Very little about “Catching Feelings” betrays its 2012 release date. It’s the first proper ballad of the album, slotted right where a teenpop album’s first album normally goes. And as you’ll hear, it could have been released any time in the past 30 years–which, for once, isn’t necessarily a compliment.
Tupac had a posthumous track called “Catching Feelins,” and given Bieber’s–”Otis” freestyles, Biggie samples, tentative verses of his own and an entire, only-sorta-joking alter ego devoted to this sort of thing, you might expect this to be a somewhat relevant fact. It is not. Bieber’s “Catching Feelings,” instead, is the kind of boy-band ballad you can find tucked away on, say, something by 98 Degrees: vocals and strings the consistency of tissue paper, with a guitar line and lyric written as if not to bruise them (“is this meant to be? Could this be happening to me?” Yes, Bieber, there is probably a chance of that by this point in your life.)
It’s not that “Catching Feelings” is incompetent; sing softly enough and let your instruments drift, and you’ll always be at least listenable. The song’s just an anachronism. In Bieber’s catalogue, this is more like “U Smile” than “Boyfriend”–odd for someone trying to position himself as mature–and more like album filler from 2000 than any of those. Put another way, it’s the part of the boy-band era we hoped would stay unrevived. Guess that old rule of teen-pop albums still holds: you always, always skip the ballads.