Last night at the VMAs, Justin Bieber did things that we've long associated with Justin Bieber. He arrived looking hilarious. He bantered, charmingly. He won an award, for “U Smile,” and expressed thanks “not only to God but to Jesus,” thereby sparking a theological debate. But he also did some highly un-Bieberlike things. He dressed like Kanye. He brought a pet snake to the red carpet. He made penis jokes. This is the context in which you should take in the strangest-ever entry in Bieber's discography: his cover of Drake’s “Trust Issues.”
The song, released online to little fanfare before the VMAs, is notable mostly for Bieber’s dropped vocal register. Whether or not it was a voluntary decision is unclear, but Bieber's trademark falsetto is MIA, replaced by a slurred croon that’s jarring and hopefully embryonic. Clearly, the growing-up-before-our-eyes Bieber is cautiously pushing his boundaries. On the one hand, he’s covering a song by Drake, the most innocuous of all rappers this side of that White House terrorist guy, and a fellow Canadian to boot. On the other, he’s covering a song about drinking codeine and not trusting “bitches.” JB, wisely, self-censors (“bitches” are “women,” and he’s going to “sing” not “sip”), but this — plus his recent Chris Brown-assisted hip-hop experimentation — is a clear sign Biebs is itching for adult material. Bieber’s awkward transitory period was inevitable. Now, apparently, all of a sudden, it’s here.