The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: Roast Aside, Justin Bieber Might Secretly Be On The Right Track

The Roast Of Justin Bieber was tough to sit through — almost as tough as the transition from teen idol to grownup pop star Bieber is trying to pull off. For every Justin Timberlake there are many Jordan Knights, and Bieber risks becoming the next Aaron Carter if he can’t get back to making headlines for his music rather than viral buffoonery, tabloid romance, run-ins with the law, and generally acting like a douche. As an entertainer, you can keep doing all of those things if you’re still making hits, but in order to keep making hits now that he’s 21, Bieber has to make a certain kind of leap. Like Nick Jonas, he must leave all vestiges of teeny-bopping behind.

Bieber has actually been moving toward a more adult sound for a while, and the results have been promising. His Music Mondays singles series, compiled on 2013’s Journals, was an above-average R&B effort that reminded me of The-Dream, Jeremih, and Bieber’s early mentor Usher. Since then, he’s featured respected rappers like Chance The Rapper and Migos on his songs and stolen the show on Diplo and Skrillex’s Jack Ü album. And although the news that Bieber is working on his next album with Kanye West and Rick Rubin is bound to elicit some laughter, anyone who enjoys adventurous pop music has to be curious about what they’ll come up with. Full-on Yeezus aggression? Scrappy pop like “FourFiveSeconds” and “All Day”? Something entirely different? It could literally sound like anything.

That said, most people still think of Bieber as a punchline because his most egregious public fuckups have coincided with a long dry spell on the charts. His last top-10 single in the US was the Nicki Minaj collab “Beauty And A Beat” in 2012. He landed four singles in the top 50 the following year (and two more as a featured artist), but none of them left a cultural imprint. Very few people noticed the quality work he’s done since — not a single song made it to the Hot 100 in 2014 — but everybody noticed him pissing in a bucket, egging his neighbor’s house, and drunkenly joyriding around his gated community. Though you’d think he would have learned something about grace by now, he’s developed a reputation as one of those child stars who ages anything but gracefully.

The Comedy Central roast was an attempt to adjust that perception, to show the world that he’s in on the joke. As Hannibal Buress noted in his widely-memed unaired comments, the whole thing was a strategic misfire. Buress was correct that subjecting himself to 90 minutes of ridicule was a transparent ploy on Bieber’s part — and Buress will be happy to know that the roast didn’t seem to accomplish its intended purpose. Nobody came away from that stream of unfunny jokes by rising comedians and cresting celebs with a greater respect for Justin Bieber. Kate McKinnon’s pitch-perfect Biebs impression is no less funny now. Selena Gomez looks smarter than ever for moving on to Zedd. Bieber’s bizarrely tailored suit and shitty mustache made him look like a kid pretending to be an adult, and putting himself in the company of washed-up performers only emphasized that he’s in danger of becoming washed-up too.

What will change the conversation is a fire single or two. Even a critically acclaimed album that doesn’t quite achieve blockbuster status would be a big help toward positioning Bieber as a viable adult pop singer. Thankfully, Bieber seems to understand that. He’s been taking his time with this album, working in secret without letting much music trickle out at all. He’s put himself in the company of Rubin, a guy who knows how to make hits and usher artists into big career transitions, and Kanye, whose oversight on Rihanna’s recent hits has yielded fascinating, popular songs. Bieber’s wise to go that route rather than following directly in Timberlake’s footsteps by pairing with Timbaland or Pharrell; it might be as much of a transparent bid for credibility as the roast, but it will likely yield more exciting results than some throwaway jokes about Bieber having a vagina.

CHART WATCH

The historic reign of “Uptown Funk!” continues this week. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ signature hit tops the Hot 100 for a 13th straight week, besting “Blurred Lines”‘ 12-week run as the longest reign of the decade so far. They’re only three weeks from matching the all-time record of 16 weeks, held by Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day.” Billboard points out that only nine other songs have ever lasted this long on top:

16, “One Sweet Day,” Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men, Dec. 2, 1995
14, “I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas, July 11, 2009
14, “We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey, June 4, 2005
14, “Candle in the Wind 1997″/”Something About the Way You Look Tonight,” Elton John, Oct. 11, 1997
14, “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix),” Los Del Rio, Aug. 3, 1996
14, “I’ll Make Love to You,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 27, 1994
14, “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston, Nov. 28, 1992
13 (to date), “Uptown Funk!,” Ronson feat. Mars, Jan. 17, 2015
13, “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy & Monica, June 6, 1998
13, “End of the Road,” Boyz II Men, Aug. 15, 1992

