Justin Bieber's new album ‘Believe' is beautifully sung and deftly adds a Euro-house beat to the teen idol's usual R&B mix.
At this point in his whirlwind career, Justin Bieber's singing ranks among the least important drivers of his fame. More significant in a minute-to-minute sense are his freshly upswept hair (a kind of post-emo pompadour), his exclamatory Twitter feed (“FRANCE!! i see u. thank u!!”) and the many, many photographs depicting his and girlfriend Selena Gomez's support of the Southern California fast-food industry (these kids love their Chick-fil-A). We're talking the nuts and bolts, in other words, of 21st century teen idoldom — the everyday texture of a life lived under the social-media microscope.
Yet if Bieber's voice has gotten relatively short shrift over the two years since he released “My World 2.0,” the Canadian-born pop star's new sophomore full-length serves as a gentle correction: For all its cutting-edge production and grown-up talk of “swag, swag, swag,” “Believe” feels designed primarily to showcase his increasing vocal ability; it might be the year's most beautifully sung recording.
As befits a young man who turned 18 in March, Bieber's voice has deepened from the mall-rat squeak captured in early tunes like “One Less Lonely Girl” and the adorably aspirational “Bigger,” which urged a girlfriend to believe in him “like a fairy tale / Put a tooth under your pillowcase.” (The innocent bedtime fantasy was a recurring trope on Bieber's 2009 debut EP, “My World”: “I know they said belief in love is a dream that can't be real,” he acknowledged in “Favorite Girl,” “So, girl, let's write a fairy tale and show 'em how we feel.”)
That inevitable downward tendency, though, hasn't thickened Bieber's appealingly lightweight tone in new songs such as “Boyfriend” and “Catching Feelings”; the latter, especially, demonstrates how nimbly he can navigate a melody that sounds borrowed from teen-years Michael Jackson.
Jackson's early work is an obvious lodestar on “Believe,” as is “Justified,” the solo debut that Justin Timberlake released in 2002 following his stint with the hugely successful boy band 'N Sync. In “Die In Your Arms,” Rodney Jerkins — one of Bieber's key producers here, along with Adam Messinger and Nasri — samples Jackson's “We've Got a Good Thing Going,” from 1972's “Ben” album; “Take You” evokes the clipped funk of Timberlake's “Like I Love You.”
But although it's rooted in the blue-eyed R&B that Bieber grew up channeling (and eventually attracted attention with on YouTube), “Believe” also takes on the bludgeoning Euro-house groove that's lately made stars out of such non-singing DJs as David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia. For many pop vocalists the dance-music environment isn't a terribly friendly workplace — too much forward momentum, not enough space to fill with sound. At best it can reduce a singer to his or her most baseline characteristics, as in Guetta's “Night of Your Life,” which features Jennifer Hudson in what might be described as a guest-firehose role.
Bieber somehow eludes those enforced limitations: Even in cuts as cyborg-sleek as “All Around the World” and the Max Martin-produced “Beauty and a Beat” he keeps the focus tight, emphasizing his inflection. It's difficult to think of a recent four-on-the-floor record with more melisma than this one. Sometimes Bieber uses that ample vocal technique to make a point about his pop-star prowess: “I don't know about me, but I know about you,” he sings over a skeletal hip-hop beat in “Boyfriend,” “So say hello to falsetto in three, two…” In the unlikely event that you haven't heard “Boyfriend” — it's inside the top 10 on iTunes, Spotify and Billboard's Hot 100 — you can figure out what happens next.
At other points on “Believe,” though, Bieber summons an expressive vulnerability that feels more or less unmatched among his current peers. In “Right Here,” a duet with Drake, Bieber transfers a child's elemental need for a parent to a lover's dependence on another.
In these songs Bieber seems perfectly comfortable inhabiting his producers' high-tech soundscapes; he's young enough to have had computers define his existence. But “Believe” also strikes an unexpectedly lifelike note. It reminds you that Bieber Fever is a communicable disease, one passed from human to human.
3 1/2 stars out of 4.
As a star birthed by YouTube and raised by Twitter, Justin Bieber has never had the luxury of growing up outside the public eye. In the two years between his breakout 2010 LP, My World 2.0, and Believe, his second proper full-length, Bieber has had to go through cultural puberty and actual puberty — a tough gauntlet by any measure.
Luckily, his instincts (or at least the instincts of the small republic of people employed to steer the USS Bieber) are strong, and Believe works surprisingly well as a reinvention and a reintroduction. It's the rare album that tries to be everything to everyone and largely succeeds. Like his mentor Usher, Bieber fully embraces both Ibiza beats (see dubsteppy bangers ''All Around the World'' and ''Take You'') and urban swagger (Drake and Nicki Minaj each drop by). Believe also updates his signature sounds. ''Catching Feelings'' would have been a smooth spoonful of radio sugar on his debut, but the new Bieber turns it into a soulful R&B campfire jam. Biology has robbed him of some of his range, but he makes up for it in confidence: First-gen Bieber couldn't have handled the goosebumpy swoop of ''Fall,'' but this JB turns it into the album's profound emotional climax.
