Justin Bieber has always been a polarising figure. Opinions have been notoriously divided ever since the Canadian teen star burst onto the music scene. A heart throb for most teenage girls and deeply irritating for just about everyone else.
His early career was fuelled by teenage girls. They bought into the songs. The songs were undeniably poor and falsely submissive. Recycled lyrics and shallow meanings worked for a teenage boy with ambitions of making it as a pop star. It’s fair to say he was hugely successful, albeit lacking originality and creative rigour. The issue is this type of music is cyclic, the figurehead changes but the music remains homogenous, and it’s a lucrative cash cow for the music industry extortionists.
As a result of Justin Bieber’s early repertoire there was ‘Bieber Fever’ and ‘#cutforbieber’ that shamefully existed. The Bieber fandom did some totally disturbing acts. For instance: the girl who ‘went outside and jarred the air’ because he was in her city; the girls who made out with the tarmac within his recent vicinity; made love with his posters; or even the boy who made a tribute to Bieber by vomiting in a bin. Yes, they all actually happened.
Bieber hasn’t exactly been someone who mums might take a shine to away from the studio, either. Whichever way you dress it up the past few years have been full of chaos, drama and controversy. Bieber went from an innocent Christian role model teen star to someone who appeared to be losing the plot. Through driving under influence several times, the racist comments, and the arrests, he appeared to portray the figure of a spoilt young man that couldn’t hack the fame and the heat of the spot light.
It’s not rare for celebrities and teen pop stars to have it all then go head first into a series of meltdowns in adult life. Take Macaulay Culkin’s battle with drugs or Britney Spears’ impulsive ‘number 1 one all over’ haircut at the barbers. The fact is, with this level of fame you’re under the microscope. Justin appeared to be heading that way.
Prior to the release of his latest album, Purpose we were all thinking “his tunes are a bit shit and he’s a colossal blockhead in the things he does off stage”. There’s deep loathing for Justin Bieber, he has a rep that can’t be shaken off through endless amounts of interviews or positive press. Historically his name has always been muttered with deep distain “Bieber.” However a few likeable songs and the public’s perception has shifted somewhat.
First there was the surprise collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo on ‘Where are Ü now?’ As much as people may deny their secret liking for the track it’s hard to neglect the fact it’s an astutely produced track. The electronic melodies appear revolutionary. It’s a modern day classic for electronic pop music.
When making pop records producers tend to take a hit that’s tried and tested. Piano loops are sampled, the melodies are stripped it back and then other parts are integrated in to formulate a track that sounds different yet not too far away from what’s currently popular. This is strongly evident in the recent surge of commercial house music. From MK to Phillip George, David Zowie to Blonde and with Kygo and Alex Adair. Pop music is easily palatable, commercial and quickly disposable. It has been this way for several years. Melody and hook burglary isn’t anything new. For instance, compare ‘Yeah 3x’ by Chris Brown and ‘I’m not Alone’ by Calvin Harris.
The alternative process is complete originality. Which can be rather arbitrary because the formula often used is to essentially steal what’s underground and take it commercial. This has many advantages. Producers can be branded ‘pioneers’, ‘producers ahead of their time’ and ‘contemporary geniuses’. This often invites the underground producers who are ‘holding it down’/ ‘Keeping it Detroit’ to get a bit irate. Needless to say it would appear Justin Bieber (and his team) have gone for this route on the Where are Ü now and the rest of ‘Purpose’.
In a video with the New York Times Bieber, Diplo and Skrillex were interviewed describing the collaboration for Where are Ü now. Bieber sent the duo an acapella version, co-wrote with seasoned writer Jason Boyd (Poo bear). Jack Ü (Diplo and Skrillex) took the slow ballad and transformed it into a club banger by gradually adding layers of sound. Admittedly all producers and DJ’s can fiddle with synthesisers or add layers to sounds. However, manipulating a vocal is something seemingly original. The best element of the song is the electronic drums at the chorus which Bieber expertly describes as “expensive sounding sounds”. The track reaches lift off at the refrain, then goes double time after the first loop to round off a neatly integrated finished article. ‘Where are Ü now’ has been hugely successful. Released in February 2015 and platinum by June of the same year.
Analysing the logistics, it’s been an extremely profitable collaboration for all involved. No one predicted Bieber would collaborate with Skrillex and vice versa. It appears as though the loyal Skrillex fan base of flesh tunnels, marvel fanatics and quasi-professional gamers has now expanded to a greater more mainstream audience. That’s right, calloused thumbs from endurance sessions on Call of Duty now goes hand in hand with listening to Justin Bieber.
Next Justin Bieber releases ‘What do you mean?’ – also hugely successful globally. Two huge hits and Justin Bieber seems to be at the forefront of a music U-turn. Other tracks on Purpose such as ‘I’ll Show You’ unify his new successful style of electronic melodies and sentimental lyrics. Not to mention another club banger in ‘Children’.
Where Justin lands the most success lies with ‘Love Yourself’ – a euphemism for fuck yourself. The song co-wrote with Ed Sheeran would appear to be a few post-break up points scored against Selena Gomez “And I didn’t want to write a song / ‘Cause I didn’t want anyone thinking I still care, I don’t” – ouch indeed. It captures the humorous image of a revengeful/upset ex-boyfriend turning up at the ex-girlfriend’s house with a petrol canister in-hand ready to cover her rich Dad’s pickup truck. “’Cause if you like the way you look that much / Ohhhh baby you should go and love yourself” he desperately screams in a crying blubbering mess.
It would seem Justin Bieber has certainly found his purpose with Purpose. It seems as though he is making music he believes in, making the music he wants to make. Away from the studio he has appeared on James Corden’s car pool Karaoke where he displays a down to earth charismatic side. Bieber encouraged people to buy the NHS Nurse Choir’s release instead of Purpose to make it number 1 at Christmas. It was possibly a PR stunt, or maybe it was sincere.
A great deal can be debated over how much input Justin Bieber had when making the record, perhaps very little. Deadmau5 clearly concurs with that motion, but he is a pop star at the end of the day. However what’s fair to state is everyone who works with Bieber always describe him as unique talent and his U-turn is quite miraculous. Prior to the release of the string of hits and Purpose, Bieber was disliked by everyone who wasn’t a teenage girl. Now, he is unilaterally liked. Some tweets go as far to describe him as someone who can “shag the missus”. Now that is the pinnacle, isn’t it.
Justin Bieber is smashing it at the moment. His new adopted EDM style galvanised with a matured type of song writing is going to continue to shape new music and dominate the charts. Whether we like it or not, mainstream music is Justin Bieber and it will be for however long he wants it to be.
Words by Aaron Spencer