Justin Bieber had five songs in the Top 25 this week and they’re all fantastic. This was a sentence I never beliebed I’d write, nor did I ever belieb that I would become a full-fledged JB fan in 2015, but here we are. It’s week number 9 of the View From The Top column and for the fifth time in our newest column’s short history, Bieber is the topic of conversation - this time with Sorry. And yet this is unsurprising given that, with his comeback album Purpose, he is currently dominating the pop scene (along with Adele, who has managed to outsell not only this teen heartthrob, but everyone this year).
When Sorry was first released, I was still in a state of mild existential angst over the fact that I liked What Do You Mean? so much. What did this mean? Was I living through the teen fangirl epidemic that I never caught when I was 14 and obsessed with The Beatles instead of Justin and his falsetto cohorts? Was my taste in music regressing? It should be noted that this angst coincided with my intense enjoyment of One Direction’s newest singles, Perfect and Drag Me Down. What was happening to me? Then Sorry came out and with a shock I realised that this was just genuinely great pop music. Sorry is such a banger! The sparse, sultry production and extreme danceability of the song are undeniable. Justin’s vocals are wonderfully smooth and inviting, and far more mature than on any of his previous albums. Dare I say it, Justin Bieber sounds sexy!
It was at this point that I ditched my angst and started waving the JB (and the 1D) flag. I mean, I do still agree with Kate Giff who says of the album: “Good album, awful person”. I’m sure Justin Bieber is still as much of an annoying asshole in person as he ever was. As much as this may be a comeback album, it’s more of a rebranding than a renaissance. But the new Bieber persona, with his excellent music and admirably stupid floppy hair, is so compelling that I don’t really care if he’s still an asshole. This is good music. Plus, he seems to have stopped trying to beat up paparazzi - for now at least.
In the face of allegations of assholery, there are parts of the album that do stand up to a critical eye. Harry Williams makes a pretty compelling argument for What Do You Mean? being a song about consent more than anything else. Although the line “Don’t be so selfish baby” kind of ruins that tempting theory, Sorry, or more specifically, the music video for Sorry offers a far more empowering message. This Buzzfeed article points out that because the women dancing in the video are not there as accessories to a male performer (since Biebs is absent from the video), they gain agency. They are the subjects of the video, rather than the objects, as female dancers in music videos so often are. They also kind of take the piss out of his supposedly heartfelt lyrics by singing them with mock-sad faces, thus making fun of him for releasing what is essentially a fuckboy anthem.
I also want to applaud J-Bizzle, or rather producer Skrillex, for bringing more dancehall beats into mainstream pop music. As a Caribbean person, I feel personally flattered. Although it saddens me that no one wanted to listen to Vybz Kartel with me before dancehall was famous in the UK, I’m glad that at last I have a vaguely Caribbean-sounding hit to get down to at pres.
It seems that Justin has taken to heart Zach Galifianakis’ question in the 2013 Between Two Ferns interview: “When you’re in the recording studio do you ever think, ‘Hey, what if I don’t make something shitty?’” Clearly Bieber has been mulling this over for the past couple of years as he has made an album of abundantly not-shitty songs, and Sorry might just be the best of them all.