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Track Review

Justin Bieber is growing up. And though some fans might long for him to remain their beloved cute-and-cuddly teen idol forever, the now 18-year-old singer seems determined to add another adjective to the list of words often used to describe him: seductive.

It's not that the lyrics to his latest hit, "Boyfriend," are slanted toward the sexual. Indeed, just looking at them on paper, they're all but innocuous: "If I was your boyfriend," Bieber begins, "I'd never let you go/I can take you places you ain't never been before." Nothing too problematic there, nor, really, in the rest of the song, as we'll see momentarily.

No, what's changed isn't so much the message Bieber delivers as the way he delivers it. Instead of launching his latest hit with his trademark high tenor, Justin swaggers into this song with a low, whispered rap that signals the arrival of a decidedly more grown-up sounding Bieber 3.0. It's not quite Barry White, but Bieber's husky delivery of lyrics like "Chillin' by the fire while we eatin' fondue" makes that otherwise innocent activity feel ever so slightly … dangerous.

The chorus finds Bieber back in familiar sonic territory, earnestly emoting his intentions to be the best boyfriend ever as he exploits the upper register that made him famous: "If I was your boyfriend, never let you go/Keep you on my arm, girl, you'd never be alone/I can be a gentlemen, anything you want/If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go."

And then its back to that raspy rap business: "Tell me what you like, yeah, tell me what you don't/I could be your Buzz Lightyear, fly across the globe." I think it's safe to say that Barry White never named-checked an animated action figure toy while wooing the ladies. Bieber, however, is still young enough to pull it off with a straight face. Neither is there any winking involved when he appropriates that time-honored hip-hop tradition of tossing cash around to impress a lady. "I got money in my hands that I'd really like to blow," he brags, "Swag, swag, swag on you."

The song leaves little doubt that Justin Bieber is taking the next step in his career, walking down a trail so many teen heartthrobs of yesteryear—Usher, Justin Timberlake and Chris Brown all come to mind—have already blazed. Thankfully, content-wise, Bieber's latest offering is more lyrically restrained than anything those singers were producing at a similar point in their careers. As for the smoldering, sensual undercurrent? That may be a boyfriend of a different intention.

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Debuted at No. 2.

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March 26, 2012

On Video

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Adam R. Holz

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