Review Summary: Somebody stuff coal in this kid’s stockings.
There really seems to be no end to Justin Bieber’s insistence at shoving himself down our throats. In the two years since the appearance of his debut My World EP
, we’ve had My World 2.0
, two remix albums, a compilation album (because every career that is over an album and a half long obviously becomes in dire need of compiling), and nothing less than a full-length documentary of the boy’s personal life. In other words, if ever a competition were to be held to decide the world’s most shamelessly exploited celebrity appeal, Mr Bieber’s would be a serious contender.
With that in mind, the biggest surprise of all, really, ends up being the fact that Island Records have waited this long to land an album like Under the Mistletoe
on our collective heads. After all, what would make tweenage girls happier than a combination of two of their favourite things i.e Justin Bieber and Christmas at the same time? It makes absolute sense to put the two of them together, and as fast as possible at that. To that end, Mistletoe
– which is incidentally, and quite strangely, Justin Bieber’s de facto
sophomore album (by virtue of the fact that the artist has done nothing more than simply retweak his material over the past couple of years) – will undoubtedly end up achieving two things by the time its run is over: a thorough and holistic affirmation of love for all things Bieber from the pop star’s legions of fans, and serious agitation on the part of those folks who find themselves cringing and wincing each time some faceless DJ decides to spin his music in shopping malls.
While it is rare (or at least, relatively uncommon) for an artist’s general reception to fall so quickly and so easily into such differing extremes, careful examination of Bieber’s rise to fame (and his subsequent attempts to stay there) suggests that it should be no surprise that the line between love and hate ends up being quite thin in Bieber’s case. Let’s begin at the beginning: at the tender age of 13, Justin Drew Bieber was discovered by former So So Def marketing executive Scooter Braun, who clicked on one of his home made videos by accident whilst looking up another artist on YouTube. One thing led to another, and before the year was out, Bieber was on his way to Atlanta to record demo tapes. But while Bieber wasn’t the first – and most assuredly won’t be the last – of aspiring bedroom musicians to use the video-sharing website as an initial springboard for popularity, unlike many of those other wannabe artists, Bieber is increasingly starting to show that he does not deserve a single ounce of the critical acclaim that he has received. Such an outcome is itself a gross violation of the very meaning of artistic expression, and not only because he frequently creates the type of soulless, cheap-trick commodity that excites none but the lowest common denominator, but also because every inch of his current persona appears to have been callously slipped upon him – like a loosely-fitting pair of pajamas – by a backing agency that doesn’t seem to care a single jot about artistic integrity.
Which brings us back to Under the Mistletoe
. Obviously, there’s nothing particularly strange or alien about a record company cashing in on the excuse to shop that is Christmastime – corporations of all sorts have been doing that for ages. In fact, in many instances they help form the essence of the joys of giving and receiving that make each festive season an event worth looking forward to. It’s the same reason why the rentals of holiday-related movies spike astronomically at this exact same time every single year: we want to get in the mood and connect with those around us. Decades of consumer study have thoroughly educated the retail industry on what makes us tick in family-oriented times like these, allowing them to capitalize on our greatest and most innate desires. Having done so, these companies necessarily agree to take on the burden of ensuring that that same message of mutual love and togetherness is not buried under the temptation to embark on a round of rampant profit-making. In other words: in return for sincere, well-thought-out products, we will give you our turkey (no pun intended).
Justin Bieber and Island Records could have so easily created an album based on such a guiding spirit. Instead they chose to take the easy way out and stuff Under the Mistletoe
full of phoned-in and blatantly disingenuous tracks. That selfish decision to prioritize their coffers - and destroy the spirit of festivity in its name - is the prism through which Under the Mistletoe
must be judged. No other track reflects the utter deservedness of this sentiment more than the absolutely awful re-recording of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, which sees Bieber perform a duet with the American singer-songwriter herself. For most of the number, the pair barely sound like they're on the same wavelength; the song’s introduction, for instance, sounds like a dry run gone badly out of sync, with both Carey and Bieber taking turns to blubber over each other’s vocal parts like a pair of kids competing to see who can come up with the most extravagant claim about their respective fathers.
Equally as criminal is the completely unnecessary inclusion of yet another rendition of “Silent Night”; apart from the song’s placement at the end of the album adding credence to the overwhelming suspicion that it was slipped in as a mere stopgap measure to make the entire album seem a bit more Christmassy, Bieber’s performance also comes across as more subdued rather than emotional, as if he had been forced to perform it against his own will. Now, to be completely fair, that was probably the case. But don’t let that sentiment lead to even the slightest notion that Bieber should be let off the hook, for all throughout this record there is a strong sense that the artist could have really used this opportunity to develop his own craft. Having already successfully dealt with a breaking voice and commendably coped with his new-found status as the latest global phenomenon, the next step for Bieber, logically, would be to attempt to expand his palette and try out a few new things. But the apparent ease in which Bieber rejected that option entirely before proceeding to recreate a new catalogue filled to no end with perfidious pop songs like “Only Thing I Ever Get For Christmas” and “Mistletoe” is to walk the path of the damned.
Elsewhere, even the presence of various big name stars fails to disguise the obvious sense of theatrical festivity present herein. So Usher, Boyz II Men, and Busta Rhymes feature on this album. Big deal. In a world of perfect justice, these artists would be ridiculed for having associated themselves with Justin Bieber. Obviously, that will never happen, so here’s what we should do in the meantime: until Justin Bieber decides to take himself seriously, the rest of us shouldn’t as well. Such an approach certainly isn’t pretty. It’s not even nice. But it’s a message well worth sending: mess with our familial sensibilities again, and the coal sitting in your stockings will be the least of your worries.