The next three spots also hold steady: Maroon 5’s “Sugar” at #2, Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” at #3, and Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” at #4. The Weeknd’s “Earned It” and Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” each rise to new peaks — #5 and #6 respectively. Taylor Swift’s “Style” remains at #7, while Rihanna/Kanye West/Paul McCartney’s “FourFiveSeconds” falls to #8. Flo Rida/Sage The Gemini/Lookas’ “G.D.F.R.” rises one spot to #9, while Natalie La Rose and Jeremih’s Whitney Houston-interpolating “Somebody” climbs to #10.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly tops the albums chart for a second straight week, logging 123,000 equivalent units. Billboard points out that it’s the only album to register back-to-back weeks at #1 since Taylor Swift’s 1989 did it in November. Empire’s season 1 soundtrack stays steady at #2 with 61,000, followed by the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack at #3 with 54,000, marking the first time since last August that the top 3 has included two soundtracks (back then it was Guardians Of The Galaxy at #1 and Frozen at #3). Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour is somehow back up from #9 to #4 with 53,000, and his buddy Swift’s 1989 follows closely at #5 with 52,000, and then their other buddy Ed Sheeran’s x at #6 with 50,000.

Finally, at #7, a debut, thanks to Action Bronson moving 49,000 units of Mr. Wonderful. It’s by far Bronson’s best chart placement; his previous peak was #63 for the 2013 EP Saaab Stories. Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late slides to #8 with 44,000, while Maroon 5’s V climbs a spot to #9 with 42,000. One more debut closes out the top 10, but it’s not a particularly exciting debut, with Kidz Bop 28 logging 40,000 units for a #10 ranking.

The iTunes albums chart is wildly different: Note that Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Bronson aren’t on it at all(?) but the likes of Imagine Dragons, Luke Bryan, Alabama Shakes, Sam Hunt, Fall Out Boy, and Kelly Clarkson are in the top 10. Did somebody filter out all the rap album sales? Or do rap fans just not use iTunes?

TRACK CITY

Zayn Malik – “I Won’t Mind” (Feat. Naughty Boy)
Malik allegedly quit One Direction so he could relax and live a normal 22-year-old life, yet he’s already recording solo material with the help of Naughty Boy, the British producer whose “La La La” helped lift Sam Smith to stardom. (This in turn caused a humorously angry Twitter exchange between Naughty Boy and Malik’s old 1D bandmate Louis Tomlinson.) “I Won’t Mind” is nothing like “La La La,” though; it’s quiet, ethereal singer-songwriter stuff that makes me want to hear a lot more from this pair.

Keith Urban & Eric Church – “Raise ‘Em Up”
I continue to believe that Church’s best songs are his ballads. “Raise ‘Em Up” is not on par with his many hits from The Outsiders, but we’ll attribute that to Urban’s influence on the track.

Joy Williams – “Woman (Oh Mama)”
Williams is one half of the massively popular, ironically split-up folk-pop duo the Civil Wars. I don’t find “Woman (Oh Mama)” any more exciting than I found her old band’s work, but the line “I am a universe wrapped in skin” definitely stuck with me.

Breakage – “Future”
“Take me back to the future” is a great hook for a song that sounds so much like 1985.

Little Brutes – “Make Our Own Way”
The Week In Pop premiered this song last November, and the release of a new video starring Elisha Cuthbert seems like a good occasion to remind you of its greatness.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Beyoncé might have shared a snippet of new music with Jay Z, or it could have been a silly goof. [Instagram]
  • Steven Tyler is going solo… and going country! [Rolling Stone]
  • Avril Lavigne came clean about her health problem: She’s battling Lyme disease. [People]
  • Here’s a weird story: Michael Jackson used to constantly harass Russell Crowe with prank phone calls. [The Guardian]
  • Speaking of Jacko, NBC is remaking The Wiz. [USA Today]
  • Paramore’s Hayley Williams launched a “beauty and music web series” called Kiss Off. [NME]
  • Contrary to 19 Recordings’ lawsuit claiming Sony ripped off American Idol winners, Sony believes they have actually overpaid Idol winners and are seeking to get about $2 million back from 19 Recordings. [THR]
  • Tyga got served with legal papers at his own sneaker event. [Spin]
  • David Duchovny is releasing an album because why the hell not? [Radio.com]

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