With a SNL double-bill on the horizon and plenty of hazy rumors in his rear-view, Justin Bieber has been at the center of many questions in recent months and even promised to give us some answers with his latest album. Moving away from the closed-off “swaggy adult” that was depicted in last year’s GQ profile, Bieber’s intimate one-on-one conversation for the cover of Billboard is the first and only interview he’s done for Believe Acoustic (out Jan. 29) and seems to have produced the best results yet. Something he reiterates–and something that gets forgotten all too frequently–is the fact that he’s 18 years old, and will hurt and react just like anyone else at that age. “I’m not in the happiest place that I’ve ever been. I’m trying to get through what I’m going through,” he says, speaking of what can only be the breakup of The Greatest Couple of Our Time (or of the last two years). “I have my really close friends to cheer me up and keep me going,” he adds, confirming our suspicions that a recent “Cry Me a River” cover and sluggish live show all circle back to one person. But before we can coronate Bieber as the most mature pop star on the planet, leave some room in your brain space to picture him slapping the butt of his interview partner.
Of the 11 tracks on the upcoming LP, three are new, said to be written in the wake of his Selena Gomez split. Billboard has a first listen of “Nothing Like Us,” a restrained piano ballad that hovers between accepting the fate at hand and being understandably resentful; it might come from a YouTube-bred sensation, but it’s an accurate summation of teenage angst. Lyrical questions like, “Have you been drinking to take all the pain away?”–made even more interesting following his ex’s maybe-boozy Golden Globes experience–and “tell me, was it worth it?” jump out immediately, suggesting that Bieber is still unwilling to look like the bad guy in any situation. But this gives way to more somber moments reminiscing about the past (love/storm metaphors: check) and wallowing in what is now his reality. It’s not perfect and it might not change any special person’s mind, but it feels genuine. (Taylor Swift taught him well.) Could this be the beginning of Emo Bieber? At the very least, it’s a sign that the adult he so desperately wants us to see him as is beginning to peek through. Listen below.
Also important information gleaned from the Billboard cover story: Bieber is rooting for Chris Brown at the 2013 Grammy Awards. Guess we know whose side he’s on! Yes, he’s covered Frank Ocean, but apparently the bonds created while making an apocalyptic video cannot be broken.
[Photo: Getty Images]