In 2002, Justin Timberlake blew everyone’s minds when he dropped Justified, his star-making solo album. It propelled him from tween-dream poster boy to legitimate pop star.
Exactly 10 years later, there’s another young singer who is looking to make the same leap. When Justin Bieber dropped “Boyfriend” earlier this week, he laid down the gauntlet and declared his pop-star manhood.
His transition is one that Timberlake faced a decade ago as he looked to carve a new path for himself in a post-’NSYNC world. With grinding, ear-busting production from the Neptunes and Timbaland, the onetime boy-bander created an album that sounded unlike anything his fans had heard before. Sure, he had teased it on ’NSYNC’s last album, Celebrity, but this album was different — it was all Timberlake. It was sexy and definitely much edgier lyrically, with him singing about girls and sex in a more-mature way.
At the time, he faced the incredibly difficult pop conundrum of having to grow up right before an audience. That’s the challenge Bieber now faces. At 18, he can’t stray too far from his My World days, but in order to grow as an artist and a person, he also can’t make “Baby” over and over again.
And, honestly, who would want him to? Edgy and sexy feel like the innate next step for the teen star, with Usher as his mentor — a dude who made a name for himself singing songs about the things he does in the bedroom and flaunting his abs all over town. Although, it’s interesting to note that Bieber chose to follow in Timberlake’s footsteps. A little history lesson: Timberlake once was in a bidding war to sign Bieber on as his protégé. Usher won, and the rest is history.
“Boyfriend,” Bieber’s lead single off his Believe album, set for release later this year, is straight from the Timberlake blueprint. With production from Mike Posner and Mason Levy, the song is the perfect blend of hip-hop, vintage Michael Jackson-flavored R&B and pop. It’s not a far cry from JT’s “Like I Love You” thematically: A young man meets a young woman and uses a song, full of bleeps and beats, to declare all the reasons they should be together. Consider all the young women across the world sold on every one of his swag-heavy arguments.
It’s easy to harp on Bieber for playing it very close to the Timberlake playbook. But, why shouldn’t he? Timberlake seems more focused on movies than music; Bieber’s filling the blue-eyed soul void left by Timberlake’s absence on the charts. And with A-list assistance from Timbaland (yes, Timberlake’s producer), Diplo and will.i.am, Believe just might make us all believe in the power of Bieber.
With the single poised for a huge debut and radio embracing the teen in a bigger way than ever before, now might be the perfect time for Bieber to become everyone’s musical boyfriend. So, grab your fondue pot, get your swaggie on, and blast the track. You know you want to.