Over the past few months, Justin Bieber has covered Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River,” ducked questions about his ex-girlfriend covering Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River,” and essentially watched as his life has become a cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” (only with more Lil Twist ). So you really can’t blame him for finally deciding to make his own version of the song.
I’m speaking, of course, about “Nothing Like Us,” Bieber’s brokenhearted ode to said ex, Selena Gomez. It’s quickly become the focal point of his Believe Acoustic album, and with good reason: it is unquestionably the most unguarded (and un-swaggering) thing he’s ever done, an honest, open-hearted assessment of his personal failings (“I wish I could give you what you deserve”) and Gomez’s shortcomings (“Have you been drinking/To take the pain away”). In a lot of ways, the song is staggering, both in the depths Bieber is willing to plumb and the very fact that it exists in the first place. Simply put, Teen Idols usually don’t get this deep, or allow us to peek behind the curtain for this long.
Which is why, no matter how perfect it would have been, “Nothing Like Us” is actually nothing like “Cry Me A River,” Timberlake’s scathing kiss-off to Britney Spears. Sure, it would have been easy for Bieber to get angry, to lash out at Gomez … he is just 18 years old, and as such, “maturity” isn’t really his strong suit (check his Instagram activity for proof). And, in a lot of ways, that would have been a pretty logical step in his career; after all, we’re all itching to turn him into the next Timberlake, the teen heartthrob who basically laid out the blueprint for success once the squee-ing stops. They even have the same first name!
But rather than seethe, Bieber instead decided to sigh. On “Nothing Like Us,” he sounds entirely like a heart-broken teenager, which is fitting … because that’s what he is. Timberlake was 21 when he released “Cry Me A River” as a single, and judging from the lyrics of that song — and its iconic video — he was genuinely hurt by Spears. The details of Bieber’s split with Gomez, and who truly was at fault, have yet to really emerge, and yet, based on “Nothing,” you get the feeling Bieber wouldn’t go to the lengths that JT did … even if he was the one who was wronged.
In a lot of ways, it’s that restraint that makes “Nothing Like Us” — and, Bieber, come to think of it — unique. You can speculate about where his career goes from here, but you cannot debate the fact that he’s willing to take risks, and do things on his terms, consequences be damned (though, I’m willing to be “Nothing Like Us” will go over like gangbusters with his fans). It’s a song that may mark the next chapter of his career, one that none of his contemporaries seem capable of creating. And no matter how much we all want him to take a page from Timberlake’s playbook (and perhaps he still will) let the record reflect that, at age 18, he’s already proven to be more mature than JT was at 21. With “Nothing Like Us,” the student has truly become the master.
What do you think of “Nothing Like Us?” Let us know in the comments below.