My World 2.0 begins with 16-year-old Justin Bieber raising his pipsqueak voice in a wordless croon: “Oh- oh, whoa, ah-ah-ah.” If it sounds faintly like an old fashioned doo-wop vocal, that’s no accident: The song, Bieber’s fast-rising single “Baby, consciously crafted throwback.
Listen to the chord progression, tapped out on a perky gynth: it’s lifted straight from those 1950s ballads that throbbed out of the soda-shop jukebox while your granddad gazed at his steady. Listen to the lyrics: “My first love broke my heart for the first time/And I was like/Baby, baby, baby, ooooh/I thought you’ always he mine.” We’re in “Tears on My Pillow” territory, “Why Do Pools Fall in Love” territory, “Earth Angel” territory. This isn’t just cheesy teeny-bopper music it’s classically, sublimely cheesy teeny-bopper music.
As long as there has been rock & roll, there have been pretty-boy singers like Bieber, offering a gentle introduction to the mysteries and heartaches of adolescence: songs flushed with romance but notably free of sex itself. Bieber is not, as detractors might assume, another graduate from the Disney teen-pop industrial complex; he’s a star who sprang from the grass roots — a Canadian schoolboy discovered by his manager (and his mentor Usher) via his YouTube covers of songs by Chris Brown and Justin Timberlake, many of which feature Bieber accompanying himself on guitar.
Those who dismiss Bieber out of hand are missing out on a seriously good pop record, one that mines vintage teen-pop themes but plays like a primer on 2010-model bubblegum. The fun begins with “Baby,” which blends winks at Fifties doo-wop with hip-hop chants (“Yo! Unh-huh!”), disco strings and one of the catchiest choruses concocted by the-Dream and Tricky Stewart, the duo behind “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies.” “Runaway Love,” a lush, sauntering midtempo song that plainly borrows from Michael Jackson, sounds like a perfect summer single. “Somebody to Love” is thumping Eurodisco.
With much help from A-list songwriters and producers (Bryan-Michael Cox, Benny Blanco) and guest stars (Lu-dacris, Sean Kingston), Bieber has made a filler-free album. Even the ballads — often a weak spot on pop/R&B records are fully realized, with “Never Let You Go” and “Stuck in the Moment” mixing love-struck lyrics with big, lovable choruses.
Bieber’s talent is not fully formed. He sings with swing and rhythmic dexterity (presumably learned from Usher), but his voice is nasal and lacks heft; the vocals sound pitch-corrected throughout. On “Overboard,” a duet with 14-year-old Def Jam signee Jessica Jarrell, it’s near impossible to tell the singers apart.
But Bieber has something more important for a young pop star than chops: personality He’s got an odd combination of guilelessness and swagger that makes puppy-love goop like “We’ll take it to the sky/Past the moon/ Through the galaxies” sound both sweet and playful. For parents in search of a fresh-faced male counterpart to Taylor Swift – and for millions of tweens looking for a cute boy who knows his way around a beat – help has arrived. As for the haters? Quoth the Bieber Twitter feed, “I wish u guys the best of luck in ur hating.”
This story is from the April 1st, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.