Justin Bieber: Believe – review

(Island)

A decade ago, when Justin Bieber was eight and anonymous and YouTube didn't even exist yet, another Justin was having an important moment. 2002 was the year former boyband member J Timberlake put out the sizzling Like I Love You, thereby giving grown-ups licence to like him. Justin Bieber, quondam, pudding-bowled moppet responsible for untold pre-teen screams the world over, might have just done the same with Believe, specifically its Timberlake-aping single, Boyfriend.

Employing stars such as Nicki Minaj and Drake is a judicious move in the credibility drive. Unlike Bieber, they're proper adults, not an 18-year-old who, if Boyfriend is anything to go by, is hopelessly jejune in his wooing: his curiously 70s vision of romantic sophistication involves "chillin' by the fire while we eatin' fondue". Despite the rapping, which has about as much bite to it as molten cheese, "Boyfriend is smoking. The high-pitched whistle noise that begins it recalls Britney Spears's lubricious Toxic and it's a welcome shock to hear a Justin Bieber song and wonder if we're allowed to describe it as "sexy".

Britney is one of the record's several superstar reference points and with them Bieber seems to be staking a place in pop history. There's the Timberlake nod of "hey Senorita" on Take You, a Prince homage ("We all party like it's 3012 tonight") plus a shout-out to Beyoncé's beginnings with the words: "You can be my Destiny's Child". The blissfully descending melisma of a five-syllabled "die" in Die in Your Arms sounds like a forgotten Jackson 5 gem. In fact, the track samples Michael Jackson's We've Got a Good Thing Going and bonus track Maria is another MJ-esque treat – a paternity-protesting song to file right next to Billie Jean. Bieber's final burst of "she's not my girl!" is uncanny.

Infant Bieber was a precocious drummer and the beats here are deft as well as driving. Surprisingly, EDM stylings such as the juddering bassline of As Long As You Love Me work well with his plaintive and still unmistakeably teenage voice.

But the lachrymal tween fanbase still needs feeding, hence the godawful mawkishness of Fall, with all its guff about angels who forgot to fly. The record ends with the title track, an anthemic tub-thumper to hammer home the Bieber mythos of following your dreams, never saying never and all those other aspirational bromides as earnest as they are vague. With a gospel choir followed by, I kid you not, a key change, it's totally egregious in sentiment as well as sound. But, after enough fine material to make those of us who are not nine-year-old-girls feel unabashed about our Beliebing, he has, I think, earned the right to vaunt.

Contributor

Hermione Hoby

The GuardianTramp

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