NEW YORK (AP) – Most grown men love musical acts like the Black Keys and Kendrick Lamar. Now, you can add Justin Bieber’s name to that list.
With his recent batch of hit singles and a semi-grown-up sound – including the electro-pop “Where Are U Now” with DJ-producers Skrillex and Diplo – adult men have begun attending the musical church of Bieber, and while some have issues acknowledging it, others proudly say they’re Beliebers.
“You can’t deny where Justin Bieber is right now musically. You want to not like him, but you kind of just have to respect it,” said Timothy Javier, a 30-year-old nurse from Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Javier said Bieber’s new album, “Purpose,” reminds him of Justin Timberlake’s “Justified,” his 2002 solo debut that helped him transition from ‘N Sync frontman to a leader of pop music.
The singles “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean?” – currently at Nos. 2 and 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart – helped Bieber solidify his comeback after years of a broken image that included arrests, public smoking and fainting onstage that led to hospitalization.
But now, at 21, his music is in the spotlight.
“He dropped an album that was … solid across the board,” said DJ Enuff, a veteran radio personality for New York hip-hop station Hot 97. “There’s urban radio stations across the country that play it, there’s rhythmic crossover stations that can play it, there’s pop stations that can play it.”
“Purpose,” which features downbeat R&B tracks, ballads and club-worthy anthems, debuted at No.1 and sold an impressive 649,000 equivalent album units in its first week. Skrillex produced a number of the tracks; Ed Sheeran co-wrote the ballad “Love Yourself,” a Top 5 hit; and guests include Nas, Big Sean, Travis Scott and newcomer Halsey.
And the Grammy-nominated “Where Are U Now” – first released on the album “Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack U” in February – helped Bieber achieve his first Top 10 hit since 2012’s “Beauty and a Beat.”
Some fans were surprised when they learned it was Bieber singing smoothly on the song.
“I kept asking my girlfriend, ‘Who is that guy? I keep hearing his voice.’ She didn’t even know until we actually had to go through the radio station’s playlist to find out it was Justin Bieber,” said 33-year-old Ennis Iheme of Jersey City, New Jersey, who works in rail service operations. “I’m a Justin Bieber fan now.”
Others say they’re surprised they enjoy Bieber’s new sound and are coming to terms with being Bieber fans.
“I think grown men have a problem with the term ‘Belieber,'” said Paul Costabile, a host at iHeartRadio. “We’re like, ‘Can we be OK with Justin Bieber …?’ And now we all are I think.”
Bieber released his debut EP in 2009 at 15, and before this year, he’d been best known for the bubble gum-pop jam “Baby,” despite releasing other hits.
DJ Enuff said Bieber is accepted among older fans because he’s grown up and entered a new chapter in his life.
“A lot of male listeners we have at our station wouldn’t even touch a Justin Bieber record. But now … we’re playing Justin Bieber records and no one’s even questioning it,” he said. “It’s part of the format.”