With a lot of smart decisions and a little luck, Bieber can successfully write his own comeback story and rejoin pop's biggest stars. Follow these suggestions, Justin Bieber, and you'll be back on top sooner than anyone would have thought:
DO record some sort of apology song. One of the major criticisms of Bieber's second feature film, 2013's Justin Bieber's Believe, was that it didn't honestly portray or even acknowledge the chaotic nature of Bieber's last world tour, downplaying his transgressions as minor missteps instead of symptoms of a full-blown breakdown. A PR stunt like a 3D concert film is not the best platform to plead forgiveness, but some sort of general mea culpa on Bieber's next album would go a long way toward restoring his image. Bieber needs his own version of "Shadow Days," John Mayer's effectively earnest 2012 single, on which he basically declared that he's acted like a dick, but that's not who he was, and those days are behind him.
DON'T base your album around your Selena Gomez breakup. Look, Selena Gomez seems like a very chill girlfriend and the on-again/off-again thing must be tough, especially while her single "The Heart Wants What It Wants" haunts you from afar and continuously creeps up the Pop Songs chart. But, Biebs, you already made a song called "Heartbreaker" and let those feelings simmer in 2013 with Journals; the tears on your guitar strings have long since evaporated. Your next project should be about moving on from a certain phase of your life and embracing the future, even if it means chilling by the fire and eating fondue with *SOB* another girl.
DO look toward Usher for guidance. Ursh has served as a big brother for the Biebs through thick and thin: "I can say I'm not happy with all the choices my friend has made, but I'm supportive of him," Usher said of Bieber in his recent Billboard cover story. Bieber has needed the elder superstar's positive reinforcement from a personal standpoint, but he also learn a thing or two from Usher's career trajectory. After all, Usher was only 15 years old when his self-titled debut album was released in 1994, and over the past 20 years, the entertainer has confidently transitioned into and embraced adulthood with a steadiness that the Biebs should envy. Bieber would be wise to lean on Usher with this new project by picking his mentor's brain, figuring out how to arrange a killer live show and trusting a long-running hit-maker to help him crash back into the Top 40.
DON'T make a full-on R&B album. Bieber showed real growth on his Journals collection, resisting the urge to power through a shambolic period in his life with faceless party anthems featuring, who knows, Redfoo and the Vengaboys? It might not have performed well on radio, but his Journals compilation serves as the sort of offbeat pitstop that mainstream artists need every now and then to prove to themselves that they can successfully experiment with their sound (see also: Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak or Madonna's American Life). That being said, we need Bieber to make a pop album pronto, or else he might not be regarded as an artist capable of reliably delivering hits anymore. Coming off of a prolonged hiatus, Bieber should return to the sugary hooks and high-BPM tempos that marked Top 10 hits like "As Long As You Love Me" and "Beauty and a Beat" -- something catchy and attention-grabbing. Back in October 2013, Braun told Billboard that Bieber has some "big, international dance records" in his vault that wouldn't have fit in with Journals. Well, it's time to hear those big, international dance records! Speaking of which…
DO record another banger (or two, or three) with Zedd. The electro-pop wave has crashed, with the days of hyper-kinetic summer songs by Flo Rida, the Black Eyed Peas and Kesha ceding to slightly more leisurely tempos as heard on recent smashes like "Fancy," "All About That Bass" and "Happy." One of the few EDM artists who has been able to successfully toe the line between fast and slow, however, is Zedd, who co-produced "Beauty and a Beat" for Bieber before blowing up with "Clarity," "Stay the Night" and the Ariana Grande collaboration "Break Free." The latter track is what Bieber should be aiming for with his comeback single: zippy and immediate, with a synthesizer pileup but enough room for the 20-year-old to flaunt his vocal prowess.
DON'T work with Timbaland. Timbaland is more than capable of bringing out the best in a young male artist -- look at what he's done for Justin Timberlake's solo career ever since "Cry Me a River." But that's also the exact reason why Biebs should steer clear of calling up Timbaland for his new album. If Bieber leans on Timbo's production too hard, the comparisons between Justin and The Other Famous Justin will flood in and capsize the Biebs' next project, especially if it falls short of the high-water marks of FutureSex/Lovesounds or The 20/20 Experience. Maybe Timbaland can be the man when Bieber is older and is ready for his own 20/20 Experience, but right now, he's 20 and needs an experience (see what I did there?) that won't provoke endless comparisons to the world's most critically beloved male pop star.
DO revive Carly Rae Jepsen's career with a duet. Here are a few unassailable pop facts:
1. Carly Rae Jepsen's 2012 album Kiss (you know, the one with "Call Me Maybe") is crazy underrated as a whole.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen has been pretty quiet over the past two years, and could use a hit!
3. People still like Carly Rae Jepsen -- or at least, very few people actively dislike her -- and would be onboard with a mini-CRJ comeback.
