Published by Street Press Australia, May 09 2012.
It at first appeared a flawed strategy, or one born from a scheduling fumble. As the wait for the video for Justin Bieber’s newest single, Boyfriend, grew longer, the question arose: who exactly was waiting? The song, which hadn’t managed to top the Billboard Hot 100 on its debut, was already slipping in the US charts when Bieber appeared on the American talent show The Voice on April 17 to preview a minute-long cut of the clip and announce that he’d be back for the show’s finale episode in May to perform the song live. Dates for the video’s release had been speculated upon, changed, continually pushed back. By the time of its airing on MTV last Thursday night (Friday morning Aus time), it had been over six weeks since the song became available for purchase on iTunes. That’s a long time in the life of a pop song.
But Boyfriend is no regular pop song, and Bieber’s team knew it. Much had taken place in order for the single to make as great an impact on Bieber’s career (present and future) as possible. Subtle movements from teen pop to young-adult R&B had occurred within the lesser songs of Bieber’s 2011 Christmas album, Under The Mistletoe. On that album, too, Bieber had started to talk-rap, further suggesting that his future lay under the influence of his mentor, Usher, and the ‘urban streetwear’ he slunk around in. Those clothes, as well as his hair, had gradually been altered from the style of a regular boy caught up in the world of big-money music, given a credit card and a day pass to the mall, to that of an entity making definitive choices: sleeker, more visibly planned out, ripped from the ad pages of GQ and detailed with a pair of expensive kicks to give it an ‘edge’.
Boyfriend – essentially a narcissistic reworking of ‘N Sync’s Girlfriend – is the result of all that change and planning. It’s where it all comes together and paves the way for Bieber to become more than the conductor of pre-teen screaming. How does one successfully market a teen singer making a move for the big time, though? Release the track as yet another single, followed shortly by a video, some promo, TV performances, photo opps? Well, there’s no escaping the media cycle, but to get the attention of more than just Bieber’s existing fans, a risk would have to be taken. The importance of the ‘event’ would need to be inflated, new eyes drawn to the story. And it was a risk. It’s always a risk.
So the video was held back, and the volume of online chatter began to grow. Rumours spread. Bieber was noncommittal when asked the date of Boyfriend’s release, possibly because backroom deals with other media were still being finalised, but also as a strategy for hype: it would be soon, just keep watching. Despite the chart drop, the plan was working, allowing Bieber to command the stage of The Voice – which consistently tops ratings for the 18-49 demographic – to slap some palms and show the clip preview.
In fact, the video wasn’t even finished by the time of the single’s release. Team Bieber would save the last bit of filming for the week prior to the video’s MTV launch so that it could happen under the lenses of the paparazzi. His real-life girlfriend, Selena Gomez, who also happened to be promoting a perfume at the time, dropped in on the shoot to plant some public kisses on Bieber, thus ensuring the photos landed in the mainstream tabloid press. New eyes, new ears.
The single, at number five from a top of two on the Hot 100 by this point, gained traction again. Last week, after Bieber confirmed the official release date on MTV, it moved from five to four. It’s a different story in Australia, where the single has dropped from five to last week’s 25. There’s almost no doubt, however, that as Bieber’s big move on the US mainstream takes effect, we’ll also see the effects of it here. As he tells in Boyfriend’s opening sung lines, “I’d like to be everything you want.” He’s no longer only singing to the 13-year-old next to you.