Our lit­tle Bieb is (sniff) grow­ing up

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

The al­bum, drop­ping Tues­day, is widely per­ceived as the Cana­dian singer’s at­tempt to tran­si­tion into a more ma­ture sound, and to win over older fans — those like­lier to re­quest an au­to­graph on their bo­soms than their binders.

But even as Bieber’s evolved pre-re­lease sin­gles earn crit­i­cal praise, ques­tions re­main about whether the 18-year-old will find in­dus­try val­i­da­tion or end up a mere foot­note in teen-idol his­tory. “I’ve pre­dicted a Justin Tim­ber­lake mo­ment, when all of a sud­den (in­sid­ers) might — might — find crit­i­cal value in what he does,” says Steve Jor­dan, founder of the Po­laris Mu­sic Prize. “I’ve been laughed at for pre­dict­ing that. But we’ll see, we’ll see. It could hap­pen.” Be­lieve fea­tures guest beats by Lu­dacris, Nicki Mi­naj, Drake and Big Sean, and pro­ducer cred­its that read like a Who’s Who of mu­sic. Though all bets are off un­til ev­ery track is out, crit­i­cal praise for lead sin­gles Boyfriend and Die in Your Arms sug­gests Bieber may soon have a per­ma­nent seat at the grown-ups’ ta­ble.

There’s even talk in Po­laris cir­cles of a fu­ture nom­i­na­tion for the pres­ti­gious prize — an out­come that would surely have hip­sters hang­ing them­selves by their skinny jeans.

“There’s a long his­tory of teen idols who proved them­selves to be truly tal­ented — and even ones whose tal­ent may not lie in their vo­cal range,” says Jor­dan, cit­ing Frank Si­na­tra, the Bea­tles and Elvis Pres­ley as ex­am­ples of the former, and Brit­ney Spears and Madonna as the lat­ter. “As long as his au­di­ence grows with him, and he grows with his au­di­ence, he’ll be fine.”

James Keast, edi­tor-in-chief of mu­sic mag­a­zine Ex­claim!, re­mains skep­ti­cal, not­ing the singer has too ef­fec­tively made a punch­line out of his own “Bieber­ness.” At this year’s Os­cars, for in­stance, the diminu­tive dream­boat told host Billy Crys­tal he was there to “get you the 18-to-24 de­mo­graphic.”

“His ca­reer seems to be, at this point, just be­ing Bieber,” says Keast. “The fact he’s hang­ing out with Kanye or Skrillex or who­ever, re­ally seems trans­par­ently like, ‘Oh, look at me, I’m edgy.’”

In­deed, it’s easy to in­ter­pret the high-pro­file col­lab­o­ra­tions on Be­lieve as a kind of fig leaf, with the young singer hid­ing be­hind other per­form­ers’ es­tab­lished cre­den­tials. And given the pal­pa­ble stigma he faces, it’s no won­der.

MuchMu­sic’s Lau­ren Toy­ota is among those tak­ing no­tice.

“When he first came out, our au­to­matic re­ac­tion was to go, ‘Oh teen heart­throb, he’s not go­ing to last.’ But very quickly he’s es­tab­lished a huge fan base, and re­spect from adults in the mu­sic in­dus­try,” says Toy­ota, co-host of this year’s MuchMu­sic Video Awards.

“I feel like as much as he’s ma­tured in cer­tain ways, and is ex­per­i­ment­ing with a bit of an edgier sound, he’s do­ing it in a way that isn’t shock­ing his fans or mak­ing them un­com­fort­able.”

Max Vali­quette, man­ag­ing direc­tor of strat­egy at Cana­dian ad agency Ben­si­mon Byrne, pre­dicts Bieber will ben­e­fit from the pre­vail­ing ethos of be­ing “al­lowed” to ap­pre­ci­ate pure pop artists with­out smirk­ing or irony.

But the road to val­i­da­tion will be fraught with push-back from those whose pop ed­u­ca­tion didn’t be­gin with High School Mu­si­cal.

“The greater your en­trench­ment with younger pop fans, the harder it is to tran­si­tion into con­quer­ing the adult mar­ket,” says Vali­quette. “The chal­lenge for an artist like Justin Bieber is that peo­ple feel guilty lis­ten­ing to his songs.”

Vali­quette has­tens to add, how­ever, that the same hur­dles ex­isted for JT be­fore leav­ing ’NSync in the early 2000s.

“If you told me at the time of Tearin’ Up My Heart or I Want You Back that, 15 years later, Justin Tim­ber­lake would be this act­ing-singing­danc­ing- Satur­day Night-Live- host­ing quadru­ple threat, I would’ve said you’re crazy. But here he is,” says Vali­quette.

“The pri­mary les­son is this: sur­round your­self with the best peo­ple, and be so good that it’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore you.”

ALEXAN­DRE MENEGH­INI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Justin Bieber’s new al­bum drops on Tues­day. It re­mains to be seen if he will be able to win over older fans.

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