Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Justin Bieber's "Believe"

Justin Bieber just released his third album (not counting his Christmas album) in three years and I'm kind of hoping Bieber-fatigue will cause fans not to go easy on him this time. In the past, the only songs worth listening to were the ones he released. And it appears that that's still the case.

Bieber is a B-grade singer, but his appeal lies in his charm not his talent. It's his personality that sells singles and albums, not his songs. What he shares most with Justin Timberlake, an artist he's often compared to, is that his personality is designed for Hollywood. He would be a great actor slash self-promoter. But much like his girlfriend Selena Gomez, his songs don't say much. So he should voluntarily get out of the game before they kick him out.

On the album Believe, undoubtedly a nod to his fans who call themselves Beliebers, there are four collaborations, all from rap artists: Ludacris, Big Sean, Drake, and Nicki Minaj. This is Bieber's official attempt to gradually crossover into rap as his often-mentioned "alter-ego" Swaggy. "All Around the World" features Ludacris, doing his usual dramatic enunciation (that I secretly love). It's a decent dance song that could've easily been churned out by the powerhouse that is David Guetta. On "As Long as You Love Me," Bieber delves deeper into The Wanted-type techno dance music while Big Sean never really finds the rhythm and continuously and awkwardly says the word "you" and the letter "U" throughout his entire verse. "Right Here" is very Drake: slow-jammed R&B, punctuated by smooth, seductive, albeit PG, rap lyrics. It's easy to bop your head to, but considering all of Drake's other collaborations, it was best left on the cutting room floor. Lastly, "Beauty and the Beat" is a generic video-game-tones-heavy party song where Nicki Minaj runs through every word she can think of that rhymes with "beat" and implies she's going to steal Bieber away from Selena. Zzzz (If you're looking for real scandal, you might enjoy the bonus track "Maria," where he sings about—and to—the woman who accused him of fathering her child. It sounds so "Billy Jean" it hurts.)

Bieber's best rap effort is actually "Boyfriend," a song that was co-written by rapper Mike Posner. It has the perfect mix of R&B crooner and rap player with a swagger-drenched beat. But he has a while before he becomes as convincing as Chris Brown, who managed to showcase rhyming skills last year on "Look At Me Now" without asking permission to or making a big deal about it. He'll take even longer if he keeps burying songs where he really goes for it, like the hidden track "Hey Girl," where he attempts a fast-paced rhythm, and on a Swedish bonus track, "Fairytale," where he and his bff Jaden Smith channel Drake while seducing the listener.

The other types of songs on the album are ballads ("Fall"), old school R&B ("Catching Feelings"), 80s disco (bonus track "Just Like Him"), and Michael Jackson meets Bruno Mars-type Motown ("Die In Your Arms")—the last of which is the second best track on the album, because it really isolates his voice and reminds the fans why he was signed in the first place. I'd recommend downloading those two and chucking the rest. Career-wise, I'd recommend that Bieber try to be the featured rapper on tracks for other pop singers. I'm sure his tour-mate Carly Rae Jepsen, his bff's little sis Willow Smith, his fellow teen-girl-magnets One Direction, and even his girlfriend wouldn't mind a verse or two. Make it happen.

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