Pop fans have no shortage of reasons to try to love Justin Bieber’s new single, “Boyfriend,” which you can buy on iTunes here. First, we’ll probably be hearing it a lot: With 18.9 million Twitter followers, Usher’s 18-year-old Canadian protégé isn’t going anywhere. Second, teen idols like Bieber have proven the haters wrong before: Who would’ve guessed a decade ago that indie-rock snobs would still be spinning Justified on vinyl (or is that just us)? Third, the kid has the ability to command top-flight talent: The guest list for his follow-up to 2010’s My World 2.0 expected to include everyone from Pharrell, Timbaland, and Danja to Drake, Diplo, and more. There’s a lot of smart money riding on this guy.
We have the blogs, but the Beliebers have the numbers. The fate of “Boyfriend” will ultimately depend on how many of Bieber’s young admirers respond to his musical personals ad, which admittedly sets out a pretty desirable set of qualifications: single, hip-hop-savvy, rich, caring, tender enough to sing in falsetto. But Bieber’s boss, Island Def Jam Music Group president and chief operating officer Steve Bartel, told USA Today his 14-year-old son likes the song, too. And it’s already been compared to one of our most beloved groups growing up, Hi-Five (have you seen our tapes?).
So we feel qualified in saying we don’t quite Beliebe in this one. “Boyfriend” turns to the next page in Non-Threatening Boys Magazine, but it’s not a smash worthy of an online promotional blitz that included a leaked audio snippet and an advance look at the dopey lyrics. No longer content simply to cuddle, now he wants to buy us expensive things and then do stuff in front of the fire (ooh!). As maturations go, this one draws from some canny source material, but exactly like the nouveau-riche kid who promises you sweet things and then sleeps with his secretary, its charms are only superficial; it feels more like a collage signifying “grown-up pop star” than an actual song by a grown-up pop star. It feels like Color Me Badd.
Produced by “Cooler Than Me” bro Mike Posner, who shares co-writing credits with Mat Musto and Mason Levy, the song runs through a list of references that would actually make for a pretty sick Girl Talk track: Kanye West via Beyoncé’s “Party” (“swag, swag, swag on you … fondue” isn’t so far off from ‘Ye’s “drippin’ swagu”); Justin Timberlake everywhere (“Hey girl, let me talk to you”), Britney Spears (“Until the world ends”), and maybe even Janet Jackson (his proposition is almost like a gender flip on “If…”). The car-alarm opening squeal and murmured rap suggests Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”; the chunky guitar chords backing his sung entreaties are straight out of Tegan and Sara’s “Walking With a Ghost.” But basically, it all amount to this: Bieber wants to sex you up.
The ultimate dealbreaker? “I could be your Buzz Lightyear, fly across the globe,” the Biebs coos at one point by way of come-on. Now, we might be more than a decade his senior, but we’re guessing that line is as laughable to the Belieber generation as a sex jam based on Aladdin duet “A Whole New World” would’ve been to a slightly older demographic. Except not even, because Buzz Lightyear isn’t a romantic figure, he’s a toy voiced by Tim freakin’ Allen. In other words: Bieber might be a wealthy suitor, but he’s not grown up just yet. Tell me, princess, now when did you last let your heart decide?