Millions of Justin Bieber’s teenaged admirers would claim to be the 16-year-old’s biggest fan.
But they might have some competition from R&B star Usher.
As Bieber prepares to drop his debut album, the 16-year-old’s high-profile mentor is already looking a dozen years into the future. Usher – who was instrumental in discovering the Canadian and igniting his fledgling career – has always had lofty expectations for the mop-topped youngster. And following Bieber’s shockingly quick ascent to the top of the international pop heap, Usher’s confidence in the teen-popper has only grown.
“I’m thinking of the Justin that you’re going to know when he’s 12 years into his career, not just in the moment now,” Usher told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview Wednesday from his Atlanta home.
“Great artists mature with time. … To see him now at this age, and think about where he’s going to be when he begins to bring real music full circle, when he begins to dictate the sound of the future – I’m looking forward to those days.
“When I first saw him, I thought about that – I didn’t think about how cute he was, or how personable he was, and how much swag he had.”
And of course, since that first meeting, everything has changed for Bieber.
It was back in 2007 when Bieber’s mother took to YouTube to upload a collection of clips of the then-13-year-old singing R&B covers. Those videos – in which Bieber sang tunes by Ne-Yo, Justin Timberlake and, yes, Usher – caught the attention of Scooter Braun, a music manager who promptly whisked Bieber off to Atlanta to meet with Usher.
“When I met him, I immediately knew that this kid was poised to be a star,” recalled Usher, who will drop his sixth album, “Raymond vs. Raymond,” on March 30. “I knew that I had a lot to offer to him, based off where I’d been. I just wanted to help him tell his story.”
In October 2008, Bieber signed to a joint venture between Usher and Braun’s label RBMG and Island Records in the U.S. Since then, Bieber’s career has taken off. His “My World” EP ascended to No. 1 on the Canadian charts and went platinum in Canada and the U.S. He has three Juno Award nominations going into next month’s show and – as anyone with a Twitter account can attest – his masses of lovestruck young fans never tire of fluttering notes back and forth about Bieber via social media.
None of this comes as a surprise to Usher.
“The craze is based off of the fact that the world has been looking for a hero like Justin,” he explained. “How many Beatles-type artists do you have? Where he shuts down malls? When he goes out in public, the streets shut down. That’s the type of business I wanted to be in. … When I saw him, I just felt like: ‘You know, this is the one.’
“He’s gonna be huge. He’s gonna be massive. That’s all I can say.”