Had you never discovered Justin, do you think that he’d be discovered by now?
SB: Not going answer that. Maybe he’d be discovered, it just would have been a different path. I will answer this; I cannot take credit for Justin Bieber. Justin Bieber is Justin Bieber.
I think I’ve done a good job. I think we both feel like we were made to meet each other, and we’re a great team. But he is what he is, because of who he is.
When did you guys decide that it’s time to start appealing to an older crowd?
SB: That was from day one. We had Ludacris on “Baby.” We’ve had Kanye West and Raekwon. My philosophy with him was Michael Jackson. It was, have a young kid with an angelic voice singing great records about love. And everyone told me, “You can’t have him sing these records. What does he know about love?”
My philosophy was that when Michael sang those songs and when Justin sang those songs, it brought you to a time when you believed in love and you weren’t so fucking jaded. I think that’s why it translated, because no one had done it since the Jackson 5. And I think it kind of broke through.
As he gets older it’ll be more OK for older women to be into him. I think for them it’s like a dirty little secret to like Justin Bieber.
Then, he had songs like “Down To Earth,” which was about his parents’ separation, and the reaction to that song was incredible, because so many kids could relate to it, because they weren’t living cookie-cutter lives.
I try to tell him all the time, because kids grow up so fast today, don’t be in such a rush. The one thing about Michael Jackson was that he never lost the kids, he just kept them and gained the adults.
How do you plan to gain the older audience?
SB: Let him grow. Honestly, there’s no science to it. You said it, he’s a much cooler 17-year-old than you were, and than I was. I think all he needs to do is be himself and people will naturally...Just like people related to his records when he was singing puppy love. I say, now he’s in that “U Make Me Wanna” stage.
All he needs to do is what’s real to him, and people will relate, because everyone went through these stages. As adults, we all think about our high school sweetheart. We all think about that transition place when you started living young manhood.
He’ll represent that. And when the time’s appropriate for him to be 25, he’ll represent what 25-year-olds think about. I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be done. I think people try to do things.
The one thing I just tell him all the time is, don’t be in such a rush to appease the adult audience and try to be a grown up. Just be 17. Just be 18, and people will relate to that. I think what’s shocking is how much of an adult audience he has from the first album, and they could relate to him being honest about that stage in his life, and I think it’ll continue to grow.
What I do think will happen is that, as he gets older it’ll be more OK for older women to be into him. I think for them it’s like a dirty little secret to like Justin Bieber. It used to be a dirty little secret for me to be like, “I like Timberlake,” back in the day.
People forget that, after the Jacksons, people thought Michael Jackson was a wrap. They thought he was corny, and then he came with Off The Wall. So I don’t think there’s a science to it. I just think he doesn’t need to be in a rush to grow up, and he needs to just do him.
Do you think—and I’ll ask him this question too—when he’s rapping on “Boyfriend” and doing the “Burr” Gucci Mane ad-lib, that it might go over his younger fans’ heads?
SB: No. You know what doesn’t go over their heads? Him. He brings that audience to that. Your audience will respect that he’s able to give that shout out, and his audience will just respect that he’s making music. But this isn’t the first time that’s happened.
Michael’s melodies were a lot of plays on other people’s melodies. A lot of dance moves today are plays off of other people. I think that’s appreciation for other music, and certain people will catch it and other people won’t.
It’s like when you’re listening to a rapper. A rapper may make a clever phrase that Bob Dylan might have said, and if you’re a Bob Dylan fan, you’ll catch it. If you’re a Rat Pack fan, you’ll catch that he’s referencing Frank Sinatra, and other people might not catch it. So it’s just the lyrics.
Does the artist care that much that they catch it?
SB: It depends on the artist. When I went through, it’s funny, it was “I Love College,” Rivers Cuomo did not want us to sample that song. We had to go in and change the interpolation of that song and get rid of it.
Then, he met Asher later on and saw what Asher was about, and he took it as a huge compliment and was like, “No issue.” That’s why I said, I hope I don’t have to deal with it [Laughs]. At the end of the day, I think you’ve got to let someone do their art, and then you have to have people around them if it’s good enough.
Right. For me, I think it’s dope that he’s savvy to all these rappers.
SB: But that’s what I’m saying. Now, he’s getting you. He already has them. It goes right back to what I’m saying about Michael Jackson: keep the kids, grow the audience.
In the movie, you said that you met with Timberlake. What was it like meeting with him?
SB: It was great.
Justin Bieber: Dope guy.
Do you guys stay in touch?
SB: I’ve seen him from time to time. We’ve talked to a couple people in his camp about possibly writing with him. He’s doing movies, but they were like, “He’d totally be open to it.” It wasn’t a Timberlake-Usher choice, really. It just came down to the business of it. And I also felt like, with their names both being Justin, I want... With Usher, he could stand on his own a little bit more.