In Look Back at It, we revisit pop culture gems of the past and see if they're still relevant and worthy of their designated icon status in our now wildly different world.
As a culture, we've reminisced plenty about the (potentially irresponsible) way we heralded a small boy with a swoopy bowl-cut as the ultimate teenage heartthrob a decade ago, but unlike that iconic haircut, Justin Bieber's first major hits haven't been allotted the same nostalgic love. "Baby" ft. Ludacris is often the first pre-pubescent Bieber single to come to mind when we think of his light-speed rise to stardom, but it was actually songs like "One Time" and "One Less Lonely Girl" that first had young people everywhere scribbling Future Mrs./Mr. Bieber across school notebooks. Admittedly, I have not been a dedicated Belieber for the better part of the last decade, but in 2009, Bieber's debut EP My World had my entire giddy eighth grade heart in its hand. I just wanted to be the one girl Bieber was going to be making a little less lonely! As the EP turns 10 years old this week, it's about time we take a look back at our first introduction to the bonafide superstar.
It's a now familiar story: Bieber kicked off the era marked by artists turning to YouTube for a pathway to success; his recording contract was a direct result of the viral success of his self-made videos, which shot him straight to superstardom. Of course, most others wouldn't find themselves paling up with Usher as a result of their acoustic covers, and YouTube would soon become oversaturated with self-recorded demos and bad vlogs. But Bieber was blessed with the right place, right time, and right algorithm. So right, in fact, that his music soon became completely inescapable.
My World is comprised of eight songs filled with lyrics that mirrored what I hoped my crushes were writing down in their diaries about me as a middle school child. "When I met you, girl, my heart went knock, knock/ Now them butterflies in my stomach won't stop, stop" was a signifier of peak romance, for example. "One Time" was on repeat on every Top 40 radio station, and as a child that had grown up with Dream Street posters plastered across her bedroom wall, it was also the perfect song to fill a void left by a previous generation of similarly smooth-singing, lovestruck boy bands.
Ten years on, this first project from Bieber doesn't hit quite the same nostalgic marks as so many other albums from that era, despite having found similar quantifiable success. A song like Jesse McCartney's "Beautiful Soul," for instance, which features the same cheesy lyricism and swoon-worthy potential as "One Time," is still immediately added to every throwback playlist, while the latter, for some reason, falls flat. One reason that those early Bieber tracks didn't age well, perhaps, is because of how much Bieber and his fans have aged this past tumultuous decade. On tracks like "One Time," Bieber unsurprisingly sounds like the literal child that he was. To listen to My World as a grown adult feels like listening to a Kidz Bop cover of it; it's a bit unsettling and more than a little corny.
The song "Bigger" aged arguably the worst of all, though it seems I'd scrubbed all recollection of it from my brain years ago upon revisiting it. Written by *checks notes* Frank Ocean (?!), amongst others, it's peculiar that anyone thought these lyrics belonged in a teenage love song. The first verse is as follows:
Gotta believe in me
Believe me like a fairy tale
Your tooth under your pillowcase
No, I won't, I won't ever, ever let you down
Like a see saw let you down
You know why?
'Cause we ain't on the playground no more, baby
Sure, most 15-year-olds aren't poets, but even AIM away messages featured substance at least slightly more mature than similes about playground equipment.
On the other hand, "One Less Lonely Girl" stands out as a track that's stood the test of time — or, at least, a song that Bieber could re-record now and likely still see massive chart success. If we look past Bieber's insistence on saying "shawty" in the outro, it's free of any of any slang that feels dated, as well as other tell-tale metaphors that reveal My World was made entirely by grown adults writing for adolescents.
Unless you'd like to project yourself into your own version of PEN15and remember the awkward horror of school dances and petty crushes, we don't suggest you listen too closely of attention while spinning "First Dance" ft. Usher or any of the rest of the EP, if we're being honest. Save yourself the secondhand embarrassment and pretend it all started with My World 2.0.
Listen to My World below.