British singer Conor Maynard has made peace with the Justin Bieber comparisons. The 20-year-old heartthrob has similar origins to the Canadian pop star, having uploaded DIY covers of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" and Chris Brown's "Freeze" to YouTube before scoring a deal with Capitol Records early last year. They've even got similarly boyish good looks that fire up fan bases of screaming teens, but Maynard is quick to draw the line.
"The difference between us is in the music," the Brighton native tells Rolling Stone. "For me, obviously we're both young and that kind of thing. But when people hear more of the album, they start to realize that it's maybe not quite a complete copy."
Maynard has a shot at carving a distinct pop niche with his debut, Contrast, which hit U.S. retail this past week and the U.K. market in July, where it went Number One. For the album, he channels his inner Timberlake with hip-hop and club-thumping accoutrements, enlisting Pharrell for the Justified-worthy "Lift Off" and "Turn Around," the latter which touts a guest appearance from his mentor Ne-Yo.
Though he's aware of the responsibility that comes with being in the mainstream arena, Maynard pays it no mind. He's a self-professed club kid, as evidenced by the dubstep-singed single "Vegas Girl" and synth-heavy "Animal." Unlike Bieber, who was recently snapped puffing weed, Maynard knows when to keep his private life shielded, and he recalls recent holiday nights at his local haunt where he evaded paparazzi shots.
"You've just got to know what you're doing," he explains. "You've got to sit back and realize that because of what we do, what artists do, they're interested in what you're doing. You've got to be conscious of that. You've got to realize that this is your life and that's the consequence I have to pay for all the amazing things I've achieved. You have to find that balance."
Maynard's star is certainly on the rise; he won MTV's "Brand New for 2012" award, beating out Lana Del Rey and Michael Kiwanuka. Contrast has landed on Top 20 charts worldwide. On his album, he stakes adult territory with guest Rita Ora on "Better Than You" ("Got everybody lookin' like I'm a true player," he croons) and even nabs a coveted songwriting credit from Frank Ocean on "Pictures." Maynard openly flaunts his love of Lil Wayne and hails Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city as one of his favorite recent releases. "It's cool how he writes almost like the same verse but changes it each way. The way he writes is incredible," says Maynard, who also name-checks Jay-Z, Kanye West and Drake as some of his choice emcees.
However, he's a pop tart at heart. With the Euro-blanched "Turn Around" gaining traction Stateside, Maynard is already back at work on the follow-up to Contrast and plotting how to corner international markets in 2013. He hopes the naysayers witness his live show – "I want to prove them wrong," he says – but he's more concerned with pushing aside tabloid antics and focusing on output.
"With incredible names like Pharrell and Frank Ocean on my album, they're so respected for their music, first and foremost. I feel like that's the kind of thing I'm going for," he says. "I want people to respect me for the voice I have and the music I have to give. Whether that means paparazzi chasing me around, I don't know. But as long as there are people out there listening to and enjoying my music, I'm happy."