"He hasn't had the easiest run, and at times he knows that he hasn't made it easy on himself," says the pop superstar's longtime manager.
Justin Bieber's new "Heartbreaker," which leaps 77-13 on the Billboard Hot 100, is a moody, downtempo R&B ballad that doesn't sound like any of his previous lead singles. That's partly because "Heartbreaker," which hit iTunes Oct. 7, doesn't precede a traditional full-length, but instead kicked off a series of 10 singles dubbed "Music Mondays," with a new song dropping each week through mid-December. The series will lead directly into the Christmas Day release of "Believe 3D," the follow-up to the 2011 concert film "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never."
"Music Mondays," which continued earlier this week with "All That Matters," follows Bieber's 2012 album "Believe" and this year's "Believe Acoustic," both of which debuted atop the Billboard 200. On their heels, Bieber's had a tumultuous year on his international Believe tour, and endured a high-profile breakup with Selena Gomez late last year. He started writing new material on the road, accruing a handful of revealing songs out of step with earlier pop hits like "Baby" and "Boyfriend."
Bieber's longtime manager, Scooter Braun, spoke to Billboard about the motivation behind the pop superstar's song-per-week strategy, why "Believe 3D" will be a more unflinching look at the 19-year-old's turbulent 2013, and how Bieber's attitude has changed since "Music Mondays" kicked off earlier this month.
Billboard: Can you explain why these songs are being released in this way -- one song per week for 10 straight weeks on iTunes?
Braun: Justin had this complete body of work that was very different from the stuff he had done in the past -- very R&B-driven, personal songs, not necessarily songs that he was thinking of as radio records. That's why he called them 'journals.' They're very, very personal to what he's been feeling over the last six months, going through a tough time. If you listen to the lyrics in these songs -- "Heartbreaker," "All That Matters" -- he's pouring his heart out. When I looked at that, I looked at it as, "He didn't write one journal." He wrote them in different days, [with] different emotions at different points, and I wanted people to experience what he was feeling, week to week… As each week comes, people will have a different type of song, and understand the different experience he's going through week to week.
Before the 'Music Mondays' series, you announced that Justin would be releasing new music from October through December, with a movie coming on Christmas. When was all of this planned?
We developed the film with [director] Jon Chu throughout the year. We shot it in Miami. We had a film ready that was basically about his concert and how it all came together that was pretty much in the "This Is It" vein, and then all this press and all these rumors came out about Justin over the last six months, and he went through a very tough time. We decided that there were so many rumors coming that there was no point in addressing them.
We realized that if the film comes out the way it was, it would look like a puff piece. His entire brand has always been about sharing everything, being authentic and letting people in. So we went and did an entire interview with Justin, and put into the film all of the answers and insights of what's really gone on in his life, to address all these rumors in one film. It's a more intimate look into what he's gone through than ever before, and he is talking direct to camera and expressing himself in a way no one has ever seen. When we saw that, I said, "This in itself is a journal."
We sat down, we looked at the body of work, we realized that we had tons of songs, and we picked the best 10 that were truly personal to Justin. There are other records in there that aren't in this 10-to-12 that are big international radio records, but Justin felt like this wasn't what this body of work was. This body of work isn't about the big, international, party dance records, it's about how am I feeling, what am I going through, and letting the fans know through music exactly where I was and where I am.
Has the process of sharing these new songs been therapeutic for Justin?
I think, right now, he's in the best place he's been in a long time. He's so incredibly grateful to see the reaction from people to this music. "All That Matters" is a very important song to him on a personal level, and to see people react to it like this -- to have producers like Benny Blanco call me and say, "I think this is one of the best songs, if not the best song, he's ever written" -- that means a tremendous amount to him.
[Monday night] was Usher's surprise birthday party in L.A., and I found myself in the middle of the dance floor with Justin, Usher, Jermaine Dupri and Puff. And Justin looked at me and he had the biggest smile on his face and he said, "This is awesome." And he was just dancing and laughing, and he was the fun-loving Justin that we all want to see. He didn't have security around him, and he didn't have any of the Justin I saw a couple months ago of just not trusting anyone. That's one of the things he told me, a month, a month and a half ago. He looked at me and he goes, "I don't know if I can trust anyone." And that's a tough place to be, especially as a 19-year-old. He hasn't had the easiest run, and at times he knows that he hasn't made it easy on himself. But I think that music has always been his therapy, and this film, which we just screened and watched with the whole crew, means a lot to him, because of how he gets to finally express himself and tell people what it's like.
Times have changed, and we will release music again as a whole album, and we'll do that many times in the future. But I think this was a new, innovative way of releasing music and saying you don't need to play the game the normal way.
It seems like these songs are bringing in listeners that aren't necessarily Justin's core audience.
I think that's what's making him the happiest, because these songs are who he is. He wrote these songs on the road. He paid to bring his engineer out. He recorded some of these songs in bedrooms and hotel rooms -- he got it done wherever he could do it, because every night he wanted to write and express himself… And like I said, he has the big, international dance records, but he was very insistent that that's not what this body of work is. Even myself, I had a moment there where I wasn't sure, should we be doing this? But both Justin and Usher really helped me understand it. Usher called me up and we were talking about it, and he said, "Scooter, artists need to have an 'artist' moment. Otherwise, we'll go crazy." And I think this is Justin's moment of truly being an artist and sharing who he is.