Another unofficial Justin Bieber Week in America began with his sweep of Sunday night's American Music Awards, beating out Lady Gaga, Eminem and Katy Perry for best artist. The next day, another trailer for his upcoming movie, "Never Say Never," showed up online with more concert clips, footage from an alarmingly well-documented childhood and some shots of him (the girls squeal!) shirtless. It wraps on Black Friday with the shopping-spree release of his latest CD, an acoustic retread of his hits.
"My Worlds Acoustic," available exclusively through Walmart, is Bieber's third album in just more than a year. Since last summer, the Canadian wunderkind has delivered music the way young buyers now consume it: in small batches and singles. A couple years before that, the young Canadian first appeared on YouTube, singing R&B covers and flipping his now-trademark hair out of his eyes, establishing a growing fan base on the video site.
But unlike more artful outfits like OK Go, Bieber's YouTube popularity translated into massive sales. His first single, "One Time," went platinum, as did the short debut album, "My World," just before Thanksgiving 2009. Singles charted high, one after another, and the follow-up album, "My World 2.0," debuted in March at No. 1 on the Billboard chart -- making him the youngest star to do so since Stevie Wonder in 1963. And all that without a Disney sitcom.
"My Worlds Acoustic," as you might guess, merely turns nine songs from the two "World" discs into semi-acoustic ballads, plus one new track. They're the same pop songs, full of whimsical nonsense and very safe expressions of puppyish love, but rendered with the kind of serious, adult-contemporary arrangements meant to bestow credibility (i.e., older listeners) on the young upstart.
"I really think that I did an acoustic album because there's a lot of haters out there that say, 'Justin Bieber can't sing. His voice is all Auto-Tuned,'" Bieber recently told MTV News. "And there's a lot with production, it kind of drowns out your voice, and it takes away from the singer, over the synths and everything."
He can sing, as evidenced by Sunday's AMA performance, which effortlessly bested the wavering pitches of Miley Cyrus (in the same show) and Taylor Swift (in every other music awards show this year). The lighter touch on "Acoustic" showcases his developing chops (though there's still plenty of "production" going on), and a live version of "Favorite Girl" seems designed to highlight his guitar playing. Mostly, "Acoustic" makes Bieber sound overly serious, calming down several of the pop tunes with slower tempos and patient singing. It's not a bad thing. For instance, "Down to Earth" brings it right back there, slowing things enough to hear how much baby Beeb's voice has -- go ahead, chuckle -- actually matured since, um, spring.
"Pray," the one new song on "My Worlds Acoustic," is another stab at seriousness. Like Kid Rock's new ode to political inaction, "Care," Bieber's ballad recognizes the pain and suffering in the world before offering a passive solution. "Children are crying / soldiers are dying / Some people don't have a home," he sings before going completely Pollyanna: "But I know there's sunshine beyond that rain / good times beyond that pain." He closes his eyes, visualizes "a better day," prays for it. It's the latest attempt to crack the wall of separation between church and pop.
The best part about "My Worlds Acoustic," though, is how it will continue to annoy all the right people. The subject of online pranks and rockist ridicule, the butt of jokes from "South Park" to "Family Guy," Bieber sticks in the craw of hipsters and "haters" who take pop music so seriously they forget how to have fun with it. Every generation needs its Biebers, Hansons, NKOTBs and Shaun Cassidys, if only to remind us that -- at heart -- pop music's mission wasn't written for old folks and needn't be built to last.
JUSTIN BIEBER DATEBOOK
Nov. 26 -- "My Worlds Acoustic" is released on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year
Dec. 1 -- Performs on "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live," 9 p.m. CBS
Dec. 9 -- Interviewed by Barbara Walters as part of her "10 Most Fascinating People of 2010" TV special, 9 p.m. on ABC
Dec. 11 -- Headlines the B96 Jingle Bash concert (also featuring Far East Movement, Nelly, Bruno Mars, Mike Posner, Jason Derulo and others), 6 p.m. at Allstate Arena. Sold out.
Dec. 16 -- His acting debut repeats in an episode of "CSI," 9 p.m. on CBS
Feb. 11 -- "Never Say Never," a concert and biopic movie, hits theaters nationwide