Isn't it strange that the Bieber fever that has overtaken the world over the past two years actually hasn't come with a whole lot of new Justin Bieber music? Since "My World 2.0" was released in March 2010, Bieber has toured the world, released a 3D movie, issued every piece of merchandise available (do YOU have your Justin Bieber trading cards handy?), and even scored two more No. 1 albums, first with a "Never Say Never" remix package, and then with a very solid holiday offering, "Under The Mistletoe."
Those latter two releases gave Bieber's rabid fans a quick fix and hinted at the pop superstar's newfound maturity, all while whetting appetites for "Believe," his highly anticipated new full-length. Unlike with artists such as Lady Gaga or Rihanna, the trajectory of Bieber's career has been based more on the 18-year-old as a person and brand more than a slew of hit singles -- "Baby" certainly seems like a long time ago, and we, as music fans, have gotten to learn everything imaginable about this good-looking Canadian kid before hearing its grown-up follow-up singles.
And so, "Believe" has arrived. It is a very enjoyable, dance-leaning pop record, but it is not the new Justin Timberlake album. And why should it be? Bieber is still just 18 years old and trying to find his musical lane while grappling with an unprecedented amount of attention. Because his growth in front of the camera has occurred so quickly and steadfastly, his music has been (unfairly) expected to do the same. "Believe" has multiple songs that hint at what Bieber could become someday -- "Fall" is a very capable ballad that scratches the surface of truly affecting songwriting; "Right Here" features Bieber being inspired by a rapper whose own mind has been freed, "Matrix"-style; and "Boyfriend" and "Die In Your Arms" remain undeniable singles, the former especially pushing the young singer into new stylistic territory.
Overall, "Believe" sinks its tendrils into the listener's brain by riding the dance music phenomenon and offering some whizz-bang production alongside Bieber's sticky-sweet singing voice. The lyrics are unfussy and at times too complacent in their rhymes, but the music powers the weaker moments through unnoticed. This is a pop record, and even if the flashes of poetic brilliance aren't there, the hooks very much are.
"Believe" does not offer any moments of transcendence, nor does it include a "Cry Me A River." And that's okay. Justin Bieber may not have crossed over into the fearless stomping grounds of the Timberlakes yet, but he may very well get there someday, and that's all we need to know for now.
The rise of Justin Bieber was such a blinding explosion of hair and smiles and YouTube cuteness that it was easy to miss his music's ironic achievement: its light touch. His first two releases – the 2009 EP My World and 2010's full-length My World 2.0 – were snuggle-fresh and butterfly-light, luxuriating in R&B bubblegum and first-blush puppy lust. At a time when 12-year-olds can get porn on their iPod Touches, the Biebs made flirty innocence thrive.
But Justin's 18 now, legal and, according to Believe, fully lethal. "Swag, swag, swag on you/Chillin' by the fire while we're eating fondue," he sings on the sinewy electro-pop single "Boyfriend," easing the transition from pup to playa in one of the year's more awesome lyrics. On Believe, Biebs' voice has deepened (physically and digitally), the beats are more driving and libidinous, the sonic settings more intense and wide-ranging. Bieber aspires to the tight versatility of his benefactor Usher, who is one of the album's executive producers.
Bieber's revamped sound makes room for universalist Euro-house ("All Around the World") and high-drama hip-hop boom ("As Long as You Love Me"), and on "Right Here," Drake and Bieber go low-talking Lothario to low-talking Lothario. It's cosmopolitan pop sophistication, designed to make this the Bieber album 18-and-over folks can like without feeling like they're joining NAMBLA.
Believe's recently legal euphemisms aren't always smooth. On "Fall," he croons, somewhat ickily, "If you spread your wings, you can fly away with me." Sometimes he barrels through euphemism entirely. The bonus track, "Maria," about a real-life fan's phony paternity suit, is "Billie Jean" by way of Matt Lauer Reports – "She's crazy/Crazy in love!" Bieber sings, sowing his celebrity-victimhood oats. Sometimes, however, the results are excellent and hilarious. On the Max Martin-produced disco-inferno "Beauty and the Beat," Nicki Minaj swoops down like a horny hawk: "Justin Bieber/ You know I'm gonna hit 'em with the ether/Buns out, wiener/But I gotta keep an eye out for Selena."
