Bieber, Purpose, and A New Leaf

Gone are the days of bouncy pop for Justin Bieber. We may remember, with brief nostalgia, the simpler time of ‘Baby’ and ‘Never Say Never,’ but the now twenty-one-year-old is showing the fruits of a supposed new adulthood in his new album, Purpose.

It was a highly anticipated album; pre-release singles ‘What Do You Mean?’ and ‘Sorry’ broke into the Billboard Top 10 for several weeks. Flexing new trap-inspired tracks layered with textures and a more solid, developed singing voice, Purpose is Bieber’s best yet. However, it retains emotionally flat qualities on a few tracks that are not entirely rescued by Skrillex and Jack Ü’s production skills.

A significant direction of Purpose is to enlighten listeners to this new, grown-up Justin Bieber. Bieber lost much of his audience support after being charged with DUI and several issues regarding a rough breakup with Selena Gomez. At his Comedy Central roast in March, Justin Bieber endured the harsh remarks of comedian Hannibal Buress, who said “... they say roast the ones you love, but I don’t like you at all.” Buress then remarked “Actually, you should thank me for participating in this extremely transparent attempt to be more likable in the public eye. And I hope it doesn’t work.”

Buress’s comments are representative of what many pop culture consumers believe to be true of Bieber: he is a post-adolescent who holds a misconstrued idea of what it means to be an adult. In response to his roasters, Bieber said, "I've done a lot of things that I'm not proud of, but this is a new day and we're turning a new leaf here." Justin Bieber centralizes his album around  this statement of repositioning. It is in light of the past year that Purpose can be considered a confessional album: it can be argued as either a successful effort to show the multi-dimensional Bieber or a vain attempt to encourage merely a more positive image of him in the media.

Moving away from the inexpressive and shallow roots of his past singing, Bieber uses falsetto to push his theme of vulnerability in Purpose. The intro tracks ‘Mark My Words’ and ‘I’ll Show You’ make an initial attempt to show the softer side of a Bieber who claims he has grown beyond the brash, loose-lipped adolescent heartbreaker who publicly urinates in restaurant mop buckets. In particular, ‘I’ll Show You’ expresses a desire for redemption and for the world to see him multi-dimensionally in his lyrics: “Don't forget that I'm human, don't forget that I'm real / You act like you know me, but you never will / But that's one thing that I know for sure / I'll show you.”

Backed by a solid Skrillex synth track, Bieber brings forth the theme of proving himself in spite of his tumultuous past year for the whole album.

In general, the strongest songs of Purpose are characterized by collaboration. Tracks assisted by Skrillex, Diplo, and Blood Diamonds (‘What Do You Mean?’ ‘Sorry,’ ‘Been There,’ and ‘Mark My Words’) hold particular strength on the album, creating space for Bieber’s improved vocals. Another noteworthy collaboration is ‘The Feeling’ where Halsey adds a separate voice texture to Bieber’s. The result is a balanced tug-and-pull that conveys a more resonant message. These collaborations create songs that focus the album’s goals and make for fun dance-pop anthems.

However, Purpose does not always display emotional legibility or attentiveness. Some sections of the album feel relatively inanimate and feel like forced attempts to address Bieber’s public image issue as so pointed out by Buress. Though obviously shooting for emotional poignancy, ‘Children’ and ‘Life Is Worth Living’ fall flat on the album, with tonal monochrome and lyrics that are overt attempts at social awareness--a combination that muddles the album’s relevance with their meaninglessness. “No Sense,” although the product of a collaboration with Travi$ Scott, has no movement and remains unremarkable on the album.

Despite its pitfalls, Purpose is a good album that I would recommend for the casual listener. At its best, Purpose is a revealing testament to Bieber’s acknowledgement of his imperfections. However, the question remains, is it authentic? Or is Bieber is merely feigning transparency to gain star power? We may not know, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled to see what comes next for someone who we hope has truly accepted adulthood.