Justin Bieber's Believe: A Friendly Chat About Its Merits, Its Hooks, And Its Foray Into "Arena Moombahton"
This week, teen-idol-of-the-moment Justin Bieber released his second proper full-length, Believe, a record studded with cameos by the likes of Drake and Nicki Minaj and stuffed with different styles of musicfrom R&B to simply sung acoustic-guitar balladry to something that's either arena rock or moombahton, or maybe a hybrid of both. (The song in question was produced by Diplo, so the latter might very well be true.) In the wake of this monumental pop event, the Voice's Maura Johnston and Nick Murray got on the horn (or, rather, Gchat) to discuss the album.
Maura Johnston: So the official narrative goes that Justin Bieber's Believe is his "growth" album, the one where he gets rid of the floppy hair and lets his changed voice lead the proceedings. His... justification of himself as an artist, if you will. And I guess the last track on the album, "Maria," is the exclamation point on that statementit's a broadside against the woman who famously accused him of fathering her child last year.
Nick Murray: Yeah totally, and it's a bit unexpected to hear something so specific and so autobiographical at the end of an album whose lyrics are almost unanimously generic. I don't mean that in a bad way, of course, just that when Bieber tells us(?), someone(?), Selena(?), whoever, that he could just die in our arms, he's not revealing much about himself. That being said, I think the albums last few tracks are particularly smart. "Maria" is the broadside, but it's a sympathetic one, particularly following "She Don't Like the Lights," which uses camera flashes as percussion (the teenpop equivalent to the gun sounds in Waka's "Bustin' at Em?" and tells the opposite story, of a girl who avoids fame rather than seeks it.
Justin Bieber, "Be Alright"
NM: "Be Alright," the penultimate track on the non-deluxe, non-Ticketmaster, non-Best Buy version of the ultimate, is pretty great too. The song itself isn't particularly special, but after the dubstep, Diplo, and Euro-inflected dance music, it recalls (and here's where I out myself and knowing way too much about JB) the video of him playing his acoustic guitar on the curb as a 13 year-old, a video that is surely familiar to most of his biggest fans. (Maura, I know you saw Never Say Never, so maybe you can back me up here? Maybe? Please?) Either way, on that one, the "you" has to be the listener, the long-time Belieber who he'll always be there for, even as his music and haircut slowly evolve.
Does that sound right to you? What's your take on the song, the growth, or the haircut? Or should we skip straight to the dubstep?
MJ: Ha, the camera flashes on "Lights" actually reminded me of how JC Chasez manipulated Pac-Man for 'N Sync's "The Game Is Over"!
I first heard the album at a listening session hosted by Bieber's manager Scooter Braun, and when "Be Alright" came on I wrote, "this is his 'More Than Words'!" After all the clutter of the record, it really, yes, does show why he became so famous. It's charming and sweet, and the way it ends with a laugh is almost like his recorded version of "SWAK" on the back of an envelope. I think that and "Believe" are dual love letters that are more squarely aimed at his fanbase than anything else.
But OH the dubstep. I listen to so many new records that have nods to it being a trend and maybe it's because I'm old, but to my ears it already sounds pretty tired.
NM: Ha, I'm continually amused by the cult of personality that surrounds Scooter Braun. As a major Backstreet Boys/N*SYNC fan from back in the day (more on that when I write my First Worst in a few days), I can't remember even hearing the name "Lou Pearlman" until I got older and learned what an asshole he was.
Regardless, I like the dubstep! That sentence makes me sound hopelessly out of touch, but more specifically, I was kind of wowed by "As Long as You Love Me." I'm really into not only the softness of Bieber's voice, but also the softness of the track, which resists the big dubstep drop and instead tangles itself up with his stuttering "La-la-la-la" 's. I'm also a closet Big Sean fan, so there's that.