Bieber doesn't have the soulful vocal snaps of a Justin Timberlake or the shock-and-awe charisma of a Britney Spears. His gently sparkling persona can get overwhelmed by all the sonic gear-switching, technological tomfoolery and sweaty come-ons; it can all feel a bit rushed. The best song on Believe, "Thought of You," has it both ways, combining the impulse to wait with the impulse to get down into a pure-pop fever dream. Over producer Diplo's superhero piano stabs, double-time hand claps and a whoosh-trance build that leads to a chorus Lady Gaga would give her favorite wig for, Bieber goes into spirals of falsetto rapture as a cyclone of contradictory emotion: "I'm in love with the thought of you/Not the things you do," he admits. It's the moment where Justin lives most honestly in the swag-and fondue-deprived world of his fans – crushed out to the point of asphyxiation, pulled in a million directions, chasing feelings he can't understand to consequences he'll probably regret. It's where he's a kid again.
3 out of 5 stars.
NY Daily News
Pity the poor teen idol. The double whammy of nature and ego demands that they grow. But they can only change so much, lest they leave a large, lucrative and very loud audience confused and vulnerable to the competition.
Justin Bieber faced a head-on collision with this dilemma on “Believe,” his third and latest CD. It arrives just two months after the Bieb celebrated his 18th birthday, a milestone which may not have brought him enough secondary sex characteristics to require a shaving kit but which, apparently, did funnel in just enough testosterone to lower his voice a smidge. The Bieber of “Believe” sings in a marginally deeper register than before, while the one we see on its cover sports a more business-like haircut than the sensation-making shag that graced his debut, “My World” just two years ago.
Of course, changes like those reflect the necessities of time and hormones. What about more controllable issues — matters as trifling as music or lyrics?
Let’s just say no parent or fan will be doing any double-takes from a single sound or lyric devised here. Not once does “Believe” waver from Bieber’s chaste and dreamy character. He’s still the smitten pursuer, promising undying love to anyone who’ll be his girl. It’s enough to make the Backstreet Boys seem like date rapists. While the music does integrate many more disruptive, post-dubstep stabs of synthesizer, they’re of a sort already chewed-on and digested by today’s dance-driven, Top 40 mainstream.
Most of the songs — catchy, in a generic way — hedge their bets by hinging on a trifecta of dance, R&B and pop. Whatever divisions that canny mix doesn’t smooth over, the production does. If Bieber’s sound has always been robotic — to the point where it obscures the very fluidity and prettiness of the voice it means to enhance — this time his producers leaned even deeper into that fault. It sounds like they employed more machinery than it would take to launch a mission to the moon. Of course, this does serve to soften the blow of Bieber’s lowered voice. The extra blast of auto-tuning feminizes him and his doughy inflections soften things even more.
It’s all in keeping with the androgynous Bieber gestalt which, in turn, dovetails with an increasing feminization of pop in general — something evident ever since hip-hop shrank from the mainstream. The approach also connects Bieb to the obvious role model he has chosen for growing up: Michael Jackson. The new CD’s one great melody (in “Die in Your Arms”) recycles bits from a Jackson song of the ’70s (“We Got a Good Thing Going”). Likewise, the bonus track, “Maria,” borrows the concept of “Billie Jean,” even if it lacks as hot a tune. Jackson’s Peter Pan persona may make him an odd role model for maturing. But from the sound of this CD — and to the sure relief of Bieber’s money manager - it doesn’t sound as if he’s about to grow out of his dewy old role anytime soon.
Justin Bieber doesn’t care what I think of him. The YouTube star turned singing sensation has topped practically every Billboard chart, toured the world, released a 3D movie, plastered his face on ever piece of merchandise imaginable (have you changed the batteries in your Bieber brand electric toothbrush lately?), and scored three No. 1 albums.
And then he turned 18.
He is also undoubtedly one of the most critic-proof artists to ever exist. Which is why his new album Believe, which drops today, will sell millions and millions of copies no matter what some grown-up says about it. So why fight Bieber fever? In lieu of borrowing a 12-year-old girl—a request that is impossible to make without sounding creepy—I let down my hair, put on some One Less Lonely Glitter nail polish, and got in touch with my inner tween. And then a funny thing happened: I kind of fell in love. Which is pretty much the point of the whole album.
The 13 tracks on Believe are written precisely to appeal to Bieber’s die-hard fan base of adolescent and tween girls. Every single track is a love song. (It’s worth noting that the album’s bonus track, “Maria,” is very much not a love song, but instead hate mail directed squarely at Mariah Yeater, the woman who falsely accused the teen dream of fathering her child.) “Boyfriend,” the album’s first single, promises that “If I was your boyfriend/I’d never let you go,” lyrics sure to make any teen’s heart go pitter pat. Parents need not fear the Bieb, though. While the songs are all about love and relationships, they are clearly written for the PG-13 set. On “Catching Feelings,” a smooth love song that could easily have been performed by John Legend or even George Michael, the lyrics seem tweaked to reflect his years: “I’m too young for love/but I’m catching feelings.” Even when Drake appears on the R&B-inspired song “Right Here,” he sings about wanting to kiss you and hug you, get to know you—but wait until the time is right. This is not the stuff of which R&B lyrics normally consist, but definitely lets parents sleep more easily at night. But is Bieber simply writing to his audience or are there legitimate teen feelings involved?
