At age 12, Justin Bieber posted videos of himself singing songs by Usher, Justin Timberlake and others on YouTube. Intended for family and friends, the videos went viral, topping 10 million views. As a result, Usher signed the young Canadian to a record deal.
Bieber is now 15. And his debut, My World, has struck a chord with many of the same squealing tween girls who’ve made the Jonas Brothers a household name.
For the most part these are innocuous, sugary love songs that celebrate romantic attraction and pledge undying devotion. On "One Time," for example, Bieber promises, "Your world is my world and my fight is your fight/ … You’re my one love, my one heart." That song also includes the playful line, "When I met you, girl, my heart went knock knock/Now them butterflies in my stomach won’t stop stop."
"Favorite Girl" embraces a partner for who she is ("I’ll take you as you are"), while "Down to Earth" describes domestic strife and the pain a child feels without both parents at home ("Mommy, you were always somewhere/And Daddy, I live out of town/So tell me, how could I ever be normal somehow?"). If given a chance to rescue a girl enduring perpetual heartache, Bieber promises her there’ll be "One Less Lonely Girl" in the world. However …
That track implies that the troubled young woman may be living with the guy who frustrates her ("How many bags you packed, just to take him back"). On "Bigger" the young singer brags about having been "a playa" and "heartbreaker" when he was … on the playground. But now, he sings, schoolyard bullies "can’t take our hugs and kisses from us." Physical displays of affection show up on other tunes as well. Sampling heavily from The Cardigans’ amorous hit "Lovefool," "Love Me" repeatedly pleads for kisses and expressions of love, even if they’re not sincere. Bieber also objectifies a girl by emphasizing her physical appearance and calling her "my prized possession" ("Favorite Girl").
The album’s most significant problems come on "First Dance." As the song opens, a boy daydreams about asking a special girl for the first dance at prom, which in itself isn’t a problem. But double entendre-laden lyrics that follow suggest he might be after more than just dancing: "Give the first dance to me/I promise I’ll be gentle/I know we gotta do it slowly," Justin croons suggestively. "I’m gon’ cherish every moment ’cause it only happens once in a lifetime." He assures his date, "Ain’t no chaperones/This could be the night of your dreams/ … No teachers around to see us dancing close/I’m telling you, our parents will never know." If Bieber is only talking about what happens on the gym floor under the glitter ball, what’s he trying to hide from the girl’s parents? It sounds to me like a veiled request for her virginity.
Innocent puppy love aside, there’s a romantic aggressiveness on My World that feels inappropriate—especially coming from a 15-year-old with a young, female fan base. His lyrics aren’t sexually explicit per se, but his hormones are definitely kicking in. In addition to phrases that subtly objectify women, Bieber also employs slang for girls ("shawty") that suggests he may be buying into an R&B mindset already employed by his new mentor, Usher.
I hope I’m wrong, but Justin Bieber seems poised to become another Jesse McCartney of Justin Timberlake—which means things will likely only get more sensual as he "grows up."