4. The Bieber-Jepsen duet on Kiss, the flaccid "Beautiful," was surprisingly the weakest track on the album -- the chemistry was there, but the soft songwriting and slow tempo didn't do the pair any favors. So give these two crazy Canadians another chance at capturing the magic! Imagine a sultry, "Love Me Harder"-esque jam in which Carly and her pal Justin wink at each other over some ace production from Tricky Stewart & The-Dream. Let's make this happen and rewrite history.
DON'T hit up Lil Wayne… or Prince Jackson. There comes a time in every man's life where he must put down his skateboard and face reality. The Biebs may be landing kickflips with the ease of Bucky Lasek in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, but he doesn't need to emulate X Games enthusiast/Trukfit king Lil Wayne, who showed up on the Journals song "Backpack" to portray an alien being carried around in the Biebs' backpack (?) and actually spat the line "My swag is out of this world" (?!) while his swag was very much tethered to Earth's gravitational pull. Weezy has started to slow down his career losing streak with the Drake vs. Lil Wayne tour and singles like "Believe Me," but another Bieber-Wayne collaboration, by nature, has the potential to be as witless as "Backpack," so we'll pass.
And while we're at it, Biebs: Prince Jackson, and the rumors that you're making music with him? Maybe let those demos stay demos, or gift them to mutual pal Floyd Mayweather for his birthday or something. Let the Prince of Pop settle into a musical career (if he so chooses) before he shows up on your next album.
DO show some skin. This is the easiest favor ever asked of Bieber! The equation of Nick Jonas' recent solo breakout goes something like this: Solid Single x Shirtless Pics = Swooning Fans. The Biebs should be sure to pair any promotional opportunities with ample chest shots, which he's already provided countless times for magazine spreads… and on Instagram… and in public. Show some skin, young Justin, but maybe not in the airport security line, cool?
DON'T revel in trashiness. Bieber's next album will likely be released after he turns 21 on March 1, but that doesn't mean his first music video should be a shot-by-shot re-creation of Spring Breakers. The Hedonism Pose may have worked for Miley Cyrus' career reinvention, but too many mop-bucket-pissing hijinks have damaged the reputation of a male artist whose supposed foundation is wholesomeness. There's a way for Bieber to grow up while also getting parents back on board with his music and image, and that solution is closer to the stylish glass-sipping of Bruno Mars, not the leopard-print puking of LMFAO.
DO make the album rollout a prolonged event. Public opinion of Bieber is still low enough that, if the pop star were to "pull a Beyonce" and plop an album on iTunes without any forewarning, he risks a lukewarm reception that negatively impacts radio play and quietly pushes the album into the past. Instead, Bieber's next project should follow the Taylor Swift blueprint for 1989: create a fan-driven event for the lead single release, dish out juicy interviews, own the awards show and morning-show circuits, stop by The Voice. He needs to pummel pop fans with the fact that he's back and still a big deal, while energizing his Belieber base and extracting squeals from across the globe. Want to be as big as Taylor Swift? Start by becoming as inescapable as her.
DON'T get furious if your album doesn't debut big. Back in June 2012, Believe debuted with 374,000 copies sold in its first week, at that point the biggest initial sales week for any album that year. The proper follow-up album to Believe is not likely to debut that big, or even start with half of that, when it's released in 2015: too much time has passed without an album or hit single for Bieber, and album sales have deflated over the past three years. And that's okay! Whatever his next album sells in its first week, Bieber shouldn't react the same way that Lady Gaga did when 2013's ARTPOP started with roughly a quarter of the sales of 2011's Born This Way and many derided the album as a "flop." The reality is, huge sales weeks are increasingly difficult to come by, and Bieber's goal should be to spiral multiple singles off his album and keep the sales consistent, just as artists like Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith have done in recent months. No matter what that final number is, Biebs, it doesn't warrant a Twitter rant.
Justin Bieber Breaks Foot, Possibly Ends Feud With Drake Bell
DO constantly remind everyone of your charity work. Bieber's next album cycle will be a combination of music promotion and a personal redemption story, one showing that Bieber is not such a bad guy despite the poor choices he's made leading up to his 21st birthday. The easiest way for him to win back the hearts of the non-Beliebers is to emphasize his philanthropic work, from meeting with tsunami victims to his PETA work to his Make-A-Wish contributions. Revisit the It Gets Better project on the Ellen show; stress the fan outreach that has millions of people defending Bieber online. The Biebs needs to turn the public tide by underlining the fact that he's done a lot of bad, but a lot of good, too.
DON'T be a bonehead. If there's one thing Justin Bieber needs to do in 2015, it's not be an idiot. Seems easy enough, right? But for someone prone to lashing out at paparazzi, driving recklessly, destroying his neighbors' sanity and giving in to the temptations of South American graffiti, this simple act of not being a moron may sound like an impossibility! Simply stated, if Bieber can survive 2015 without the legal issues, caught-on-tape wildness or un-swaggy outbursts that have plagued him over the past two years, he's going to win. No matter how well his singles place on the Hot 100 or how many metallic wings he dons during his arena shows, Bieber will view 2015 as a positive if no new stains are collected onto his reputation. You could once again be pop music's platinum, its silver, its gold, Bieber. Just keep yourself clean and dance forward.