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Justin Bieber gives us ‘Purpose’

| Monday, November 16, 2015

JustinB_Scene_WebEric Richelsen

The entrance into adulthood is an interesting one for any teenage heartthrob, and Justin Bieber has had his share of bumps along the way. No longer a puppet of the industry, Bieber emerges as an artist with the new album “Purpose.”

Working with the progressive production of Skrillex and Diplo was a power move for the pop star, resulting in an alternative electronic vibe that screams out a deviation from the crowd-pleasing days of the past. And it turns out Bieber’s smooth, seductive voice complements the electronic beats well.

A barrage of powerful singles preceded the release of this album. “Where Are Ü Now” is hardly recognizable as a Bieber track, because it was truly part of a project by Skrillex and Diplo. Bieber’s emotional vocals took the backseat to the toned-down yet danceable version of the characteristic electrostep and trap styles characteristic of the EDM dance duo.

“What Do You Mean?” could have marked Bieber’s peak, but he impressed again with another dance track, “Sorry.” The muted reception of “I’ll Show You” feels right for the slowed-down track.

Only days before the album, he released “Love Yourself,” an infectious heartbreak redemption song in the vein of Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t.” Unsurprisingly, Sheeran himself was behind biting lyrics like “My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone.”

These singles were expected to dominate the album, but it was complete with 13 carefully produced tracks on the standard version, and 19 on the deluxe, taking on hip-hop and R&B styles with mixed results. Big Sean’s awkward verse in “No Pressure” interrupts the smooth track, a disappointment from such a big name. Travis Scott’s contribution to “No Sense” is more natural, flowing from the hip-hop beat of the song. Closing out the trio is “The Feeling,” a true EDM track, complete with obscure lyrics and a nod to hedonism. The chorus featuring Halsey is airily brilliant.

It seems like the songs on this album come in categorical threes, and the sentimental next group is a time capsule back to old Bieber. Ironically, “Life is Worth Living,” which is intended to demonstrate Bieber’s new wisdom, is one of the most immature tracks of the album with its simple progressions, whiney vocals and cliché lyrics. The title track and final song on the standard length album, “Purpose,” follows the trend of the attempting to be profound but ending up cheesy and most characteristically Bieber, it even includes many lines of spoken word.

“Children” appears to be another example of sentimentalism, but with a closer listen to the lyrics and taking into consideration the dance beat, I hope the irony of this track was intended. The competitive or glamorous attitude reflected in lines like “Whose heart is the biggest?” seems more likely to occur in this dance club than actual worry about the well-being of the children.

A huge part of the excitement of the album’s release was the release of 13 accompanying music videos – only three of which (“Mark My Words,” “I’ll Show You” and “What Do You Mean?”) include Bieber himself. To me, this says that despite the sexuality of many of the tracks, Bieber isn’t trying to be the teen idol sex-symbol he once was — he’s instead taking part in a piece of art. The videos featured various forms of interpretive dance: “Love Yourself” is an expressive duet; “What Do You Mean” features the return of the upbeat “Sorry” girls, but this time with a few guy friends and “Life is Worth Living” is a cathartic, emotionally heavy ballet duet.

With this latest album, Bieber seems to have make the opposite transition of The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness” earlier this year. While The Weeknd went from mysterious electronic production to a more transparent pop star, Bieber has veered in the opposite direction, with the two albums just barely meeting somewhere in the middle — a direction sure to spawn new Beliebers.

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