My World 2.0
In six months, Justin Bieber has gone from "that kid whose online singing went viral" to, according to a Billboard cover story, "the most famous 16-year-old in the game." All seven of the songs on Bieber's debut EP, My World, charted, and swooning girls hang on his every Tweet. My World 2.0 now promises second-stage ignition for his rocket ride to superstardom. Unlike performers signed by Disney and micromanaged for maximum wholesomeness, however, this tween heartthrob got his contract from hip-hop mogul Usher. Entertainment Weekly music critic Leah Greenblatt commented, "He signed with Usher, and he's the same age as Usher was when he first became a star. Justin Timberlake, too. So they're the model for him."
That's not a good sign.
With determination and optimism, Bieber tells his girlfriend that they have nowhere to go but "Up." On "Stuck in the Moment," he tenderly explains to a young lady that their relationship can't work under the current circumstances ("I wish we had another time … another place"). Despite an air of desperation about having someone, anyone on his arm, the singer still offers to treat a girl like royalty on "Somebody to Love." "U Smile" pledges unconditional devotion, and Bieber says he'll do whatever it takes to halt breakups on "Baby" and "Overboard." "Never Let You Go" describes a girl's company as "heaven" and values love over hate. However …
That track illustrates Bieber's superficial, in-the-moment definition of love ("Take my hand, let's just dance/ … If you didn't know, this is love"). It also alludes suggestively to the sweetness of a kiss, a subject he reprises on "U Smile" ("Your lips [are] my biggest weakness"). Locking lips is a purely recreational activity on the iTunes bonus track "Kiss and Tell," which invites a virtual stranger to make out with him—provided she won't blab to her friends or online.
Sean Kingston dominates "Eenie Meenie," a song about sensual dancing that includes the lyrics "Shawty is a eenie meenie minie moe lover" and "Catch a bad chick by her toe." A guest interlude by Ludacris on "Baby" reminisces about the rapper's first love at age 13, a girl who "woke me up daily." Bieber's pursuit of a "Runaway Love" isn't so much objectionable as it is awkward coming from a 16-year-old ("My baby up and hit the road/ … I need to find her 'fore another man does").
In terms of positioning Bieber for success, this effort feels like the result of intense strategizing … and poor judgment. Whose idea was it to introduce Bieber's legion of impressionable fans to Ludacris, whose CDs all carry parental warning labels? Writing on gawker.com, Adrian Chen noted, "You might know Ludacris best for the hoes he has in so many different area codes. But a new generation knows Ludacris only as Justin Bieber's friendly rapping sidekick on the summer hit 'Baby.'" Nor is Sean Kingston a great role model, for that matter.
And as for someone who just turned 16 pining away on so many songs about finding and losing love, Bieber explained to MTV News, "It's weird when people say, 'You're only 15,' because I know I'm only 15, but at the same time I think at any age you can experience love. … I don't know. There's a difference between love and being in love because you can love someone but not necessarily be in love. So I think I've loved girls, but I don't know—I haven't been in love before."
Bottom line: 2.0 picks up where My World left off, offering another round of I-need-you-girl pop R&B that once again strays into mildly sensual territory.