Justin Bieber was thrust into fame at a young age and almost immediately became the poster-boy for YouTube discovered stardom. Clearly, no one taught him how to handle his jet-like propulsion into the spotlight of fame and let’s just say, mistakes were made. As it turned out, mistakes were also accompanied by pretty good music. Mega-hit, ‘Baby’ has long since had over a billion views on YouTube and ironically, the title of that song is not far removed from the descriptions many people have placed on him in the last half-decade. It seemed as though Bugatti Biebz would never escape the sonic purgatory that his music occupied, somewhere between Kidz Bop and early Justin Timberlake. Then he dropped a collection of perception-altering tracks with 2013’s, Journals.
Gone were the days of elementary infatuation songs and playground references. Bieber had started to link up with artists like R. Kelly, Lil Wayne and Future that carried with them more varied fan-bases and definitely helped open Bieber’s mind to creating more conceptual music. After a nearly two-year hiatus, while Bieber’s newest project, Purpose, isn’t necessarily a bursting through into adult-R&B conversations, it’s definitely another foot through the wall. Almost making his past musical endeavors a distant afterthought, this project focuses on repentance, change and love in a surprising and coherently adult way.
Much of this new direction is no doubt a symptom of collaboration efforts with Skrillex, Diplo and PooBear. Purpose, is an album that sonically seems concerned with weaving Bieber’s light R&B vocals between emotionally synthesized electronic dance music. It typically works too, although I don’t think Bieber comes across as earnestly as he intends. On album opener, ‘Mark My Words’ he starts things off by reaffirming his history and seemingly endless love for Selena Gomez. Bieber’s own voice is sampled in the background of the track and it sounds as though he is reaching for an all but lost love through his elevated falsetto.
How soon he asks us to forget about his past after just sinking in it himself. The second track, ‘I’ll Show You’ is a delicately-delivered ballad where Bieber writes off his own past as “nonsense”. He stresses the age old misconception that the pressure of fame are easy to deal with. It’s a story we have all heard before and his laments seem somewhat vague and confined to the outer layers rather than his deeper anxieties. The chorus fills the audible space with hi-hats and light which seems to be a common course for many of the project’s tracks to take. Verses pick apart the issues of his past and the choruses ring out as anthemic projections of his new direction.
After the first few tracks allow Bieber to get his vague apologies out to the omnipresent listener, rather than leaving the lyrical theme, they become more specifically targeted at love. His metaphors become the emotional void-fillers in his life on songs like ‘No Sense’ with Travis Scott where he compares his heart to a vacant house whenever the girl he’s with isn’t around. Immediately before this we get the slow-burn build of ‘No Pressure’ with Big Sean. The two artists adjust to indecisiveness over an acoustic guitar backed 90’s R&B instrumental where distant echoes of Ginuwine’s classic, ‘Differences’ can be heard. This two-step of mixed-emotions in these back to back tracks creates a consistent tone. Bieber just gets done telling the receiver of his affection that she can take her time and then says that it doesn’t make any sense for them to be apart because his life is meaningless without her.
The follow-up track, ‘The Feeling’ featuring Halsey emphasizes just how foreign true love is to a person who seemingly missed the last part of growing up due to his fame-induced life. He can’t recognize love, but he is aware of the fact that it eludes him. The picture starts to come together, forming a much more matured and aware person because of the fact that he is finally asking these questions about love rather than just taking things for face-value. He follows the formula of giving self-advice based on his new view of himself and asking for acceptance for the rest of the album. Verses build to highly-produced choruses that manage to never sound too commercial.
Looking back on Bieber’s journey through fame and the fact that it seemed to culminate to this album, I definitely think it serves it’s purpose of reinvention without ever fully occupying the depth of emotion he reaches for. It provides enough poppy-highs and soothing lows to satisfy any Belieber and is potentially grown enough to draw in fans that had him written off since the beginning. Though much the songwriting leaves something be desired this new Bieber is a more honest and compassionate Bieber, finally able to pull us along on the journey away from his misguided youth.