Hey Beliebers! It’s a-me, Sam Lansky, and this is my column, “Pop Think,” where for months I’ve been resisting succumbing to a major case of Bieber Fever. But alas, with the release of his new single, “Boyfriend,” Justin Bieber may have truly won me over (not that I was resisting that hard), because it’s about as good a pop morsel as any I can recall.
See, a new Justin Bieber single tends to be accompanied by a ton of hype, and this one definitely earned it: Hitting pretty much every mark on how fresh, sophisticated urban pop music should sound in 2012. But while it’s totally modern, it’s also appealingly nostalgic, harkening back to the days of Justin Timberlake, NSYNC and plenty of other iconic pop influences. In the absence of a new JT album, JB is evoking his predecessor in a way that feels distinctly Bieberific — and the results have been dazzling.
This week, I’m taking a look at how and why “Boyfriend” is pretty much a perfect pop single — and why we should all be pretty excited about his upcoming studio album, Believe. Do you belieb? (I know I do!)
Is it premature to say that “Boyfriend” is certifiably the best thing that Justin Bieber has ever done? The urban pop whiz-kid, who in the span of a few short years has become one of the biggest artists in the game, has a strong track record of killer pop singles, from the melodic powerhouse of “Baby” to the slick dance-pop of “Somebody To Love,” but “Boyfriend” takes Justin’s swag game in a whole new direction — and I for one am all ears.
Icy-cool galactic pop with minimalist instrumentation, frosty bird call synths and whispered rap that gives way to a sweetly crooned chorus, “Boyfriend” picks up where the truly great pop of the early millennium left off, evoking NSYNC’s “Gone” and “Girlfriend” as well as the best stuff in Justin Timberlake’s catalog. This should be no surprise, since any male pop vocalist recording music in 2012 should be looking to a legendary innovator like JT for influence, so the extent to which Bieber is channeling the former Justin’s influence is pretty remarkable. But that great artist’s influence, which is unmissable on the track, would be meaningless without Bieber’s own developing artistic vision, which sees “Boyfriend” moving in a thrillingly hip direction.
Read more about Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” after the jump.
Sure, the lyrics in “Boyfriend” may not be approaching poetic profundity (“Chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue” probably won’t move anyone to tears, and if a romantic partner whispered “I could be your Buzz Lightyear, fly across the globe” to me over a candlelit dinner, I’d be pulling a “Check, please” right quick), but this barely feels relevant when the sheer sound of “Boyfriend” is so sexy. The lattice of piercing synths and twangy guitars intersecting with those likably goofy lyrics feels like the perfect mix of sultry adult maturity and charmingly weird adolescent awkwardness: After all, what’s appealing about laying in the snow? (As anyone who’s suffered through an East Coast winter knows, the cinematic appeal of making snow angels gets pretty old after a minute when you’re just cold and wet.) But that’s the brilliance of the lyrics, since those are the moments that comprise a young romance — the disillusionment of discovering the realities of a fantasy romance.
Because when push comes to shove, of course, the most important thing an artist can do is evolve, which is exactly what Justin’s done with this next era — since “Boyfriend” represents a marked directional shift away from the sweeter teen pop of his origins, into an attractively adult dimension, with lyrics that stay close to his teen-pop roots. Justin told MTV News last month that he wants to “gain respect” and “break out of his shell” with his upcoming third studio album, Believe, and with rumored collaborations with A-list chanteuses such as Ke$ha (amazing) and Taylor Swift (double amazing), and studio sessions on the books with hitmakers like Timbaland, there’s no reason to think that won’t happen.
The thing that I love most about Justin’s new direction, though, is the fact that he’s not just resting on his laurels. He’s got the kind of built-in, peerlessly passionate fanbase that will follow him wherever he goes, even if he stuck to what he knows best and never evolved artistically. But he’s gunning to earn the acclaim of critics and listeners who might not have realized how great he’s always been. If I was ever skeptical, you can now call me a certified fanboy. “Boyfriend” is an absolute smash.