When Poo Bear, the singer-songwriter behind Justin Bieber‘s phenomenal album ‘Purpose‘, was a 15-year-old school kid in Georgia, United States, a teacher told him: “You need to pay attention in school, because only one percent of people make it in the music industry and you’re not that one percent.”
Little did they know that at that very moment, ‘Anywhere‘ by 90s R&B group 112 – currently on high rotation on every radio station – was written by the teenager sitting in front of them.
“I was listening to them, but I was like ‘O-o-okay’,” the now 37-year-old Poo Bear tells PEDESTRIAN.TV. “I kept it such a secret, ’cause I didn’t want anybody to treat me differently. I’m real secretive, and I just feel when people brag about stuff, it just seems cocky, and I’m really not cocky. It was cool [keeping this secret], but it was strange.”
Poo Bear – real name: Jason Boyd – has been writing tracks ever since. His resume spans longer than the careers of some of the artists he’s written for, which include Snoop Dogg, Lupe Fiasco, Drake, DJ Khaled, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Kelis, Eve, Fat Joe, Lil Wayne, Kelly Rowland, Pink, Usher, Ludacris, Sia, Frank Ocean, and the group that started it all, 112.
“I’ve seen so many people come and go, people that I worked with come and go,” he says. “It keeps me humble, and it keeps me overly appreciative of the fact that I’m still able to create. I still have a platform to reach people, and it keeps me on my toes, knowing that any second I could become old news, the last thing that I was known for was Justin Bieber‘s ‘Purpose‘.”
It’s a distant memory now but, prior to 2015, Bieber was better known for egging his neighbours, pissing in restaurant buckets, and commanding a screaming horde of tweens more foreboding than any army.
That all changed in 2015, when a highly strategic campaign orchestrated by Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun (who now also represents Poo Bear) sought to reintroduce Bieber to the public. It started with the infamous Comedy Central Roast, and ended with ‘Purpose’, Bieber’s fourth studio album on which Poo Bear has writing credits on 9/13 tracks.
‘Purpose’ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, sold a million copies in five weeks, scored Grammy nominees for Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, Song of the Year (for ‘Love Yourself‘), and earned Biebs his only Grammy win to date: the Best Dance Recording win for ‘Where Are Ü Now‘.
“‘Where Are Ü Now’ to me was just a really profound record,” says Poo Bear. “We recorded it at a time when everybody kind of counted our Justin, said his career was over. The media just made a big thing on his downfall. Then ‘Where Are Ü Now’ was one of those records where it actually caught on to radio and it became a big radio and big club smash. It just meant so much to me and Justin because it was like the coming back of Justin Bieber.”
Originally intended as an acoustic track, Skrillex and Diplo, working under their collaborative name Jack Ü, came along and produced the track into the dance behemoth it became.
Poo Bear and Bieber met in Las Vegas in 2013, according to a 2015 profile in the New York Times, bonding over a love of R&B and similar upbringings (Bieber was raised by a single mum in a low income area of Ontario, Canada; Poo Bear moved to Atlanta with his mum when he was nine after a tornado destroyed their family home in Connecticut, on the money raised by his local church group).
It wasn’t exactly a productive relationship in the beginning. As Poo Bear told The Times:
“I was making bad decisions with a minor – smoking weed and getting into trouble. It was really unacceptable, but we went through those times together, and that made us closer than any other writer and artists could be.”
And despite Braun initially having misgivings – he was pushing for Bieber to employ a guaranteed hitmaker like Sweden‘s Max Martin – Bieber insisted on using the still relatively unheard-of Poo Bear, and the two made 2013’s ‘Journals‘ together.
It earned a number of raised-eyebrow reviews (‘Justin Bieber made a pretty great R&B album, despite himself‘, wrote Spin), but didn’t set the world on fire. It did, however, set them up to suplex the critics and non-Beliebers alike with ‘Purpose’, two years later.
That album included three number one tracks: ‘Sorry‘, ‘Love Yourself‘ and ‘What Do You Mean?‘, which yeah, Poo Bear really did write in the space of 15 minutes.
“It was one of those songs where I just did so many records with Justin, and then he asked me to work on another record, and I was like ‘whoa’,” he says. “You know when you work a lot, you just get to a point where – you’re not tired of it, it’s just a bit draining. We’d already done over 100 songs. I just wanted to get this over with! So I came up with it really fast, and it ended up being a number one record.”
What do you mean by @JustinBieber was my favorite song of 2015
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) March 13, 2016
He that the quicker he creates something, the better it works out.
Like all things that appear simple, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.
“You just get used to being able to identify this feeling,” he says. “When I’ve written something that’s special, and I’m like whoa, I’ve felt that feeling before. This could be something big.”
‘Poo Bear: Afraid of Forever’, shot by award-winning filmmaker Macario De Souza a.k.a. Kid Mac, will be available on Red Bull TV on April 29.
Photo: ‘What Do You Mean?’ / Instagram.