This might come as a shock to some people. After all, he’s the precocious little brat with floppy hair who sang that annoying Baby song and abuses monkeys. Right?
Still, it’s been six years since Bieber’s first single and in that time he’s grown up a hell of a lot. Well, sort of. But with ‘Purpose’ he’s turned a corner. He’s now, sort of, cool again.
That’s what happens when you come back with a song like Where Are Ü Now with Jack Ü. That song has informed the whole sound of this new album: a dash of Skrillex’s syncopated beats, a sprinkling of Diplo’s polished R&B production, and a whole dose of The Weeknd’s melancholic melodies and crooning falsetto. It’s not hard to see how, with his latest (and hugely popular) hit singles, Bieber has cornered the market for happy-sad dance-pop.
The key song here is Sorry. Sure, it embodies this 2015 ‘Bieber sound’, but more so it’s an apology in more ways than one, summing up his career so far and marking a turning point for the future. Is this simply a love song to a former lover? Is Selena Gomez laughing back at him? Is he apologising to his fans for all his bullshit mishaps over the last few years? Is he apologising to God after rediscovering his Christian faith? Or maybe it’s simply an apology to OG Mally, the poor little monkey left behind in Bieber’s dust?
The apologetic tone extends to other songs from ‘Purpose’ too: I’ll Show You in particular with its chorus lyric “This life’s not easy…don’t forget that I’m human”. And that, seemingly, stems from faith. Bieber still struggles to sing a ballad and it’s faith that results in the album’s most saccharine moments. On Life Is Worth Living, he again asks for forgiveness through a string of religious symbolism, whilst Purpose practically addresses God directly - “I put my heart into your hands, here’s my soul to keep, I let you in with all that I can, you’re not hard to reach” – before a spoken word section quite literally preaches to the listener. Children, meanwhile, is more of a banger but still preaches to us about making a difference for the next generation. It’s nice to see Bieber trying to make a statement with his music, but the religious enlightenment seems at odds with not only the heavy beats but with his general “bad boy” behaviour.
Look past that and there’s still a lot of great pop to enjoy here, mixing sensitive lyrics with contemporary sounds. Tracks like I’ll Show You, Company and Been You continue on from the singles with infectious rhythms and vibrant, polished pop-dance production. And whilst the collaborations aren’t the most original tracks, No Pressure feat. Big Sean has a pleasingly old school 90s Usher vibe (perhaps in a nod to his old mentor), No Sense feat Travi$ Scott is clearly inspired by Kanye West, and The Feeling feat Halsey is a decent electro-pop ballad.
Sure, the production outweights the songwriting, Bieber’s vocal isn’t always that strong, and the three singles already released are the best the album has to offer. But who would’ve thought at the start of the year that Justin Bieber, of all people, would go on to release three of the best singles of 2015?
* What Do You Mean?
* Where Are Ü Now
Listen: 'Purpose is out now.