—You Want Me
Justin Bieber - You Want Me (Unfinished) (internets, 2013) [via sweeeetbasil]
Whenever something is described as “calculated”, it always means one or more of the following words: shameless, cheap, pandering. You will most likely have read reviews of Justin Bieber’s 2012 LP Believe with snide usage of the phrase. At this moment, I’m awaiting NME to extend their joke-sneer towards one of his records rather than just re-posting news stories like his Black Keys shot (ergo continuing their topsy-turvy relationship with the pop mainstream as they hand out shortlived season tickets to the elitist stands. I’ll have to dig out what they said about Prince’s 1999 when it was released to further this point… I digress…)
I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Believe and yes, it’s a calculated effort - but for the majority of its running time (the Nicki and Luda collabos are immediate recycle bin candidates), this means it’s a pristine piece of work, laser-guided in locating the listener’s sweet spot, most of it being based in R&B. There’s enough sonic variety to keep it interesting as it moves from hip-hop swallowed by Transformer brostep drops to oontz-oontz Eurothump, bubblegum Quincy Jones throwbacks to 40 and Drizzy-esque slow jams. (Also, “arena moombahton”.)
It all hangs on The Bieb’s command of his springy voice, and he delivers. Believe is a blockbuster album, and like all blockbusters it’s a product as much as it is a piece of art, a project meant to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Stop sneering like that’s strictly an offensive thing for pop music to do.
We need to stop pretending that there’s something wrong with artists locating the sweet spot and taking advantage of it - I’ve talked about Skrillex before and how his mega-bassdrops hit you straight in the solar plexus, the effect increased tenfold by the sense of familiarity. And you may not like to read this, but seeing The Field live is very much the same experience. You’re waiting for that eight-plus minutes of build to pay off in spades, and once Jesper Skarin gets to let loose on his kit it’s a pretty incredible feeling. This is a calculated act, executed with pinpoint precision and it works just fine. What the hell made us hate formula?
Anyway. Bieber pulled an act to protest his Grammys snub, aiming to gather a legion of fans for a livestreaming session. It didn’t work because livestreams always find a way to break down, be it audio quality or turning all images to jetblack polygonal blocks, but he gave out the unfinished version of ‘You Want Me’ (embedded above) as a bargaining chip. I have fallen head-over-heels with this song, seeing how it echoes the Neptunes’ work on Robin Thicke’s ‘Wanna Love You Girl’* and finds Bieber stepping back into his solid American-sweetheart-with-glint-of-devilry role, as happy to rap for a quick few bars as he is to gently repeat the song’s title in your ear.
What’s equally important is how this draws Bieber’s label-mandated calculated precision in a positive light, as giving out unfinished material is not something you’d expect Island to be cool with. (The Soundcloud page that ‘You Want Me’ was uploaded to is mysteriously offline.) All that open space, that eerie silence and space for the imagination to run wild - that isn’t something an artist-mandated release from a Big Deal Pop Star would usually grant us. But we underestimate how well formula can be executed by Bieber, and that only adds to how fun it is when he colours outside those lines a little.
* One of my favourite songs ever made, I think. I once claimed that the drum programming holds the secrets to the universe and I don’t consider that a particuarly ridiculous claim.
- “Take You”
- “As Long As You Love Me”
- “Catching Feelings”
- “Die In Your Arms”
- “Thought of Me”
- “Love Me Like You Do”
- “Be Alright”
- “Out Of Town Girl”
- “Right Here”
- “She Don’t Like The Lights”