Usher, L.A. Reid Discuss Justin Bieber in ‘The Hollywood Reporter’
To us common folk, Justin Bieber is a movement. Undeniably. In a short time Bieber launched more than 100 products including: nail polish, 30 T-shirts designs, signing dolls, dessert plates, life-size cardboard image of his likeliness, sold 10 million copies of his debut album My World 2.0 worldwide, opened his first movie “Never Say Never” in more than 3,000 screens, earned two Grammy nods, and sold out Madison Square Garden on his first concert visit. All together his estimated earnings in 2010 is in the $100 million range. Not bad for being a 16-year-old.
But in the eyes of L.A. Reid and Usher, all of this success makes Justin Bieber a bankable business. When Usher brought the Biebster to Reid’s office at Island Def Jam in 2008, they inked a joint-venture deal that gave IDJ 15 to 20 percent of all of his merchandising, publishing royalties, endorsements, and sponsorships. The popularity of Bieber has been compared to the Beatles and this business is worth digging into on a cover story.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, L.A. Reid, Usher, and Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun talk about the team and strategy behind the business of Justin Bieber; the mistakes Reid made in Usher’s career during his voice change, and the plans they both have for this kid’s future.
On landing the right record deal:
Scooter Braun: “We were flown to Justin Timberlake’s house in Memphis. He and Ken Komisar, who runs [Timberlake’s Interscope-affiliated label] Tennman Records, offered us a deal, but it wasn’t what we wanted. Then Usher brought L.A. to the table.” The resulting joint venture, which took six months to come together, is a straightforward 50-50 split between IDJ and the newly formed Raymond Braun Media Group. Bieber’s take: “L.A. Reid is an OG. He gets it. It’s all about the music with him.” Adds Usher, “There’s no better executive to be associated with Justin than L.A.”
L.A. Reid: “I don’t have any evidence that supports it,” he says with a smirk. “I thought I was being worked when I heard Justin Timberlake’s name. I’m like: ‘Yeah, right. It’s Justin Timberlake! He’s one of the biggest stars in the world.’ I didn’t buy it.” To that end, Braun doesn’t deny putting pressure on Reid. “We did use Timberlake as leverage,” he says. “And L.A. stepped up.”
Why L.A. hired Usher’s vocal coach when Bieber’s voice started to change:
L.A. Reid: “I wasn’t there for Usher. I heard him at a showcase, and he couldn’t sing. I was embarrassed. It was like: ‘Damn, where’s the voice? What happened to his tone? Where’s the power and the range?’ It was all gone. I wanted to drop him. I wanted to be out of business with him. I broke his heart. I broke his mother’s heart. It was a very tough period in both our lives. Then someone said to me: ‘Don’t be a fool. Don’t sell your stock in Usher. He’s still going to be a star. He’s everything you thought he was the day you signed him.’ And that person was Puffy.”
Usher: “No man is perfect and no executive knows how to make all the right decisions. I was shielded from a lot of it. My mother felt it more than anything. But losing my voice f—ed me up. I had to figure it out.”
Why Bieber sings mature blend of Pop & R&B and no Disney songs:
L.A. Reid: “Usher asked me once, ‘Why did you never allow me to be a child star?’ I said, ‘Because I wanted you to cross the threshold.’ I didn’t want him singing Radio Disney music, I wanted really heartfelt R&B songs, and partly because of that, Usher still has a career today. Justin doesn’t do the same thing as the Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus; his is a mature blend of pop and R&B music. It will have a longer shelf life.”
There’s an interesting tid-bit where L.A. Reid talks about how failing Janet Jackson on her 2008 album Discipline broke his heart.
On L.A. Reid’s role to revive the careers of Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Lopez:
On Jennifer Lopez’s last obligation to Epic Records, her label of 10 years, not to release a song called “Louboutins” as a single. “It wasn’t a hit,” Reid says. “Usually, big hit songs are about love, pain, fun, compromise — but shoes?” After hearing the track, he asked Lopez’s manager, Benny Medina, a close friend, to put the diva on the phone and told her as much. “I said: ‘Sweetheart, don’t do this. I don’t have anything to gain from telling you this; I’m not trying to lure you in as an artist. This is not the right thing to do.” Lopez’s reaction? She asked for a meeting the following week. The end result: Lopez still released “Louboutins” as a single, and it stiffed. Her next album is due this summer — on Island.
Lopez would be wise to listen to her new label boss. Under Reid’s watch, Carey saw a tremendous resurgence in popularity, selling a staggering 10 million copies of her 2005 album The Emancipation of Mimi worldwide — a feat Lopez, Medina and company no doubt look upon with envy. Just don’t call it a comeback. “I don’t think of myself as some magician who can bring people back,” Reid cautions. “The plan with Mariah was to make a great record. It’s about the music: I knew it was good, Mariah knew it was good, we thought it would catch on, and it did. But I’ve never approached it as a comeback. The one time I tried that with Janet Jackson, it didn’t work. We were great friends before, but then after the record [2008’s Discipline], we weren’t friends anymore. It really broke my heart.”
-Monique “Marvelous Mo” Balcarran | Email: News@Roc4Life.com