Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Oh boy do we have a big name today.
As of 2012, I think most people have entered into this kind of weird relationship with Justin Bieber. His first single came out almost three years ago now, and he hit cultural ubiquity (and hate) within a year. But where it gets weird is that, while yes, he has been successful in a way that other famous people resent–as well as everyone else, his main pitch, his music, has also been incredibly easy to avoid. It’s not like how people hate Nickelback, who get reliable radio time, or where Gaga haters got their justification from her being overplayed; for the most part, Bieber doesn’t get any real radio or tv exposure. There’s no rational way to hate him this much for his music.
But, for better and worse, I think that it’s almost time for Bieber to break out of the teen idol ghetto. More to the point, he kind of has to; he’s past the point where he can hide the fact that he’s aging, especially now that his voice has changed. And One Direction coming up behind him’s only rushing things, so here’s Justin Bieber with his first All Growed Up single, “Boyfriend”.
And nothing says “darker and edgier” than handclaps over a single, frigid synth. And aside from that, all we’re going to get during the verses in “Boyfriend” is an extra beat about halfway through. Bieber’s music has always had kind of a hip-hop lean, but this goes the extra step into hip-hop minimalism. Who produced this track, anyway?
Mike Posner produced “Boyfriend”? And he’s got a writing credit? Fledgling pop star, possible one hit wonder, and a blatant Justin Timberlake wanna-be was able to work on one of the biggest singles of the year? Who’d he have to bribe to get that one? I guess it makes sense, considering that from what I’ve found, producer was Posner’s hat trick to begin with, and the production on his stuff was the most enjoyable element of it, but as far as I can tell, this is his first high profile production gig.
And I guess once you get over the difference of it, “Boyfriend” doesn’t have terrible production. The acoustic guitar on the chorus doesn’t gel with the chilly beat, but it goes better with Bieber’s voice. And there’s an extra little synth on the chorus that isn’t bad. And, like most Bieber tracks, the production ends up getting a little cluttered towards the end with layered vocals. There’s also something with a throw-back feel to the chorus, like it goes back in pop a few years. It could almost be a Justin Timerlake track.
Speaking of which, “Boyfriend” makes it evident that Bieber wants to be the next Timberlake so badly. He jumps between falsetto and his medium register on the chorus, layers his vocals, and spends the last chorus pushing his voice as high as possible, and–to be fair, does pretty well. Far and away, the chorus is the most enjoyable part of the song; memorable, catchy, easy to sing along to…pretty good. And the bridge feels more like the chorus than the verses, so from the end of the second verse onward, “Boyfriend” isn’t to bad. Actually, let’s rewind back to the verses.
…is Justin Bieber fucking rapping?
And it’s not just that he’s rapping, he’s rapping with this “Look how low my voice can go” grumble that just doesn’t work. Look, Justin, I get that this is your “I’m an adult” single, but being an adult doesn’t mean swinging so hard in the opposite direction you lose all believably. And this is made worse by the lyrics.
“If I was your boyfriend, I’d never let you go” Normally, I’d let this one go, but since he’s saying it in a voice that approximates Trent Reznor’s tone in “Closer”, it sounds like more of a threat than anything else.
“I could be your Buzz Lightyear, fly across the globe” That’s…not what Buzz Lightyear does. Also, Bieber wasn’t even a toddler when the first Toy Story came out, can he reference that?
“I want to make you shine bright, like you’re laying in the snow” Bless your heart, Justin, you’re trying to make hypothermia sound sensual.
So yeah, a lot of the lyrics to “Boyfriend” are bad, but more than that, they’re awkward as a whole. He has a few boast lines during the rap verses (“money in my hands that I’d really like to blow”, “swag on you”, “Voice going crazy on this hook like a whirlwind”, and “Swag, swag, swag” which is straight up trolling), then whips out “Hey girl, let me talk to you”, “If I can be a gentleman”, and “I just wanna love and treat you right“ on the chorus/bridge. It’s like he’s trying to impress a girl on the verses, and then impress her dad on the chorus.
So, how does Justin Bieber handle his first transition single? Kind of awkwardly. He handles with with far more grace than Miley Cyrus did, but like Miley, he’s trying too hard to look grown up instead of be it. The tamest parts of “Boyfriend” still have more grit than the twerpy “Baby”, and it’s only when the song goes too hard do you see that he’s still just barely 18. Pretty decent chorus, though.
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