Bieber’s new collection, marking his growth to adulthood, exceeds all expectations.
Natalie Shaw 2012-06-14
Marking his progression from screaming-kids-in-tow starlet to something close to a pop god, Justin Bieber’s new album not only finds him becoming an artist for adults on his own terms, but showcasing impressively distinctive tones and translating an innate charisma across many styles.
Believe is glitzier than his debut, My World(s), but Bieber doesn’t leave his faithful audience behind in pursuit of a broader fanbase. There are still returns to his years of tween appeal, notably on Be Alright, Fall and the title track.
But throughout, this album presents proof that expensive-sounding songs don’t need to be about material things, regardless of how much Bieber wants to scream that he’s an adult now. Despite the array of impressive guest contributors – Nicki Minaj, Drake, Ludacris, Big Sean, Mike Posner, Diplo – Bieber’s never overshadowed. He has grown into this role to such an extent that the "featuring" turns never steal his spotlight.
He’s aware that he’s still three years too young to get into the clubs where his beats belong; lyrically, his focus on love and faith is both explicit and suitably open – and, admirably, never puerile. Stepping back briefly, he’s simply being the teen star that he still is. The unshowiness of Bieber’s lyrics is played up, and his confidence, for the most part, played down.
It’s fine that his vocal simpers on the verses of As Long As You Love Me, because the song’s pulsating undercurrent propels it onto the dancefloor. And this is exactly why comparisons with Justin Timberlake’s showy dreamboat persona are misleading. Believe presents Bieber as an 18-year-old in love, rather than desperate for an audience to adore him.
The way he gets introspective on the Babyface-produced Catching Feelings is a rare delight: it sees him caught up in a daydream, like Robin Thicke for a younger generation. And other highlights are plentiful: Die in Your Arms’ Michael Jackson sample is worth every penny, while One Love’s space-age synths, watered down DnB beat and defiant lack of fluff make it a total mega-hit.
Believe doesn’t take as many risks as it might (those are saved for bonus tracks), but it’s not meant to be a big and bold collection. It’s simply, elegantly, propelling Bieber into the next chapter of his career. And for an album whose aims are so remarkably graceful, Believe exceeds all expectations.