We have so many more questions for Justin Bieber than ‘where are you now?’ and ‘what do you mean?,’ so… where do we start?
Bieber is one of the most famous fixtures on the face of the planet. His polarizing status in popular culture is gawked at, ridiculed, celebrated and destroyed all at once. He can’t escape the immense scrutiny for his every move, and that’s helped shape his identity as a 21-year-old pop star. He began recording songs for a version of Purpose last year, but somewhere along the way he woke up and realized the person he was is not the person he chooses to be now. All the songs he recorded were ominous and reflected that darker period. In a way, we made Justin Bieber that way — the egg-slinging, bucket-pissing, law-breaking rascal he famously portrayed on TMZ and tabloid stands. He embarked on a lengthy image-rebranding tour in the first half of 2015 — publicly admitting fault in several high profile interviews, and we’ve forgiven him.
Remember, he doesn’t do too well with apologies.
The industry loves to build up hyper-famous celebrities to unattainable success only to tear them down, and now that we’ve ran Bieber through the mud and witnessed his resurgence, what’s next?
His era kicked off with his unexpected smash, “Where Are Ü Now,” produced by Skrillex and Diplo. The song originated as a ballad, but Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, sent it to the super producers to see what monstrosity they could cook up in their lab. The result? A thumping, radio/club-friendly smash. Bieber found the direction he was looking for, scrapped his previous efforts and opted for an album with vibey, dance floor-ready bops. It also allowed for other collaborations alongside Skrillex, who produced Bieber’s lead single, “What Do You Mean?”
This was the official re-introduction of Bieber 3.0. Now, he could dodge daily controversies with actual chatter about his music. The slick production heard throughout many of the Purpose tracks, including his follow-up promotional release, “Sorry,” distracted hating audiences from the media circus that surrounded him. He reminded us of that in “I’ll Show You,” where Bieber compares his real life to something depicted on the big screen, singing: “My life is a movie and everyone’s watching / So let’s get to the good part and passed all the nonsense.” It’s a lyrical reminder that he’s human and faces unimaginable pressure (coming down like lightning) to face an ideal of being perfect. Again, our doing.
Bieber relied heavily on his famous friends to spread the good word about his music leading up to the initial release, so it makes perfect sense the album houses several features. Big Sean lands on “No Pressure,” a laid-back tune where Bieber coos about his high hopes a former love will come around. “I’m praying that time makes a change in your life / I’m realizing how much you made a change in my life, and I don’t wanna spend it with nobody else.”
Halsey’s feature was highly-publicized and a bit surprising. Though she received a wave of backlash on social media, she told her fans she “couldn’t be more stoked about this. Owe this dude everything.” Her collaboration is “The Feeling,” an intimate duet between the two where they question if their infatuation is real love or just the idea of it. “Am I in love with you?… Or am I in love with the feeling? / Trying to find the truth, trying to find the truth / Sometimes the heart is deceiving.”
“No Sense” sounds like it’s a leftover track off 2012’s Believe record, but revived thanks to contributions from Travi$ Scott and Kanye West (who isn’t listed on the song, but makes a surprise appearance halfway through). The moody track is dripping with haunting synths and autotune while sharp snares cycle through.
Nas ups the feature game on “We Are.” In the piano-thumping song which nears the end of the record, Bieber sings about the engulfing rumor-mill he’s consistently running from: “you don’t gotta question it / You already know the answer,” and Nas agrees.
Ed Sheeran lent his talents on “Love Yourself,” a low-key standout track on the album. It’s one of the more honest glimpses Bieber offers us in the 19-song LP. He illustrates his vulnerability in the tone of his voice backed by a guitar played by Sheeran. “If you like the way you look that much / Oh baby you should go and love yourself,” Bieber sings to a vain ex who cares more about their appearance than the dying love. We’re aware Bieber isn’t the most humble person on the planet, but surely he’s encountered a few girls that care more about themselves than him.
Another outstanding cut aside from the aforementioned is “Children,” an up-tempo anthem riddled with house beats and EDM breakdowns produced by, you guessed it, Skrillex. We’re not entirely sure what Bieber is urging the kids to do, but he built a free-spirited message for children to make a difference, and considering his rocky past and recent community service stint, we’re here for it. He sings, “Look at all the children we can change / What about a vision? / Be a visionary for a change / We’re the generation…”
Considering the turn-of-events in Bieber’s life, it’s understandable he named his album Purpose. The album title track is a tribute to God and rediscovering his faith — the “Sorry” sister track, if you will. The ballad features a spoken outro from Bieber, who offers insight and honesty: “You can’t be hard on yourself… these were the cards that you were given so you have to understand that these, like… that’s not who you are. You’re trying to be the best you can be but that’s all you can do. If you don’t give it all you got, you’re only cheating yourself. Give it all you got, but if it ends up happening, it ends up happening. That’s what it’s….that’s what’s happening with me. It’s like God I’m giving it all I got, sometimes I’m weak and I’m gonna do it, and it’s like I’m not giving myself grace, I’m just like understanding, that’s just how it is.”
His other ode to religion, “Life Is Worth Living,” is another piano-ballad inspirational mantra and a reminder that Bieber is sorry. Really. Sorry. “Ended up on a crossroad / Try to figure out which way to go / It’s like you’re stuck on a treadmill.”
The album is out, but Bieber still has a long road ahead of him. We’re not talking about the three shows at the Staples Center in L.A. on Friday, the fan-demanded additional sets in Houston and Chicago next week, the countless scheduled televised performances, interviews, photoshoots or the world tour he’ll embark on beginning in North America next spring. We’re referring to the arduous task of traveling through his twenties without derailing. We mentioned Bieber is on the incline once again because the masses have secretly gathered and agreed he deserves redemption. That salvation will be snatched away from him in a few years time, and it’s up to Bieber whether he wants to swirl down the rabbit hole and battle the on-going gripping depression he claims to face daily, or rise above it all.
Justin Bieber is not made out of steel, that’s one thing we know for sure.