Justin Bieber Comes Roaring Back With a  Record-Breaking New Single

With new single “What Do You Mean?” exploding, Def Jam’s Justin Bieber has fully reignited his career—picking up on the momentum of his prior Top 10 hit, the Skrillex-Diplo collabo “Where Are U Now,” and laying the groundwork for a big album bow on 11/13.

In a single week, the Scooter Braun-managed young star’s new hit has flown to #1 at iTunes in 90 territories; earned 185 adds at Pop radio (and 38 at Rhythm); racked up 21 million global streams, shattering a record previously held by One Direction; and tallied 45m global views for the song’s lyric and official videos.

For Def Jam chief Steve Bartels, the thunderous response to the track “speaks volumes about Justin’s appeal. His legions of dedicated fans have been waiting for his return, and he has rewarded their patience and loyalty with an incredible record. We aren’t surprised by the support–our countdown showed our confidence–but it’s certainly validating.”

“It’s a team effort, from Steve Bartels and his team to our team to Justin himself,” says Braun. “Everyone stepped up, and they stepped up for a kid who really, really deserves it.”

“What Do You Mean?” has also been a milestone for Bieber in the U.K., giving him his first British #1 single with 84k first-week sales, not to mention 3.2 million streams, the most first-week streams for any single ever in the U.K. “Justin is back in a very big way indeed in the U.K., bigger than he’s ever been,” notes Virgin EMI chief Ted Cockle. “It’s a rocket of a song. Radio adores it; even the normally sniffy cool kids at radio are all clambering on board. To be hitting #1 in its first week in an on-air/on-sale landscape is even more impressive.”

Bartels says we can expect “a continued strategic and coordinated approach to marketing and promoting” the album and single. “We are talking directly to his audience, and through our multi-tiered direct-to-consumer offerings, giving them great value and increased participation. We have a very aggressive television and press plan in place; great alignments and support from radio; and innovative and comprehensive plans in the digital and social space. I’m very excited about the months ahead for this project.”


Braun and Bartels hoist a brew in Bieber's honor; Ted Cockle hails "a rocket of a song."

Bieber’s renaissance—after a fitful period during which his antics filled the tabloids and fueled speculation that his career might be on the ropes—began with the success of “Where Are U Now,” an EDM track he crafted with mega-producers Skrillex and Diplo. The song was a Top 10 smash, and its clubby vibe was a particularly good fit for Bieber’s writing and vocals, providing a blueprint going forward. When it came together, Braun recalls, “We felt like we’d cracked the code. Real songs, real substance, real things people could relate to—and it was very personal to Justin.”

The timing was ideal for setting up his next solo single. Braun says that after going through a number of songs, “What Do You Mean?” emerged as the clear next choice.

Braun launched a countdown for the single on Ryan Seacrest’s show, and an array of fellow stars and other celebs volunteered to share pics of themselves with signs indicating how many days were left. He also encouraged his young staff—many of whom are around Bieber’s age—to brainstorm a number of social initiatives via Twitter and other platforms. One example: Bieber, who boasts a mind-boggling 67.2 million Twitter followers, posted lyric fragments with a clock image to 59 of his original Twitter followers, encouraging them to solve the puzzle to piece the lyrics together; the lyrics were then revealed on his website after fans solved the puzzle.

A lyric video featuring pro skaters was rolled out, and it was announced Bieber would be performing on the VMAs. On 8/28 the single had its global release on all formats, with an exclusive album pre-order on Bieber’s website. His VMAs performance two days later ended with an emotional moment that occasioned much media comment—Bieber looked up to see the audience on its feet, roaring its approval at his return to the limelight. “When he lifted his head and saw that standing ovation,” Braun remembers, “He didn’t know what to do. He was overwhelmed.”

Top position at Spotify and Vevo helped prime the pump for his astronomical audio and video streaming numbers; the official vid launched right after the VMAs, and soon the track’s official and lyric clips were #1 and #3, respectively, on Vevo.

Meanwhile, the response at radio was massive. The syndicated morning shows—Elvis Duran, Kid Kelly’s Hits1 on SiriusXM, Ryan Seacrest and Radio Disney—were on board from the outset, laying the groundwork for the add blowout when “What Do You Mean?” had its impact date at Pop.

TV is adding considerable dimension to the campaign. Bieber’s week-long Today Show takeover (9/7-9/11) will culminate in performances that will naturally give the artist huge mainstream looks. But we may look back on his 9/2 Tonight Show appearance as instrumental to Bieber’s re-branding. Combining a reflective interview segment with host Jimmy Fallon, a performance of the single with backing by The Roots, a playful segment with the audience and an impressive drum-off with Roots drummer Questlove, the multifaceted appearance accomplished several things at once. It showed Bieber was rueful about his past excesses (he mentioned separating himself from the “knuckleheads” who’d encouraged his misbehavior), focused and serious about his music, deeply grateful for his fans and able to poke fun at himself.

Braun promises that those who like the current singles will love the album, in which Skrillex is heavily involved and which finds Bieber writing and otherwise collaborating with MdL, longtime collaborator Poo Bear and Justin Tranter of Semi Precious Weapons, among others. And he underscores that it’s Bieber’s most personal and revealing work yet: “All the questions people have about him he answers, song by song, on this album.”

The manager notes that Lucian Grainge had some sage advice as the process began. “He said, ‘You know how to find a hit. Make the hits and feel like you have three in the bag. Not two, not one—at least three. Then use all your clever marketing ways, because you’re good at that. But make it about the music first,’” Braun recalls. “That helped us slow down. Now I feel like we have seven hits on the album, if not more. Is there a lot of good marketing and strategy? Yes. But at the core of it are a really great song and album.”

For Braun, Bieber’s renewal is particularly gratifying after his recent difficulties. “In the last few years,” he says, “people wrote him off for dead. It was nasty, negative stuff. To see him now have the biggest single of his career feels so good. It’s game time and we have a lot more to do, but he’s earned this. He’s a fighter and I’m proud of him.”

At presstime, “What Do You Mean” remains #1 at iTunes with no signs of budging. Will his full-length have a comparable impact? Given what we’ve seen so far, we’re not inclined to bet against the Biebs.•

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Could be. Dunno.

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