My World 2.0, is a slickly peppy bit of pop-soul that wears its freshly broken heart on its sleeve. Along the way, it neatly accomplishes the trick of tugging at the sympathies of Bieber's most besotted fans." />
NPR

Justin Bieber: A Pop Phenomenon, Considered

On Wednesday, Morning Edition is launching a new feature that explores popular music and the cultural phenomena surrounding it. Click the "Listen to the Story" link above to hear music writer Maura Johnston and Jay Smooth (of Illdoctrine.com) discuss Justin Bieber, the Twitter black belt who's taking over the pop landscape -- and possibly the rest of the world.

Canadian teen idol Justin Bieber's rise to prominence hasn't just been about his somewhat-obsessive tweeting and the devotion of his young female fans; he's also been assisted by more than a few catchy songs from today's most prominent pop savants. His current single, "Baby," from his chart-topping album My World 2.0, is a slickly peppy bit of R&B that wears its freshly broken heart on its sleeve. Along the way, it neatly accomplishes the trick of tugging at the sympathies of Bieber's most besotted fans.

Masterminded by Christopher "Tricky" Stewart and Terius "The-Dream" Nash -- who also helped birth hits like Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" and Rihanna's "Umbrella" -- "Baby" is an up-tempo lament about Bieber's rejection at the hands of someone he describes as his first love. The 16-year-old's still-young voice, assisted by a slight gloss of AutoTune, addresses the young lady who jilted him with pleas punctuated by "oohs" that function as a convincing representation of heartbreak. (In a sort of male-bonding exercise, the Atlanta MC Ludacris drops in for a similarly wistful verse about his own experiences in the first-love trenches.) That Bieber will be OK by the time the song ends is a given; his army of devoted fans and steely unflappability will see to that.

Artist: Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris

Song: "Baby"

CD: My World 2.0

Genre: Pop

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And since we're talking about stars, let's talk about Justin Bieber, from Ontario, Canada, who at the age of 16 is said to be on his way to total world domination. Like so many Canadians, he's already taken over the teen pop set. And last weekend on "Saturday Night Live," Tina Fey couldnt resist him either.

(Soundbite of "Saturday Night Live")

Ms. TINA FEY (Actor): What Im feeling is wrong - morally, ethically and biologically wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms FEY: But I mean look at him. He's like a dreamy Christmas elf.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Baby")

Mr. JUSTIN BIEBER (Singer): (Singing) Baby, baby, baby. Oh, my baby, baby, baby. Oh, my...

INSKEEP: Okay, if it affects Tina Fey, it is time to diagnose the Bieber fever. So we go to music commentators Maura Johnston and Jay Smooth.

Mr. JAY SMOOTH (IllDoctrine.com): So Maura, did you see Justin Bieber on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend?

Ms. MAURA JOHNSTON (Writer/Editor, IllDoctrine.com): I did not see Justin Bieber on "Saturday Night Live," but I did see him on QVC. I saw him on Twitter. I saw him at Easter Egg Roll. I've seen him all over the Internet.

Mr. SMOOTH: We've got the thousands of young girls screaming. We've got the sloppy hair flopping around.

Ms. JOHNSTON: And I do think we have a bona fide teen idol on our hands here.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby")

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) And just shake me till you wake me from this bad dream. Im going down, down, down, down. And I just can't believe my first love won't be around. And now my baby, baby, baby. Oh, my...

Ms. JOHNSTON: In a 2010 twist on things, he also has this ridiculously large presence on the Internet.

Mr. SMOOTH: If you got to YouTube and search the word baby, his video for that song "Baby" comes up number one, which will let you know how big it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SMOOTH: And you know how popular babies are on YouTube.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Yes.

Mr. SMOOTH: And Justin Bieber is very savvy about embracing the hate and re-tweeting tweets that are negative about him.

Ms. JOHNSTON: Yeah.

Mr. SMOOTH: And he really has a knack for playing the social media game that I dont think your handlers or P.R. people could teach you.

Ms. JOHNSTON: In my day you could think about may be seeing New Kids on the Block at the mall, but it was something that was totally unlikely and that would have required various cosmic factors to align. Whereas with Justin Bieber, if you send him a message, the likelihood of him seeing your message and even writing back is much higher. And so it creates this closer bond between fan and idol.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) Eh, eh, eh, eh...

Ms. JOHNSTON: One thing that gets lost a lot in the immediate discussion of teen idols is the music itself.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. SMOOTH: Justin Bieber became famous for being the little white kid from Small Town, Canada that sang black R&B songs on YouTube. He's always surrounded by black R&B artists and rappers, and he got discovered and brought in to be Usher's prot�g� and sort emulating that style. But it's still reaching that same audience that was listening to Taylor Swift and Mylie Cyrus.

He's sort of this generation's Pat Boone in a way, because he's sort of putting a white face on black music. But whereas Pat Boone was making the blackness invisible while letting you get a semblance of black music, Justin Bieber seems to get his credibility from being surrounded by the black artists that he emulates.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby")

LUDACRIS (Rapper): (Rapping) She knows she's got me dazing cause she was so amazing, and now my heart is breaking but Im just keep on saying.

Mr. BIEBER: (Singing) Baby, baby, baby. Oh, my...

Mr. SMOOTH: So how do you feel personally? Are you wiling to admit yet that youve caught a little Bieber fever?

Ms. JOHNSTON: I have a little bit of Bieber fever. I would say my temperature is may be like 99.9. What about you?

Mr. SMOOTH: You know, well, I got to say I had the kneejerk reaction of hate that most adults have. But Justin Bieber himself seems to know that the Justin Bieber phenomenon is absurd. He seems to have just enough musical talents that he might be able to do something I'd really respect five years from now. So Im looking forward to see what he turns into.

INSKEEP: That's Jay Smooth, who blogs at IllDoctrine.com, and also throws around phrases like this generation's Pat Boone. Also music writer Maura Johnston. And there's more of the Bieber fever epidemic at NPRMusic.org.

You know, Renee, I know you guys are really cool in Los Angeles. But here in Washington, D.C. we're not. And people on the staff are like throwing out their teen idols - names like Eric Estrada, Annette Funicello, David McCallum. How about you?

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Oh, whoa, well, what can I say? Im Beatles - all of them. Im a John Lennon girl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: What can I say? It's so obvious.

INSKEEP: Ah, I suppose so. Well, you know my teen idol. Renee Montagne.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And Im Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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