. Relax: it’s normal that you would be wondering that in the face of what seems, at first glance, to be such a departure from the publication’s usual line. I asked myself the same question the first time that I sat down to listen carefully to “Believe”. I hadn’t the slightest interest in listening to 17 songs by the most successful teenage pop phenomenon of the last decade (just off the cuff, so I won’t mention any specific figures). And I had even less interest in reliving the creeps I get when I hear the phrase “baby, baby, baby, oooh”. There are, however, three details - however trivial they may seem in comparison with those 17 long songs - that make me so bold as to face up to the dirty trick that my oh-so-cruel work responsibilities have played on me, during the week after Sónar.
The first detail is called “Boyfriend” and it’s the first single on the aforementioned album. “Boyfriend” starts with a boom clap that would thrill any Timbaland fan. But what do I hear? Bieber suggestive and whispering, trying to win women’s favour? A macho attitude and a guitar, in the purest Timberlake style on “Like I Love You”? Who is the enlightened producer who has seen the Justin Bieber-Timberlake vein? This question leads me to the second detail: the producers. I drop in at Discogs. I see Hit-Boy, I see Darkchild, I see Diplo. Hell, something is up here. I start to believe in the album’s possibilities. I believe in “Believe”. So I start with the first song, “All Around The World”, which confirms the third and final detail. Justin Bieber’s voice has lowered two or three notes, which not only makes whatever he has to sing more bearable, but also ratifies that we are looking at a teenager in the midst of a metamorphosis of maturity; this is a teen celebrity who’s trying to get rid of the “teen” part and pump up the “celebrity” part. Picture Julio Iglesias singing about little girls growing up into women.
But like every 18-year-old, Justin is more lost than a fart in a jacuzzi. Too young to fight for Ed Sheeran’s audience, for example. Too old to aim for Cody Simpson’s target group. And this makes for uneven results. So in most of the songs on the album–especially the dance and R&B ones– we find a mature Bieber who’s just shy of becoming an adult, playing with a certain erotic charge inherent to the genres he’s using, in his tone of voice and the way he projects it. A sample of this is the aforementioned “Boyfriend”, although there is also the highly recommendable “Maria”, the R&B dance pastiche of “Take You”, or his face-to-face with Drake in “Right Here”, another of the album’s highlights. In this list of favourites, we must leave a special place for “Fairytale”, not available in all of the editions. If you can’t see and enjoy the similarities between the Justin Bieber-Jaden Smith combo and the Drake-Lil Wayne combo, you deserve banners with sound on all of the streaming of the Euro Cup.
Nevertheless, “Believe” still has some of the tics of that pre-pubescent catapulted to fame four years ago. We don’t know whether it was required by the recording company (why give up the teenage audience to conquer a more adult one?) or because Justin is comfortable playing both roles.
It is precisely the infantile Justin Bieber, with his candid air and lyrics for the intellectually-challenged, which has to be left behind now if he wants to win the respect of the business for his artistic merits. He has to stop singing nonsense like the lyrics of “All Around The Word” to the rhythm of cheap dubstep, or lowering himself to the sweet down-tempo pop of “Catching Feelings” and “Fall”, or the up-tempo but equally sugary “Thoughts Of You”. Particularly considering that this album shows vocal talent and a certain musical exquisiteness, such as on “Die In Your Arms”, an up-beat ballad that seems like it could have come from the Mark Ronson factory.
Conclusion: this “Believe” isn’t going to make us Justin Bieber fans overnight. But watch out, because he has a certain style and what is coming may end up convincing us, however much we may have complained about him in the past. I didn’t like ‘N SYNC either, but Justin Timberlake solo swept me off my feet.