Songwriter Jason Boyd, better known as Poo Bear, has seen Justin Bieber through the entirety of his fourth studio album, out November 13 — an LP he assures is the pop superstar's best. Boyd, a longtime collaborator, was there for Bieber in the days when the world loved to hate him, working with him on 2013's Journals.
"It was a trying time but we made it through, and he definitely matured, which leads us to this new album," Boyd says. "It's incredible. And if I had to compare it to something, not the sound of it but the impact and amount of songs that are undeniable, I would have to compare it to Thriller."
Poo Bear has helped Bieber stage a comeback that's nothing short of amazing, co-writing the lyrics for Jack Ü's "Where Are Ü Now," which became Bieber's first Top 10 release since 2012, and his new single, "What Do You Mean?" which broke Spotify's first-week record with 21 million streams and recently debuted atop the Hot 100.
When they first met at rapper Lil Twist's birthday party in 2013, Boyd figured that they were from two different worlds. A songwriter of 20-plus years, 36-year-old Boyd wrote R&B hits like 112's "Peaches and Cream" and won a Grammy for Usher's "Caught Up." But the pop star soon had him on the road while touring for Believe. What started as messing around, like flipping the acoustic guitar loop in Craig David's "Fill Me In" for kicks, turned into sessions where they wrote the majority of the digital download-only, Eighties- and Nineties-R&B-inspired Journals.
Boyd's solo work had inspired the young star to revisit the more patient R&B he grew up listening to, from Boyz II Men to Ne-Yo.
"There would be times where I would bring up, like 'Hey, can we do some EDM, a little electronica with a hint of R&B?'" says Boyd. "He'd be like, 'No, I want to sing R&B.' In the back of my mind I'm like, 'Man. I'm working with the biggest pop star in the world, and we're doing R&B.' I love R&B because it got me to where I am today, but at the same time R&B just doesn't sell."
Based on the small team of producers they formed, Bieber's fourth album may strike a balance in the sounds that Boyd was craving. Skrillex and Diplo assist here. So do the Audibles, the hip-hop production duo featured in Journals, and Andre Harris, one half of neo-soul architects Dre and Vidal. Kanye West and Rick Rubin also contribute, though a small amount.
"We just really wanted that influence — a hint of it to rub off on the music," Boyd says. "I can't say that they played a huge role in the album, but it was just, like, pieces of them."
Boyd says that he has topped himself as a songwriter with Bieber's latest, in large part because of the subject matter. The two of them had similar upbringings, having been raised as Christians by single mothers. But Boyd also saw Bieber turn 21 in public, which had critics lambasting him for arrests and mischief. As a result, Boyd says, Bieber's new music can be instructive.
"We recorded a lot of songs, 103 songs, over the past couple of years," he says, "just making sure that everything is in the direction we want to stay in, which is uplifting music, real-world music. This is so the world can understand: 'If you're going through what I went through, this is what I did to get through my problems.' Justin always wanted to be that light, that example. And we really hit it with this album.
"You'll get to hear him really get intimate with things that he went through in his life in the last couple of years, so that people can understand him, kind of like with 'Human Nature,' says Boyd. "Big, powerful records that everyone can listen to. This album is so inspirational."