On Nov. 10, 1998, *NSYNC released "Home For Christmas," a holiday disc that featured a whole mess of new material, including the saccharine lead single, "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays." It was a smart cash-in for the best-selling boy band: with some faithful covers and a few harmless originals, "Home For Christmas" essentially acted as a stopgap between the group's breakout album from the previous year and their most successful album, 2000's "No Strings Attached," which still owns the record for most albums sold in a single week with over 2.4 million copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
After "My World 2.0" resulted in a universal bout of Bieber Fever, Justin Bieber appears to be using "Under The Mistletoe," his just-released debut holiday effort, as a way to set up his sure-to-be-huge next album, out sometime next year. The difference between "Home For Christmas" and "Under The Mistletoe"? Well, Bieber's Christmas album is a pretty great pop record in its own right. Consider "Under The Mistletoe" Justin Bieber's concept album, of sorts: a sticky-sweet tour of hook-laden R&B music that just happens to focus on Christmas, "Mistletoe" finds Bieber still treating his songwriting with as much care as he would on any standard solo album. Some of the gimmicks work (the silky Boyz II Men collaboration "Fa La La") and some don't (the Busta Rhymes head-scratcher "Drummer Boy"), but original cuts like "Only Thing I Ever Get For Christmas" and "All I Want Is You" are fairly immaculate collections of warm sound beds and impressive singing.
Does "Under The Mistletoe" contain replay value outside of the holiday season? Probably not; it's hard to imagine Bieber fanatics jamming to "Mistletoe" on their way to the beach next summer. But what "Under The Mistletoe" crucially establishes is the idea that Bieber could turn his blockbuster teenage years into a successful adult career; after all, the singer holds his own with Mariah Carey, the Band Perry and Usher on this album, and continues to find a home in the mainstream R&B found here. "Under The Mistletoe" shows Bieber growing up, and hints at the promising -- perhaps even critically appreciated -- future in front of him. After all, did anyone consider Justin Timberlake a serious musical artist when "Home For Christmas" came out just shy of 13 years ago?
Which songs on "Under The Mistletoe" stand up next to Justin Bieber's best work? Here's our Twitter-length track-by-track review of each song.
You be the judge: What do you think of Justin Bieber's Christmas album? Tweet us your own review at @billboard (using hashtag #bbjustin). The best tweets will be posted on Billboard.com in the coming days.
1. Only Thing I Ever Get For Christmas - A mid-tempo romantic ode that's more relaxed and engaging than "Mistletoe," and should have been the lead single.
2. Mistletoe - Sure, the Jason Mraz digs are warranted, and the lyrics aren't high art. But "Mistletoe's" gentle acoustic strumming sounds cozy in the context of the album.
3. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) - Justin's first chance to flash his maturing vocals, and his big bro, Usher, stops by to tell the Biebs know that "Santa's on his way." Understated, save the weird guitar solo.
4. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bieber opts for a bit of Motown flair -- funk guitar! call-and-return vocals! -- on this holiday staple. The "Shake it, shake it, baby's" are a nicely playful touch.
5. Fa La La - The production pops on this Boyz II Men collaboration, which features unfussy harmonies and a smooth R&B vibe as warm and tasty as a batch of Christmas cookies fresh from the oven.
6. All I Want For Christmas Is You (Superfestive!) - We give Justin props for trying to go all out in a higher register and recreate this modern classic with Mariah Carey's help. But, alas, the original still trumps it easily.
7. Drummer Boy - Certainly the weirdest "Mistletoe" track, "Drummer Boy" combines the Christmas classic, Bieber rapping about how he "only spit heat," and a Busta Rhymes verse that ends with "Happy Hanukkah!"
8. Christmas Eve - Chris Brown snagged a writing credit on this slow jam, and his rhythmic pop fingerprints are all over it. Unintentional comedy highlight: the earnest promise "Leave some cookies out! I'mma eat 'em all, eat 'em all, eat 'em all…"
9. All I Want Is You - Lovely guitar work highlights the overall pop genius of this open-hearted apology: pristine percussion, a powerful chorus and one of Justin's most striking vocal performances to date.
10. Home This Christmas - After working with Rascal Flatts earlier this year, Bieber hooks up with another country artist, the Band Perry, for this wistful ballad. Sadly, the lyrics here are almost unbearably generic.
11. Silent Night - Bieber. Piano. "Silent Night." It's a simple ending to a flashy holiday disc, but the tried-and-true strategy works here.