As someone who’s had a rather tumultuous relationship with contemporary pop music over the last few years, the recent revelation which has allowed me to muster up the valor to write this piece acts, in many ways, as a personal right of passage. I begrudgingly admit that I’ve been guilty of the old “you’ve probably never heard of it” retort when asked that impossibly provoking question: “what music do you listen to?”
It just makes things easier than trying to explain what sonic tropes define this “post” genre or that “core” movement (although I do get a kick out of the derisive eye-roll from time to time). Granted, this has set me up for unlimited opportunities of mockery and caricature among friends, coworkers and the like, but I’ve been able to hold my own; it’s sort’ve my schtick at this point, even if they don’t think that I’m in on the jest.
For many male pop artists, extending beyond a core audience which consists predominantly of hormonally-ravaged teenaged females whose collective fangirl ululations could parallel the decibel count of sticking your ear next to a jet engine, is no easy feat. But Justin Bieber has managed to overcome my initial career forecasts a few times now, starting when he chopped off his signature butch-style sweep cut and overcame the vocal capriciousness of puberty.
Even before his public image curdled, the airwave sabotage of Bieber’s baby-voiced, mind-numbing hits – paired with his alarming ability to convert legions of impressionable youths into so-called “Beliebers” – was enough for me to affirm my beliefs that pop culture as we once knew it was in the midst of a full-fledged cataclysm. But this acerbic opinion of the singer – which was mainly drawn simply because I didn’t like his music – was only further endorsed during the Biebs’ glorious entrance into adolescence, where his mammoth level of fame and overblown ego lead typical callow teenagery down a road of TMZ-watermarked infamy.
The “coming of age” tale of Justin is one filled with anecdotes of egg-throwing vandalism, DUI arrests, brothel field trips, breakups with ex-Disney stars and Ebonics. Looking back at all of the pop star’s bratty antics over the last few years – enough to warrant a U.S. deportation petition that actually made its way to the White House – and it seemed almost certain that the once beloved teen idol wouldn’t be able to recover from his newly acquired tearaway reputation.
But after a long period of swimming through the choppy waters of adolescence, Bieber seems to have reached the tranquil shores of adulthood. Prompted by a much-needed PR conference and a newfound sense of maturity, the singer’s penance came in the form of a record that highlights his progression as an artist and the humble desire to redeem himself…and it’s also catchy as hell. Thus far, Bieber’s newly wiped slate has proven profitable; he’s regained the trust of his fans, made some new ones in the process and has managed to earn the respect of a market (aka me and millions of other non-teenage girl adults) that has long shunned him.
An effort that’s been in production for nearly three years now, hints that Bieber’s fourth studio album Purpose was going to soften the blow of skeptics and critics armed and ready to slay his attempts at a comeback was noticeable from the start. The album’s lead-up produced three surprisingly pleasant pop hits that was jumpstarted by the Diplo and Skrillex-collaborated “Where Are Ü Now,” which became the EDM anthem of the summer – an accolade usually given to Calvin Harris.
Following suit came the tropical house-inspired pop tune (and his first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100) “What Do You Mean?” and the breathy, Skrillex-produced emo dancehall banger “Sorry.” And while I certainly wasn’t ripe to offer positive juju towards Bieber’s cause at this stage in the game, the triad of successful singles did spark an interest in giving the remainder of the album a fair listen – something I would’ve completely objected to a mere year ago.
While the album’s roster of producers surely had a heavy hand in steering the album’s direction, Bieber’s lyrical streams and atmospheric vocals demonstrate that he wasn’t just the hand puppet of a bunch of EDM and hip-hop beat maestros. “I’ve made a few mistakes / I’m the only one to blame,” Bieber coos on the funereal Big Sean-collaborated R&B tune “No Pressure.” Bieber’s aching cries for reconciliation, paired with the Christian overtones – “People make mistakes / Only God can judge me / Life is worth living again” Bieber mewls in “Life Is Worth Living” – make the apology tour a bit melodramatic at times, but Purpose isn’t entirely a redeemed pop star’s pity party.
“No Sense” is a swooning late-night club jam backed by some floor-rattling trap hi-hats and auto-tuned spits from Travi$ Scott, while “We Are” recruits emcee vet Nas and features astral synth overlays and loads of bass.
So yes, there’s nearly a co-write on every track (Bieber isn’t glib about being a colossal corporate industry superstar). And yes, Bieber needed to go on the record with a few mea culpas if he ever wanted to cease the sour milk-sipping facial grimaces at the sheer utter of his name. But if you take a detour from the cynic route, you might find that Purpose’s fresh perspective and infectious pop hooks may be just the formula to turn a skeptic into a Belieber.
If you haven’t already, stream Purpose in full below and check out the evolution of Justin Bieber’s style.