I need to be honest about something right from the jump: I'm not a fan of Justin Bieber (*braces for the full wrath of the Bieliebers*).
To be clear, my distaste for the Biebs is not the result of any bullshit anti-pop, anti-bubblegum, anti-teenybopper, pretentious asshole-DJ disposition. Quite the contrary, I am a proud owner of the entire Taylor Swift discography, regularly revel in the genius of boy-bands both past ("Quit Playin' Games With My Heart" still hits me square in my baby-soft chest) and present (One Direction's "One Thing" is glorious), and believe that Miley Cryus' work on "Party in the USA" is nothing short of a spiritual revelation. No, my beef with Bieber aka the rapper known as Scrappy Doo, rests soundly on the shoulders of the man-child himself, and more importantly on the music he makes.
Look: JB is a child star, something that cannot be easy for any kid and it's certainly been a rough few months for our collective comically overly-confident, younger cousin. He got dumped by Selena Gomez, got snapped blowing some trees, had the self-proclaimed worst birthday (I know, tragedy finds celebrities too), was unceremoniously stripped of his pet monkey, fought with the paparazzi (shirtless), was briefly hospitalized for exhaustion (shirtless), and even showed up 2 hours late to a number of concerts attended primarily by young ladies with a strict 9:30PM bedtime (again, shirtless).
However, I'm finding it exceedingly tough to feel empathy for Bieber, sucky b-days and all, because frankly, he consistently acts like a bit of a cocky prick. Just look at this and this and this and this and this and this and of course, this. Annoying, right?
Noted-laureate 50 Cent once famously stated, "I talk a lotta shit, cuz I can back it up," something that was actually true of 50 when he first rapped it and a pertinent line to the current state of Bieber-dom. You see unlike, say, 50 in his prime or Kanye West always, the primary reason why Bieber's entitled attitude gets under my skin is that he hasn't proven that he has the goods to back up both his attitude and his omnipresence.
Time for a truth-nugget: Justin's 4-year run has produced exactly one truly great, indelible single in his breakthrough 2010 hit "Baby." Beyond that, he's had a couple just-aight ditties ("Somebody To Love," "Boyfriend," "As Long As U Love Me") and a whole lotta just bad and perhaps even worse, incredibly generic ones ("Beauty and a Beat," "Never Say Never," "Right Here," "U Smile," the list really goes on and on). He's all ego - and lacks the cultural capital to make his bluster worth suffering through.
So Jus': All that said, you're still a young man, you're clearly going through some way-intense hormonal stuff right now and even I can admit that you clearly possess a certain natural talent and charisma. In other words, it's not too late! And lucky for you, I'm here to give you 3 important tips to make that tricky Timberlake-ian transition from fleeting teen fancy to enduring Pop Icon. I don't love you right now Biebs, but I think you have potential and in order to make it to the next level, you need pop-keen, musically-inclined twenty-somethings like myself to get on board the Bieber Express. So just put your shirt on real quick, ditch your inverted iPhone camera for one hot second and gather 'round for some real talk:
1. Ditch the 'tude: This is incredibly important. Bieber, flaunting his new "grown-man" body and singing his new "grown man" lyrics, clearly wants to be taken seriously as an grown man. However, adults tend to detest impetuous teenage boys, and they certainly don't run out and buy their music. Look -- we've all been 19 and felt invincible, so imagine being 19 AND being an international celebrity AND being sickeningly rich. Of course you're gonna get a big head.
But the artists with real longevity in the music industry are, almost categorically, down-to-earth. Michael Jackson, perhaps the gold-standard for both child-stars and pop stars in terms of talent, was also known to be exceedingly humble. So check yourself, JB. No one likes an arrogant tool who visits the Anne Frank house and uses it as opportunity to surmise, publicly, that the Holocaust victim would have been a fan of his. Also, we all know Anne would have been a dedicated Lovatic, anyway.
2. Actively reach out to new, older fans: Justin is at a precipice. Sure, he is a big deal with the coveted-pubescent girl demo cuz he's, like, a total dreamboat and what not, but they're also notoriously the ficklest of audiences. Pretty soon, those screaming hoards of Beliebers are gonna gonna go to college, try molly and, with the help of their new boyfriend Mark (nickname EaZy) who DJs on the side, enter their Moombahcore phase. Justin needs to convince twenty-something pop fans like me that he's worth caring about as an artist, as well as keep up with his ever-aging army of lady fans which brings me to my next and perhaps most important point...
3. Find an amazing collaborator and push the envelope with your music: One of the biggest issues with Bieber's lackluster 2012 release "Believe" (which has sold about 1/3 of his previous release, 2010's "My World 2.0," just FYI) was not only that it tried to be everything to everyone and ended up being nothing to anyone, but also that he worked with literally EVERYONE. The producer credits alone include no fewer than 28 names on a 13-track album and the list of writers is even longer. Musically, it runs the gamut from faceless, faux-inspirational dance-pop to goopy, love-sick puppy ballads to stabs at Drake-style confessional R&B to middling Timberlake rip-offs.
Speaking of JT, this is an area where young Justin could really take page of older Justin's book. With 2002's "Justified," Justin Timberlake took an important step by making an incredibly of-the-moment and coherent sounding album, which included four culture-defining singles to boot. Three of these, along with majority of the that album, were produced by The Neptunes ("Like I Love You," "Rock Your Body," & "Señorita"), a move that brought the lauded Hip-Hop production duo to the vanguard of the pop music landscape and turned Justin, the Timberlake variety, into a bonafide, grown-up superstar. The fourth, "Cry My A River," was produced by Timbaland who then went on to helm the entirety of JT's second album "FutureSex/LoveSounds," a record that went even further in redefining and shaping the center of pop music to the present day.
JB needs to find the next Timabland or the Neptunes and let that person or team help guide him, and us, to the cutting edge of pop (Maybe it's Hit Boy? Maybe it's Diplo?). To be honest, the dudes aren't really bringing it in the genre right now (please don't look me in the eye and tell me Chris Brown is the best we can do), so the field is wide open. If he wants to make it, Bieber really needs to step up and be that man. Making incredible music will in-and-of-itself achieve point #2, and will, at least temporarily, render #1 a moot point.
So Justin: what I'm trying to say here is the world is right there in your oddly-muscular-for-your-age little palm. So chill by the fire and eat some fondue as you do, and think about what's been said here. I'm not a Bielieber right now, but I'm totally open to becoming one if you give me the impetus or, at the very least, an amazing tune. And I can be very dedicated fan. I've even stuck with Lady GaGa through "Born This Way," so I've really seen the worst of it. So before you release new music, take a breath and enjoy some humble pie, young paduan. We're here waiting for a reason to care.