Cynics would say, Bieber—or at least the team around him—knows how to sell the teen heartthrob. And Google lists Bieber’s net worth at $112 million, so there is little doubt that his management team knows exactly what they are doing. So when his manager Scooter Braun tells CBS Local that the tear-jerking love song ”Fall” was inspired by Nicholas Sparks’ weepy romance A Walk To Remember, are we supposed to believe that Bieber reads Nicholas Sparks novels or that his marketing team wants us to think he reads Nicholas Sparks novels? And are we supposed to buy it when Braun claims that when Bieber was writing the song, he dreamed up a tragic tale of a girl who died from cancer and her friend-turned-boyfriend falling down on his knees at her grave in grief? According to Braun, the imagined scenario was so tragic for the 18-year-old multi-millionaire that it caused him to choke up while singing the final lines of “Fall”: “You can’t fly unless you let yourself fall/ I will catch you if you fall.” Cynics would see right through that, but the believers, well, they want to believe. They don’t call them Beliebers for nothing.
That said, there is no doubt that Believe will be a blockbuster. The album’s first single, “Boyfriend,” was Bieber’s fastest-selling hit by far, topping 2 million in digital sales in just nine weeks. (By contrast, “Baby” took 20 weeks to top the 2 million mark in June 2010, and “One Time” took more than 13 months to top the 2 million mark in August 2010.) The tracks on Believe are a true evolution from “Baby,” the bubble gum pop song that was Bieber’s first smash hit. The songs are sleeker, savvier and even sexier (don’t worry, he’s legal) and show that Bieber, now 18, is maturing. Not only age-wise, but as a musician, and, in fact, he may be in the middle of some musical growing pains. When “Baby” came out, Bieber was still an upstart, but now he is a star and his album has a lot riding on it. To wit, his team infused the album with all the slick production values that money can buy, bringing in producers like Diplo, The Messengers, Rodney Jerkins, Hit-Boy, Max Martin and Bei Maejor to glitz up the songs, of which all but one were co-written by Bieber.
Perhaps working with that many producers can account for some of the albums genre-hopping style. Believe has Bieber performing everything from the R&B smooth jazz-pop number “Catching Feelings” to the hip-hop-inflected dance track “Beauty and the Beat” to the seemingly Skrillex-inspired song “As Long As You Love Me.” The fact that the album covers such vast stylistic ground reveals something that we all already know: Bieber is just a teenager. If you keep that in mind, it’s less surprising when he namechecks Buzz Lightyear while singing about being a boyfriend who would never let you go or when his voice almost cracks as he reaches the upper echelons of his register when he sings “As long as you laaaaallalalalalala love me.”
In some ways, the album is the musical equivalent of a one-man stage show of The Breakfast Club with Bieber alone playing the jock, the loner and the princess all set to a club beat and produced by Baby Face. That’s not a bad thing—it just shows that Bieber, like most teens, is still trying to find himself. His self-discovery just happens to be very public and poised to sell millions of copies. The album isn’t cohesive, but is peppered with enough stand out tracks such as “All Around the World” and “Take Care” that the album is fun to listen to and hit singles are a sure thing. And every album needs a b-side, even in the digital age when most Bieber fans have no idea what “b-side” refers to.
Despite the millions of dollars poured into this album, the song lyrics aren’t brilliant. On one track Bieber rhymes tonight, knife, and night during the chorus. You would expect that some of the money spent on this album could have bought a rhyming dictionary, but perhaps they blew the budget on guest stars. The album has some doozies, with everyone from Drake to Big Sean to Ludacris popping up on the tracks. The big names make a splash, and offer lackadaisical listeners a welcome break from Bieber’s high-pitched wails. Occasionally, though, Bieber is shown up by his guests. In “Beauty and the Beat,” a slightly silly fast-paced electro pop song, Nicki Minaj magically rhymes “Selener” and “weiner” in such an upbeat and fun contribution that it makes you want to stop listening to Justin Bieber and just play a Nicki Minaj song.
“I want to be remembered,” Bieber declared during his sit down on the Today Show last week. That seems like a sure thing for the young star and this album will help him get there. Believe is a solid addition to his discography, because, despite its shortfalls, it is an album full of potential. The tracks that are good are very very good pop songs. As Bieber gets older and gets more comfortable as a musician and settles into a style that works for him, there is little doubt that he will make incredible music. Or he can just retire to an island and roll around in his money. Or his own bed sheets.
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