A Letter to Justin Bieber


Justin Beiber - Larry Busacca_post.jpg
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Dear Justin,

Congrats! Looks like My World 2.0 burned up the charts in its first week, solidifying your status as the hottest young thing in music. Releasing your second album a mere four months after your debut—My World, which produced seven Hot 100 singles—is a smart move, my friend. You seem to have a realistic understanding of the way things work around here, and you're wise to try to milk this success for as long as you can.

But why is everyone so taken with how sweeping your appeal is? The riots of screaming girls at the mall, the rabid fans stalking your hotels, the crying three-year-olds professing their love to you—this is a tale as old as time, and we can look to a few different factors that are working in your favor:

You've got street cred: Being co-signed by Usher definitely isn't a a bad start (and neither is the fact that he was in a bidding battle with Justin Timberlake over you). Snoop Dogg thinks you're "kind of cool," and Aziz Ansari's hilarious alter-ego Raaaaaaaandy has declared war on you.

The hip hop community is on your side: Ludacris raps in your video, you surprised some people with a freestyle of your own, and you've got beats by The-Dream (who crafted the Rihanna mega-hit, "Umbrella").

You're not part of the Disney machine: Thank goodness you didn't open that can of worms.

You have a tried and true hairstyle: Like Zac Efron didn't make that decision easy for you.

You've got a team of tastemakers behind you: Your manager Scooter Braun discovered rapper Asher Roth, who broke out with "I Love College" in 2009, and instantly saw your potential after seeing a few videos of you singing at school. Braun heard your silky-sweet voice and R&B tinge and saw what could be, and soon Usher hooked you up with "swagger coach" Ryan Good to put the finishing touches on your style—both in fashion and personality. With a team like that behind you, how couldn't girls throw themselves at your feet?

Interviews and articles describe your success as though this type of craziness from fans hasn't been seen before. But let's not forget all the teen idols who've been there and done that. From Michael Jackson to Donny Osmond to David Cassidy to the New Kids on the Block to the Backstreet Boys, there are many lessons to be learned from your fellow singers who found international fame and fortune all before their voices changed.

So, just in case you were getting worried about the inevitable day where singing love songs to pre-teens begins to border on the side of creepy, here are some of the more recent artists to have endured that particular transition—take notes!

The Hansons


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Who could ever forget the trio of sunny blonde kids from Tulsa that pulled America out of its dying grunge days, ushering in a new era of pop music? The three brothers that made up Hanson burst onto the scene with their pre-pubescent vocals and long hair, confusing parents and stealing the hearts of girls everywhere. Their song "MMMBop" catapulted them to international stardom, helping them reach the peak of their careers before they could even drive, and their first album, Middle of Nowhere, sold 10 million copies worldwide.

Then they began to grow up. They didn't want to be controlled by their label anymore, their voices changed, and they decided to venture into more serious territory. So, they did. On the surface, Hanson seems to have all but disappeared; however, they're actually creating some of their most critically acclaimed work and have a strong underground following now that they have redefined themselves as indie rock and folk artists. It's a classy route to take, but it helps that they understand that they'll never achieve they type of mainstream success they enjoyed as kids. Rather than struggling to maintain that type of cultural relevance, the boys have moved beyond it to focus on their music and families.

Nick Jonas


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Wasn't it just yesterday that the Jonas Brothers were the inescapable teen sensation poised to take over the world? Whereas the boy band era of the late '90s and early 2000s granted teen heartthrobs at least several years of dominance in the pop culture sphere, there's no patience left to evolve and grow alongside artists anymore. The youngest of the trio, 17-year-old Nick Jonas, may be the best person to seek advice from on this front. Starting out at the age of seven on Broadway, Nick later found international mega-fame along with his older brothers Joe and Kevin, leading the way with their own brand of sugary-sweet pop rock.

Sold-out tours, a Disney channel show, and a foot in the world of fashion solidified their roles as the reigning teen dream. But little Nick had to grow up like everyone else, and the cute, slightly raspy falsetto that we see in "Burnin' Up"has been replaced by something deeper and a little grittier. Cue the perfect timing to launch a "side project" called Nick Jonas and the Administration. Modeling it after Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Nick ditches the mainstream pop sound of the JoBros, opting for a more sophisticated rock style, reminiscent of '70s rock and blues music—a move that may not appeal to the majority of his teenybopper fan base.

Transitioning after a voice change can be hard, but Nick has the right idea. Go away for a little bit, develop and nurture your music in a market that's not dominated by screaming pre-teens, and when the time is right and those fans have grown up a little, you can re-emerge on the scene with a more mature appeal.

Soulja Boy


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Soulja Boy?! Yes, Soulja Boy. He may not have enjoyed the title of "teen idol," but there's a lesson or two to be learned from this controversial young rapper. He is a prime example of the media and entertainment world's horrible memory.

The New York Times writes that your manager had a plan for your success:

Mr. Braun had a strategy: "I wanted to build him up more on YouTube first," he said. "We supplied more content. I said: 'Justin, sing like there's no one in the room. But let's not use expensive cameras.' We'll give it to kids, let them do the work, so that they feel like it's theirs."

This strategy is called "ripping off Soulja Boy." Lots of places are saying that you're the "first real YouTube sensation" to make it big. But let's not forget that a boy named DeAndre Cortez Way jumped and danced his way to international fame, literally changing and making YouTube into what it is today, as acknowledged by Dr.Michael Wesch's brilliant video presentation at the Library of Congress (check the 15:00 mark). His little YouTube video eventually transformed into a number one hit on Billboard and Soulja Boy currently holds the record as the youngest person to write, perform, and produce a #1 song on the Hot 100.

Without Soulja Boy, there would be no Justin Bieber. The method was tested, the path was paved, and your manager helped you simulate the "homemade" image that worked so well for others before you. Say what you will about how dumb Soulja Boy is and how empty his lyrics are...I'm taking Kanye's side on this one: the kid wrote his own songs, produced his own beats, promoted his own stuff—whether it's quality or not (hint: he's not going to be remembered in history for his actual music), he's the definition of the self-made YouTube success story.

In the end, it's about your hustle and your investment in your craft. My World 2.0 features a lot more involvement from you in the songwriting process—and that's important. Keep playing your guitar, working things out on the piano, keep writing, try your hand at producing...and realize that fame may be fleeting, but having the tools and skills to create what you want will keep you in this game long after the producers and stylists have moved on to the next big thing.

I wish you the best of luck, Justin. Relish your success and look back fondly on these days. Because "Bieber Fever" is just that—a fever from which we'll all be cured soon enough.