justin bieber makes up for past mistakes on sharp new album
Pop’s reformed bad boy barely puts a foot wrong on 'Purpose.'
A year ago, it would have been easy to write off Justin Bieber, but he's since bounced back with a trio of surprisingly hip-pop singles: Where Are Ü Now, What Do You Mean and Sorry. Yesterday i-D grabbed an advance listen of his new album Purpose, which drops this Friday, to find out if he can continue his hot streak. Here are five things we learned.
1. Atonement is a recurring theme.
We've already heard Sorry, which features lyrics that are pretty self-explanatory. In I'll Show You, Bieber reminds us that he's only "human" and "not made of steel." But these are hardly the only moments of humility on Purpose. Bieber asks to be forgiven for his sins on the album's title candid track, while Life Is Worth Living is a stripped down piano ballad on which he admits: "I ain't perfect, won't deny / My reputation is on the line / So I'm working on a better me."
2. This doesn't mean he's lost his edge.
The album's most startling song is Love Yourself (co-written with Ed Sheeran), which finds Bieber taking aim at an unnamed ex. "My mama don't like you and she likes everyone," he sings on the verse. He really twists the knife in when the chorus comes: "If you like the way you look that much / Why don't you go and love yourself?" Bieber's put-downs sting even harder because of the track's stark production, which flanks his voice with nothing but a simple guitar riff and brief burst of brass.
3. He's made some trendy new friends.
In addition to four tracks produced by Skrillex, Purpose features guest raps from Nas, who lights up deluxe edition bonus song We Are, and Big Sean, who drops a double entendre about Cookie and Lucious from Empire on a funky make-up jam called No Pressure. There's also a duet with alt-pop heroine Halsey called The Feeling, and its sun-burst chorus is one of the album's highlights.
4. Biebs also displays a social conscience.
Aside from Where Are Ü Now -- his smash collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo under their Jack Ü banner -- the album's most club-ready moment is Children. Also produced by Skrillex, it's a full-scale EDM rave-up on which Bieber delivers a vague but well-meaning call-to-arms. "What about the children? Look at all the children we can change," he sings yearningly. "What about a vision? What about a vision for a change?" It's essentially his Rhythm Nation moment.
5. Bieber barely puts a foot wrong across the whole album.
Purpose's R&B-flavored tracks are generally less exciting than those that draw from tropical house and EDM, but the ballads are surprisingly effective and there's nothing to remind you of his cheesy teen-pop past. It's all a long way from "baby, baby, baby, oh!" Because he's growing up rather earnestly here, there's little room for humor. But there's no denying the comeback kid has made a genuinely credible pop album.
Text Nick Levine