The Justin Conundrum

Dave Iannacone

So the legend of Biebs continues! His new single, “Boyfriend” arrived last week and has just entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #2. Clearly, his fame is not waning, despite not really having any serious output for a while. The new track is a major step forward for him as an artist. Still, considering where he came from, that isn’t saying much.

“Boyfriend” is a pretty straightforward R&B/hip-hop track with tinges of acoustic guitar, a really annoying sample that never goes away, and the best Justin Timberlake faucetto impersonation in years. Oh, and someone told Biebs he could rap. It ends up being more of speaking than anything else, but the effort is a valiant. Then there are the lyrics. The only way I can really think to describe them is to compare them to an LFO song. For those unfamiliar/forgetful, that’s not a good thing, with beauties like “swag, swag, swag, on you” and “I could be your Buzz Lightyear, fly across the globe.”

So we have a relatively big pop star (his fame is much larger than his success in the music world) with a desperate bid to sound more mature. Ok, that’s not so uncommon. However, when literally your entire fan base is made up of 12-year-old girls (oh I’m sorry, they’re probably 13 by now,) you legitimately cannot NOT cater to them. This is where Justin is going to struggle. I’m not saying he isn’t talented. He’s out there doing much more than most musicians 10 years older than him. It seems that he’s finally adjusted to his voice change (although speaking through half your song doesn’t really help your cause,) and he’s really trying hard to make that transition to a more respected audience, and all the power to him. It’s probably not going to work though. When you’ve got millions of Beliebers out there, sending your song straight to #2, it’s hard not to want to stick with them.

If Justin Bieber wasn’t so young when he first came out, he would have never made it as a pop star. Obviously he was never going to appeal to the same crowd that Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry, etc. are, and as a result is now stuck with his legion of (rather abrasive) fangirls pretty much indefinitely. If he took the risk of jumping ship and putting out something that would isolate his fan base, he probably wouldn’t come out successful. For pop fans over the age of 16 (really through 30’s,) Biebs is kind of the village idiot, with obvious exceptions. It really has nothing to do with his talent, just his output. When you’re making music for the “Disney” audience, and trying to keep up with the big guys, you kind of don’t have much working for you.

In a way, though, “Boyfriend” was the best move he could have made. Is it a good song by any means? Well, it is catchy, but that’s really it. However, it’s clearly something different and “against the grain” for him; it proves a point. At the same time, he’s appealing to his fans. Whereas he could easily be singing about sex, he keeps it PG. So the 13 year olds aren’t being corrupted, but they’re being prepped for an attempt at a step forward. As long as the Beliebers are still Beliebing, Justin’s got nothing to worry about. He’s going to have a #1 album, he’s going to keep selling singles, and he’s going to keep winning all fan-voted awards. Is he going to walk away with a Grammy? No. Is he going to change pop music? No. It’s nice that those are his ambitions, but he’s going to be better off sticking to what he’s got.