Bieber v. Spalding: A Qualitative Analysis

You may remember all the way back to the most recent Grammy awards held in February.If anything you may remember that Lady Gaga arrived in an egg and hatched herself onstage. What I remember is that there were a couple of major “upsets” in the awards department. The biggest one was Arcade Fire winning album of the year, and the response that followed. (I know I’ve linked to this Tumblr account before, but it still makes me smile. I know, I’m simple).

The other upset, of course, was Esperanza Spalding beating out Justin Bieber for best new artist. Bieber fans were so indignant that their “man” lost to a “no name”, they took to vandalizing her Wikipedia page, and making rude comments about her on Facebook and Twitter.

Since I hadn’t really listened to either of them, I thought it would be fun to sit down with an Esperanza Spalding CD and a Justin Bieber CD and give them both a good honest listen before making up my own mind.

Now I can already hear the cynics saying that I’m talking about Bieber twice in as many months as a cheap way to tag this blog post and get additional traffic. Well, that’s just not how we do things here at “Mountains Beyond Mountains”. We’ve taken some time to do the heavy lifting for you, so you don’t have to. You can keep your “Belles and Sebastians” and your “Townes Van Zandts” playing merrily away on your iPods, or whatever you hipsters use to listen to music these days. Sit back, and see what we have to say about Biebs and Spalds. One thing I think we can all agree on, is that they both have lovely hair.

My World by Justin Bieber and Esperanza by Esperanza Spalding were promptly ordered through my library, and as serendipity would have it, both arrived on the exact same day. I sat down one Sunday afternoon not too long ago with my wife Marla and our two-year old daughter Audrey and what happened is recorded below.

We started with Esperanza. The first track is called  Ponta De Areia. I don’t know what that is. Is that Spanish? It’s got a very groovy, jazzy sound, and I’m not sure Spalding is singing in English. I was immediately drawing comparisons to Sade and Lhasa de Sela. Marla: “I’m not sure I like this”. Audrey seemed to be treating the music as “background noise” more than anything else. After a brief period of hip-swinging, Audrey was chilling on the floor by the TV, then began to suck on a Berette and ran out of the living room, chased by Marla. When she came back, she settled at her little drawing table and quietly coloured. This continued through the next two tracks: I know you know and Fall In. Although I’m not really into jazz vocals all that much, I can really appreciate Esperanza’s talent and could see myself listening to this CD again.

Now onto Justin Bieber.

One Time. Instant curiosity from Audrey. She got up from her drawing table and stood in front of the stereo, pointing up. She indicates that she wants her Mom to dance with her. Now she’s running in circles. It’s a pretty catchy pop song, no question about that. Is he using Auto-tune? Marla’s take: “It’s not a very good lead off song. It’s cheeky and boring at the same time”.

Favorite Girl. The lyric “of all the girls I’ve ever known, you are my favorite girl” bothers me. I wonder aloud if he is a virgin. “He better be!” is Marla’s response. Audrey is running in circles even faster now, and is giggling and screaming. What is it with this music? Has his voice changed yet? What’s going to happen when it does? Sad to note that “favorite” is spelled the American way. Biebs, are you already forgetting your past?

Down to Earth. It sounds like he whispers the word “Mafia” at the beginning of this one. Why would he do that? It’s pretty sinister. Is he supported by the Teamsters or something? This is a piano-heavy ballad, and Audrey reflects this by doing some slow spins and some “Folk Fest inspired” style moves. Later on, Audrey gets cuddly. It sounds like this may be a duet between Bieber and a girl, but you honestly cannot the difference between the two voices. Cuddles give way to tantrums by the end of this song. Marla is drawing parallels between “Bieber-fever” and “Beatlemania”.

Bigger. WTF? He whispers “Mafia” at the beginning of this one too. It’s got a peppy beat. But all this talk about when he was “younga”. You mean like when you were 8? It’s all about how he’s now “bigga”. Whatever. Audrey’s not dancing at all, even though this is probably the most danceable song so far. She’s playing with monkey and taking a drink.

One Less Lonely Girl. “How many I told you’s and start overs and shoulders have you cried on before?”. Listen to the lyrics. It really sounds like an anthem for a transgendered person about to make the final switch. Audrey appears indifferent, choosing to play with some pillows during this one. Marla tries out a little harmony during the chorus.

First Dance. A suggestive lyric that plays as a metaphor for losing your virginity. Marla wonders if this is the song with Usher. I don’t have the interest to actually look this up. Its full of prom references and chaperones and stuff. Isn’t this kid from Canada? I feel a little pervy listening to the lyric “I promise I’ll be gentle but we gotta do it slowly”. Thankfully, Audrey has appeared to tune it out completely, and is now building a pillow fort on the futon. On the lyric “Everybody says we look cute together”, Marla says “I’m gonna puke”.

Love Me. He’s now referring to himself at “J.B.” but thankfully no mafia reference at the beginning of this one. There’s heavy synth, which puts me in the mind of “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode. As I wonder whether he stole this bass riff from them, he goes ahead and blatantly uses the chorus of “Love Fool” by The Cardigans. The sad thing is that The Cardigans are probably delighted that Justin Bieber is using their stuff. Both Marla and Audrey are up dancing to this one, although Audrey seems just as excited to be dancing to the music coming out of her Fisher Price Farm set. Marla’s prediction: “He’s not going to transition into adulthood very well”.

Common Denominator: Well, this is the last song on the CD, and its a bit of a cheat. It’s actually One Less Lonely Girl but sung inexplicably in French. This really smacks of desperation. The CD is only 25.58 minutes long, including this “Bonus Track” and yet it felt like the whole afternoon was taken up listening to it. It led to one last tantrum as Audrey fell off her little truck-scooter, and wanted to watch a little TV. Marla’s take? “It was bad enough that we had to listen to this in English”.

Well there you have it. A track by track analysis of Justin Bieber’s My World, plus some general impressions on Esperanza Spalding’s Esperanza. It’s quite obvious that Esperanza is the more interesting musician, and probably could benefit more from whatever notoriety that may come with winning the “Best New Artist” Grammy. Lord knows Bieber is doing just fine on his own, and if he is able to weather the storms and stay in the business, there will be plenty of opportunity for awards and recognition down the road. One last thought: How in the world do Bieber and Esperanza qualify as “new artists”? My World came out in 2009, so if anything he should have been considered in last year’s category. Esperanza’s been touring for over a decade, and her first album was out in 2006! I guess this is similar to me never quite knowing the difference between “record of the year” and “song of the year” and I don’t really care enough to find out.

“Me plus you. I’m a tell you one time.

Me plus you. I’m a tell you one time.

Me plus you. I’m a tell you one time.

Me plus you. I’m a tell you one time.

One time, One time.” One Time-Justin Bieber


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