Last November was when I finally decided to give in to Bieber Fever. The then 17-year-old’s Jason Mraz knock-off “Mistletoe” had unexpectedly slayed me, I had resigned to the fact that “Baby” was amazing (despite only ever having heard it about three times in my entire life), and even though he was still total jailbait at that point, I had to accept that Bieber was hella hot. Plus, how could I not be a fan of the biggest teen idol since Britney Spears, especially when he was going around claiming that Justin Timberlake’s Justified (aka one of my favorite albums of all-time) was inspiring his transition into musical manhood?
But then Bieber dropped his first big boy single “Boyfriend”, and suddenly listening to him channel Timberlake wasn’t quite as pleasant as I had first imagined.
Produced and co-written by Mike Posner, “Boyfriend” teleports us right back to 2002 just when NSYNC’s “Girlfriend” was cooling on the charts and JT was unleashing “Like I Love You” onto the world. Beibz tries to let us know that he’s all grown up from the get go, channeling the Ying Yang Twins by opening the song with a whispered rap over a sparse beat, before lush acoustic strums drop in and the teen dream whips out the falsetto to coo about making some young fangirl’s dreams come true.
It’s one of the most minimalist and rhythmic-leaning pieces of pop out right now, and it would’ve been quite innovative if it wasn’t so blatantly borrowed from the book of Timberlake. Considering all the similarities between the pair –both multi-talented teen idols with pop star girlfriends and the same first name– you’d think that Bieber would try to avoid further JT comparisons, rather than so blatantly invite them in. We all saw how well people reacted to Lady GaGa’s Madonna copying, didn’t we?
Still, Posner’s production is strong despite the obvious unoriginality, but the song makes a major misstep lyrically, with Bieber embarrassingly rapping about swag, eatin’ fondue, and even Buzz Lightyear. I initially thought that it was a failed attempt at creating coolness through a tongue-in-cheek wink, but after hearing Posner state that the pair had created the song to be “hater-proof”, the truth became clear — Biebz is for real.
Lyrical misfires and a severe case of copycatting have turned the most-anticipated pop single of the year into the most disappointing. Bieber may be 18-years-old now, but slipping on a William Rast shirt and rehashing an era that passed a decade ago proves that he still has a lot of growing up to do.
What do you think Justin Timberlake would have to say if he heard “Boyfriend”? I can think of one word: reductive.