Who the Hell is Justin Bieber and Other Musings on Blue-Eyed Soul


Okay, so added to the ever-growing list of memos I’ve missed is the one on Justin Bieber.  I guess it was lost on my desk, underneath those on Lady Gaga and Nikki Minaj.  Nevertheless, if you too are somewhat removed from the 18 and under set, let me fill you in on what you have missed.  Hailing from Canada, Bieber is the latest pop/R&B wunderkind.  Nowadays, the demographic and size of his fan base mirrors and may even rival  that of Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus.  Suffice it to say, he has the teen-bopper, heart throb game on lock.  His adorable doe eyes, messy rocker hair, and a baby face combined with his mean set of pipes make him commercial gold.   He has even sparked a number of large-scale mall riots—a prerequisite for heartthrob status— as first modeled by the Beetles and later  the Jackson Five, New Kids on the Block, and Hanson to name only a few.  Hoards of pre-adolescent girls are known to mob this young kid like he’s a 75% off sales rack at Charlotte Russe. 

 You can thank YouTube for Bieber’s rise to fame.  Videos of him covering hits from Justin Timberlake and Usher were posted to the popular video site.   He was then discovered by a music exec and, who in turn introduced him to Usher.  After meeting Usher, the teen was signed to the Raymond-Braun Music Group and the rest is a Blue-Eyed soul fairy tale. 

However, do not be fooled by the all the spectacle.  Behind his tween popularity and easy marketability is bona fide talent.  A gifted musician, Bieber plays the guitar, trumpet, piano, and drums.  His new album My World 2.0 even received high praise from the Washington Post:  “If we truly want the best for America’s children, let us pause and give thanks for Justin Bieber.”  I streamed a part of the album and I can say that the kid has descent enough voice.  However, Bieber’s androgynous tone and sugary sweet tracks are at times akin to fingernails running down a chalk board to my ears.  Nevertheless,  I can say his material and vocal ability are far superior to that of Cyrus and his other contemporaries.  If Bieber models himself after his mentors—Usher and Justin Timberlake—he will have no problems transitioning from teen sensation to pop superstar.

Bieber’s out of the box success got me thinking about my favorite blue-eyed soul acts.  As defined by Wikepdia, blue-eyed soul is rhythm and blues or soul music performed by white artists.  The term was first used in the mid-1960s to describe white artists who performed soul and R&B that was similar to the music of the Motown and Stax record labels”.  Seen as cultural appropriation in some circles, white musicians making music with an African American aesthetic is nothing new.  In its worst incarnations, blue-eyed soul described black music being made digestible by white performers to accommodate white audiences,  particularly during segregation.  However, in the best connotations of the term, it can be used to describe some of the most talented musicians in the industry, who broke racial barriers and created art beyond racial and ethnic traditions.   As a result—music politics aside—every now and again  white artists successfully tap the hearts of soul music fans, with authenticity, talent, funk, rhythm, and blues.  So here is my list of favorite blue-eyed soul acts:

Teena Marie – Lady T’s instrument is unmatched and sadly unsung; she is a true diva and a vocal powerhouse Listen to: Fire and Desire & Square Biz

Jon B. – Former Babyface protégé, Jon B. is the original Robin Thicke.  His sultry love songs and lyrical melodies are a regularly included in my slow jam mixes.  Listen to:  Pretty Girl 

Justin Timberlake– The man responsible for bringing sexy back gives us plush falsettos and funky beats courtesy of Timbaland—you gotta love that!  Listen To: Take it From Here

Average White Band – Play that funky music indeed! Listen To: Pick Up the Pieces

Amy Winehouse – Yeah she has  issues; but Back to Black is retro soul perfection  Listen To: Back to Black and Me and Mr. Jones

Hall and Oates –  Sure they gave us Private Eyes, but they also gave us “Sara Smile”  Listen To: Sarah Smile

Tower of Power – First interracial act on Soul Train.  Listen To: Track So Very Hard to Go—It’s guaranteed to put you in a good mood

Joss Stone Michael Baisden calls her white chocolate…she is no Teena Marie…but she is definitely a gifted soul singer, with potential for days.  Listen To: Got a Right to Be Wrong and Jet Lag

Robin Thicke – Was better when he was just Thicke. Pharrell keeps Thicke in his upper register too often and his real talent is rarely displayed.  Listen To: Thicke “When I Get You Alone”

The Righteous Brothers –  These brothers  (no pun intended) did their part to make Top Gun and Ghost classics. Listen To: Unchained Melody, You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling

So who did I miss? Who are your favorite blue-eyed soul acts and why?  Who flopped in this genre?  Who would you like to see take a stab at more R&B/Soul flavorings? 

Discuss.

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