Justin Bieber - Purpose
by Rob Scott, Ellie Turner, Isabelle Kemp, Kate Giff
I feel sorry for Justin Bieber. To spend one’s formative years in a camera-phone wielding swarm of shrieking pre-pubescent girls must be actual hell. Denied the privacy and liberty to make mistakes that the rest of us enjoy, we should cut him some slack. While many of the tracks on this new album are grovelling apologies for his teenage blunders, on behalf of humanity I would like to say: Justin, we’re sorry too.
On Purpose it’s evident that Bieber is rejecting the teenybopper image he’s renowned for, aiming for something more mature and artful. The production on the album is pretty fantastic, boasting a range of pop and EDM influences. The opening tracks, Mark My Words and I’ll Show You, with their sparse instrumentation coupled with breathy falsetto vocals, can’t escape comparison to the alternative R&B of The Weeknd. Leading singles Sorry, produced by Skrillex, and What Do You Mean? are stellar tropical house tracks, showcasing Bieber’s talent as a vocalist with the catchy melodies weightlessly riding the thumping beats.
Bieber should also be applauded for the risks this album takes, with most tracks refusing to be the arena-ready pop hits that would most likely earn the money. For example, Love Yourself uses only picked electric guitar and a trumpet solo; or No Sense, the trap-rap track whose instrumental could easily have been a cut from Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
Nevertheless, Purpose does have its weaknesses. If you can’t get over sappy, cliché lyrics then you probably won’t like it. While I sympathise with Bieber’s situation, he brings no real insight or emotional depth to his analysis of fame. “My life is a movie, and everyone’s watching” is as profound as it gets. Justin’s trite attempt to insist that he has a social conscience on the track Children — “What about the children? What about a vision?” — tries way too hard. And the closing track, a dull piano piece with a preachy spoken-word monologue comes across as patronising and self-righteous, ending the album on a real dud note.
It’s no masterpiece, but it’s easily one of the best mainstream pop albums of the year. Justin has created a thoroughly enjoyable, musically varied, but thematically cohesive collection of tracks, with far more good than bad. I like this album. And if that makes me a Belieber, then so be it.
Picks: Love Yourself, Mark My Words, I’ll Show You
Justin Bieber has finally grown up. Or, at least, that’s what Purpose intends us to think. Acting as an apology to his ex-girlfriend, as well as a wider apology to the general public, Purpose is a much-needed clean slate for Bieber. As his original fanbase have grown up and emerged into the clubbing, electro-pop word, so has he.
Backed by artists such as Skrillex, Diplo and Travi$ Scott, Purpose boasts some impressive electro-dance music, with solid basslines and exciting synth sounds. The lead singles showcase this exactly, with tracks Where R U Now, Sorry and What Do You Mean? acting as the perfect pre-clubbing playlist. Love Yourself is the single which is an exception to this rule, with the moody acoustic guitar and sassy lyrics (“My mama don’t like you, and she likes everyone”) forming the perfect post-breakup anthem – no surprise considering Ed Sheeran’s involvement on the track.
However, with the deluxe version of the album racking up to 20 songs, the direction of Purpose begins to get a little confused. Bieber resorts back to his cheesy pop vibe with The Feeling, despite attempts to disguise it by sticking a few electronic sounds in there. Life Is Worth Living sees the return of the dreamy Bieber vocals that, although not tiresome to listen to, would have been better suited to one of his earlier albums. The track Children is where it really falls apart for me – as Bieber preaches the unbelievably sickly-sweet lyrics “What about the children? Look at all the children we can change,” the façade of an honest troublemaker trying to apologise is destroyed, and the PR machine behind him is truly revealed.
Picks: Love Yourself, Where R U Now, Sorry, What Do You Mean?
One of the (slightly debatable) perks of doing a year abroad in America is that I didn’t have to go out of my way to listen to Purpose specifically for this review. Regrettably, I have already heard much of it; blasting out of my flatmates’ rooms and permeating bars and clubs. For some reason, it has not yet reached this part of the world that Justin Bieber is no longer cool, if indeed he ever was.
The album is cringey from the get go. Mark My Words feels like an odd choice of opener because it is one of the weakest songs on the album, the vocals having a slightly whiny tone to them. It seems reminiscent of the chipmunk-style vocals on Akon’s Lonely, which immediately sets up the album as being somewhat dated.
Bieber makes some attempt to break away from his teen pop background, but many of the tracks lack any meaningful depth. It is mainly his slower songs that appear poor; the stripped back vocals of Love Yourself, No Pressure and Life is Worth Living show Bieber’s attempts at soul to be fairly bland.
Bieber fares better with up-tempo tracks. What Do You Mean and Where R U Now are strong pop hits, with the latter especially notable for its experimental production and complex layering of instruments.
The Feeling, containing Halsey, is also pretty good. Bieber benefits from featuring an artist with an alternative style, as it feels like a sincere progression from his reliance on rappers in previous album, Believe. Yet the song still lacks the depth it needs to be fully impressive. The repetition of “Am I in love with you?” starts to feel tiresome after multiple listens.
The track Children is also irksome. Attempting to evoke Michael Jackson’s call for change from Man In The Mirror, but with a hip-hop beat, Bieber’s plea seems slightly disingenuous. Considering Bieber’s recent arrests for vandalism and drinking under the influence, it is ironic that he is proclaiming to “be a visionary for a change”. The track comes across as preachy and out of place on an album largely based around break-up songs.
Whilst there are some tracks that redeem Bieber this time around, ultimately Purpose lacks enough profundity to be worth more than a cursory listen.
Picks: Where R U Now, The Feeling, What Do You Mean?
With this album, Justin Bieber has achieved what he attempted with Boyfriend and As Long As You Love Me, and entered the realm of sex music. On his rehabilitatory break between Believe and Purpose, I’m guessing he’s been listening to a lot of Drake, and it shows. The album as a whole is completely different from previous efforts, and is – as I’m sure many will remark – a new, mature sound. For the most part, this works well; his tracks featuring real life grown ups Travi$ Scott and Big Sean are actually quite good, Love Yourself and I’ll Show You are ok, and the rest aren’t the bad either. In my opinion, Bieber’s management chose the perfect songs to release as singles, as these are the strongest on the album. What Do You Mean? hardly needs more analysing, having been subjected to it week after week in Pearshaped’s View From The Top column (that’s what you get for being Number 1 forever).
I remember when Where R U Now came out, I had no clue it was Beiber, and loved it straight away. I maintain that it’s still a great song, as is Sorry, which gets catchier by the day. Even with the amount of exposure these two tracks got, I’m not bored of them yet. I’ve also found solace in the fact that it’s not just me liking Bieber’s new stuff. When I started listening to Where R U Now, I tried to keep it a secret, mostly from myself. By the time Sorry hit the radio, I felt like I didn’t have to hide; nowadays, everyone’s a Belieber. All in all, I still strongly dislike Bieber, but can’t bring myself not to like the album. For me, the only thing that brings it down is where his personality breaks through the music, usually in the form of a self-serving soliloquy on the meaning of life and the future of the world. I struggle to take those seriously, just as I refuse to take him seriously as a reformed being. Good album, awful person.
Picks: Where R U Now, Sorry