Last week Justin Bieber ‘unleashed’ ‘Boyfriend’, the first single from his forthcoming ‘Believe’ album and the first taste of what nobody’s calling Bieber 2: The Mature Years. There comes a point in every popstar’s career when they have to navigate that tricky move from teen star to adult pop behemoth and for Bieber, this means roping in ‘Looks Like Sex’ hitmaker Mike Posner, unleashing a Timberlake falsetto and saying things like “swaggie” (and “fondue”). For the most part it works quite well – the shift is subtle but enough to make it very clear that this isn’t the same Bieber who sang ‘Baby’. (His balls have dropped for a start).
Half the battle involves image, and the ‘Boyfriend’ single cover offers up some telling signs. Firstly, he’s swept his hair up and is running his hands through it, which at least signals a more relaxed approach to hair that only comes with age. Secondly, the glance to the camera is a coy one, while the shirt is unbuttoned enough to reveal a vest that’s more ‘would you like to see what’s beneath?’ than ‘it’s chilly out and my mum told me to wear it’. The repositioning PR machine has also been in overdrive with a recent Complex magazine cover showing him bloodied and bruised (so macho!), while rumours are circulating about various ‘credible’ super-producers (Diplo, Drake, Kanye) that are working on ‘Believe’ (and this is an important part of the teen idol to adult popstar route).
So far so good for Bieber, but let’s look at how other popstars have fared. (SPOILER: Poor Joe Jonas.)
Before: School uniform-wearing pop cherub who managed to perfectly walk the line between unbridled sex nymph and poster girl for long-term chastity.
After: ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ marked the point where Britney struggled to move from a girl to a woman (there’s an anthem on the album for that), strutting sweatily in the video and generally making the dads even more uncomfortable. The accompanying, self-titled album (note the fact that it’s self-titled, this is an important point) also featured ‘Overprotected’ (Britney wising up to what’s really going on) and featured an album cover that made her look a bit EMO. Basically, she learned the hard way that you can’t be both sexy and an eternal virgin in people’s minds.
Producers: The Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins, Max Martin
Success rate: 6/10
What happened next? ‘In The Zone’ had a song about masturbation on it, she had two children and then it all got very adult and serious very quickly.
Before: Flared-jeans-wearing pocket warbler who liked hanging out with her friends at the beach or at a skatepark and being ‘one of the gang’. Lyrically we’re on pretty suggestive territory – “rub me the right way”, “what a girl wants” etc – but that’s nothing compared to what’s about to come.
After: The change from ‘a nice denim jacket and a bit of midriff’ Christina to the ‘chaps and tiny pants’ Xtina of ‘Dirrty’ was trumpeted by ‘Lady Marmalade’ in 2001 which enabled her to dress in her underwear in the name of ‘art’. For the ‘Dirrty’ video itself she sported some chaps, a bra some ‘fierce’ braids and simultaneously banished her old image with one right hook. Unlike Britney, Christina didn’t have the baggage of holding onto her virginity, of remaining pure in the public eye. The fact that she also had proper-adult-ballad-about-serious-issues ‘Beautiful’ up her non-existent sleeve meant that if it did fail initially she had the perfect riposte.
Producers: Scott Storch, Rockwilder, Linda Perry
Success rate: 9/10
What happened next? With ‘Back To Basics’ she seemed to want to be sophisticated Christina and no one was really ready for that, so she went back to the PVC and gimp outfits for the ‘Not Myself Tonight’ video and no one really wanted that either.
Before: Corkscrew-perm-loving frontman of *NSYNC with a penchant for horrendous outfits, often involving double denim.
After: Justin ‘Trousersnake’ Timberlake launched the second phase of his career with the amazing ‘Like I Love You’, a proper grown up pop anthem that made you realise Justin was probably quite good at the sex and also recalled that other quite good popstar, Michael Jackson. Follow-up single ‘Cry Me A River’ was also the perfect storm of amazing song and tabloid-friendly video, depicting Justin stalking a Britney lookalike, following their real-life break-up. Edgy, ‘credible’ and suddenly free of a perm, Justin became a proper megastar.
Producers: The Neptunes, Timbaland, The Underdogs
Success rate: 9/10
What happened next? The’FutureSex/LoveSounds’ album cemented him as an expert of the sex and a very good popstar indeed. He decided to celebrate this fact by becoming an actor.
Before: Cute as a button Disney superstar who fronted the dual-personality Freudian nightmare that was Hannah Montana.
After: Everything changed in April 2008 when Annie Leibovitz shot her for Vanity Fair, posing the then 15-year-old naked except for a silk sheet. The resulting furore was followed three months later by the release of her first album under the Miley Cyrus ‘moniker’ entitled ‘Breakout’ (do you see what they did there?), which included the single ‘Fly On The Wall’, a song that deals with being harassed by paparazzi and feeling watched (see Britney’s ‘Overprotected’). Other topics on the album included the fallout from her relationship with Nick Jonas and a cover of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.
Producers: John Fields, Scott Cutler
Success rate: 7/10
What happened next? She released ‘The Time Of Our Lives’ EP which included ‘Party In The USA’ and everyone thought ‘yes Miley, you get it girl’ etc, but actually she was just a few years off releasing the awful ‘Can’t Be Tamed’. Oh dear.
Before: Flop-haired third of Disney-friendly brotherband The Jonas Brothers.
After: Out went the fringe and in came a close crop, a smart leather jacket and the faint whiff of ‘Justin Timberlake b-side’. Debut album ‘Fastlife’ had its moments, but there was no killer first single, possibly the transitional popstar’s strongest weapon. Basically, he just looked like Joe Jonas from The Jonas Brothers as opposed to Joe Jonas the popstar, which probably explains why he quickly returned to his brothers to start work on their new album.
Producers: Danja, Hit-Boy, Brian Kennedy
Success rate: 3/10
What happened next? Returned to the family business.