Will ‘Boyfriend’ make Justin Bieber a radio star?

Despite Justin Bieber”s phenomenal success, he has not been a Top 40 radio star. However all that could change with “Boyfriend.”

His sultry new single, which has been No. 1 on iTunes since its release at midnight March 26, is also earning rave reviews at radio. A Top 40 program director we talked to last week was positively buzzing about the song, noting it was Bieber”s strongest single yet.

If you look at Bieber”s Billboard Hot 100 stats, he”s only reached the Top 10 with two of the 21 songs he”s charted on the Hot 100 over the last three years. His peak came two years ago when “Baby” reached No. 5. His only other Top 10 tune is “Never Say Never,”  which reached No. 8.

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The Hot 100 combines sales, radio play and, now, streaming channels.  While Bieber has certainly received a nice amount of radio airplay, he has never had a smash. In fact, the highest he”s reached on the Radio Songs chart (which combines all formats at radio and, as the name would imply, includes no sales data) is No. 24 with “Baby.”  On the Pop Songs airplay chart, which looks at all the pop radio activity, the highest he has reached is No. 14 with “One Time.”

“Boyfriend” is the first single from “Believe,” out later this year.  By the way, I disagree with Chris Eggertsen”s negative review. I think the mid-tempo “Boyfriend,” written by Bieber and Mike Posner, is a strong single that combines the whispered appeal  of The Ying Yang Twins” “Wait”  with any number of Justin Timberlake hits. “Boyfriend” is far edgier than anything Bieber”s done before and seems to show a level of maturity we haven”t seen before from him. He is 18 now, after all. (although we’re not sure about someone of legal age name dropping Buzz Lightyear in a song). I’d give it a solid B.

 Bieber is at a vital crossroads. “Believe”s” success will show if he can, like Timberlake, transcend teen idol-dom or be just another footnote in the pantheon of teen dreams who couldn”t transition to an older audience. “Boyfriend” is the first step in that direction. Just compare “Boyfriend”s” sophisticated sound to “One Less Lonely Girl,” the second single from 2009″s “My World.” Viva la difference.

Bieber is also one of the first teen idols to harness Twitter and other social media. That may greatly extend his shelf life in that fans who were ready to move on to more grown-up music will stick around because they feel so connected personally to Bieber, who tweets constantly, often to tell his fans how much he appreciates them.

We”ll have a better idea of how “Boyfriend” will do when Billboard releases the Hot 100 chart tomorrow, but the magazine is already predicting that “Boyfriend” could sell as many as 400,000 downloads by the April 1 end of the tracking week. That would be twice as many downloads as he has previously sold in one week.

Additionally, Billboard is predicting a possible Top 5 debut because after only two days, “Boyfriend” is catching fire at radio. On the Pop Songs chart, it is already in the Top 20.

What do you think of “Boyfriend?”

Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter @HitfixMelinda

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