There are some celebrities whose lives we follow through all the ups and downs. They grow up as we do. One of these stars is Justin Bieber. His maturation from adolescence to young adulthood occurred alongside my own—though I didn’t have a massive fan base and exorbitant amounts of money. While I never particularly loved or hated his music, I still automatically felt interested and invested in Bieber’s comeback album. Like many Americans, I love a good comeback even more than I love to watch a downward spiral.
Our culture’s preoccupation with the details of Bieber’s life (every explicit detail) stems from the sense of the authenticity and privateness of his press image. More beloved celebrities are adored for the actions that paparazzi capture and the crafted personas in interviews and on social media. But Bieber poorly toes the line between his true self and the image he wants to project.
Both Bieber and his persona are changing so constantly that it’s challenging to keep up with either one of them. Yet it is entertaining and personable nevertheless. I’m sympathetic to Bieber’s famous rich boy struggles and I encourage all to listen to Bieber’s latest album “Purpose” with open minds.
“Purpose” rose to the top of the charts and was well–received by critics when it dropped on Nov 13. The album has numerous elements working in its favor. Hit–making producers and songwriters including Blood Diamonds, Skrillex, Diplo, Benny Blanco, Ed Sheeran and Sarah Hudson. The work of great producers is clear on “Purpose.” The album is overall danceable and chock–full of fun, bouncy beats. It’s consistent with its electro–dance sound and heavy use of synthesizers. But Bieber doesn’t elevate the album beyond its production. The songs all sound somewhat similar, flowing together into a mush. It feels like the equivalent of turning on a pop/Top 40 radio station. You can tune in and out of it easily. The songs have a generic feel and lose their originality when played one after the other.
Two of the album’s biggest hits (“What Do You Mean?” and “Where Are U Now”) still shine within the album and greatly benefit from the spacing between them. They sandwich a series of just good songs. Additionally, the time in between the songs lets the listener forget how similar they are. A standout with its mix of EDM and horns, “Sorry” is one of the few songs that’s catchy enough to require multiples listens. The album generally doesn’t make use of Bieber’s voice. Anyone could sing the songs successfully, and the focus is on the rhythm anyway. On “Love Yourself,” however, Bieber’s vocals sound distinct and fantastic. The song itself falls in between so-so and good, but it leaves space for Bieber’s vocals to shine unlike most of songs. The album itself is good, adequate. But that’s not enough considering the album’s competition and “Purpose”’s purpose.
Aside from producers and songwriters, Bieber collaborates with other high–profile artists: Big Sean, Travi$ Scott and Halsey. Travis Scott adds his vibe to “No Sense,” but Scott’s vocals are as covered up by production as Bieber’s. Big Sean’s contribution is reliably enjoyable in “No Pressure,” even though the song is still forgettable. The Halsey–featured song, “The Feeling,” is a grand disappointment for Halsey fans. The song, in production and lyrics, is unoriginal. Also, the mix of Bieber and Halsey’s voices isn’t upsetting, but it isn’t a grand success. Together their voices sound…alright, good enough.
Redemption, apology, ode to Selena Gomez. These seem to be the key goals of “Purpose.” But the lyrics tend to be weak and inelegant. (The lyrics of “Children,” a song for the children, are truly horrendous and don’t even make an attempt at poetry or emotional depth.) Bieber is unable to communicate the themes with any subtleness or emotional rawness.
Meanwhile, Selena Gomez’s album “Revival” came with little fanfare when it debuted in October. Both albums are comebacks for each artist, address their relationship, and are products of numerous high–profile collaborations. Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez handled highly publicized personal turmoil and grew up under the spotlight. “Revival” was successful, but still highly underrated. “Revival” is flawed, but still exceeds “Purpose” in quality and success as an emotional, yet light–hearted comeback album. Gomez is more often known as Bieber’s ex-girlfriend than anything else. This would be unfortunate under any circumstances, but it is particularly harmful when “Purpose” and “Revival” are in competition on the charts and frequently in conversation with one another.
At the album’s conclusion, Bieber speaks a lengthy apology on “Purpose.” After 13 songs that were largely about nothing, his apology feels hokey and laughable. Bieber doesn’t really seem sorry so much as he is trying to reposition himself as a leading pop singer, which he does very well. “Purpose”’s songs are poised to slay on the radio or at a party, but the album itself gets repetitive and dull. Despite the hype and solid dance-y beats, “Purpose” falls flat.