Release Date: Nov 13, 2015
Record label: Def Jam
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It's about time to leave the Bieber-narrative alone. It's tired. It's loud. And as of now, it serves no real purpose. From YouTube-sensation to teen idol to headline-loitering bad-boy to current penitent, we've seen and heard Justin Bieber grow ….
On national television a year ago, Justin Bieber told us this would happen. A half-decade into his pop career, and at his professional low point after an endless stream of PR nightmares, Bieber sportingly endured the greatest public undressing any egomaniacal 20-year-old has ever received, at his very own Comedy Central roast. After two hours of getting belted with just about every low blow imaginable — down to comedian-of-the-moment Hannibal Burress straight-up declaring “I just don’t like you at all, man” — the Biebs finally took the mic to explain himself.
Justin Bieber is a pop star for the modern age: an undoubtedly talented but once ripe sensation discovered on YouTube, signed by an established artist (Usher), and forged into a teen idol with overproduced bubble gum pop hits. He spent his younger years turning himself into a global pop megastar, but just as quickly as he rose, a string of mishaps and poor choices threatened to bring his success to a halt. In July 2013, he made headlines for peeing in a mop bucket at a restaurant and yelling about Bill Clinton.
Purpose is less an album than a deliberate act of repositioning. As much as 2012's Believe was intended as Justin Bieber's micro-adjustment into adulthood, the advance singles for Purpose, "What Do You Mean?" and "Sorry", are his first hits without any traces of teen-pop. They're designed much in the spirit of "Where Are Ü Now", his single with Skrillex and Diplo from earlier this year, where Bieber's voice fluctuated through animated throbs.
Justin Bieber and One Direction have always been the yin and yang of the pop-idol game, but never more so than now. They bring opposite agendas to their new LPs: Bieber is the comeback kid, with "Sorry" as his theme song. He spends Purpose learning lessons, begging for forgiveness and vowing to be a better Bieber. But 1D are racing for the exit – after announcing a split (hopefully temporary, because life is harsh enough), they've got a few parting gifts for their girl-almighty fan army.
Across only three days of December 2013, Journals was released, Justin Bieber announced his retirement -- surprise! -- and Justin Bieber's Believe opened in theaters. Journals, an unpromoted collection heavy on R&B-oriented ballads, arrived in a dead zone for new releases -- not that last-minute holiday shoppers could have stuffed stockings with it anyway, as no physical edition was available. Many of its songs appeared on the Billboard Hot 100, but only two of them remained for a second week.
Like Justin Timberlake before him, former teen star Justin Bieber is transitioning into manhood with the surgical aid of producers drawn from pop’s more nocturnal and urban realms. Nearly three years in the making, Purpose fully repositions the troubled child star as a breathy R&B loverman, his edge whetted further since Journals, his previous R&B-flavoured compilation offering (2013). One ear is cocked hard to the sophisticated confessionals of fellow Canadians Drake and the Weeknd, the other to the dancefloor.
Justin Bieber devotes the last two minutes of Purpose to a seemingly spontaneous monologue that addresses his bumpy coming of age and defends his behaviour: “We weren’t put in the best position to make the best decisions,” he intones, over fittingly pensive piano accompaniment. The rest of his fourth album similarly serves as a regretful look back and a fresh start; to the latter end, the musical direction owes much to co-producer Skrillex, whose unexpectedly subtle electronic palette complements Bieber’s affectedly breathy voice. The voice soon palls, but the songs are often interesting.
Empty, Circle, Tremble-lessness Pain makes a sound that faith can dampen, but not silence. Forgiveness is not a vacuum, however clearing its promise can feel, however unbelievably infinite its capacity for hurt. It can give purpose without one direction, give life worth without answer. The voice carries pain that only producers can erase, purify, transmute into singing, a vessel for empty words and a melody that will be all that is needed.
Apologies aren’t fun. Neither is Justin Bieber’s fourth studio album. One wonders why the Canadian pop star didn’t just schedule a very serious and very special sit-down with Oprah to expunge his contrite soul instead of letting music serve as his mea culpa. Because, really, no one is looking toward the babyfaced 21-year-old for an explanation — neither the rapidly-aging Beliebers who brushed off that egging incident as youthful indiscretion nor their parents who find him petulant but rank him high on their “there are worse things my kid could be making me listen to” list.
"If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn't make you a taco," Justin Bieber told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. But if you listen to a Justin Bieber album, does that make you a Belieber? The Canadian pop star's fourth record leans heavily on an overbearingly dull redemption narrative following a (let's face it, more interesting) period of erratic behaviour. You couldn't write a more clichéd child-star trajectory, and yet Purpose is his most cohesive and best-sounding album.
Read our exclusive interview with Justin Bieber in tomorrow’s free NME.
Pop music loves a good comeback narrative, especially if these stories involve an underdog overcoming adversity or a bad boy changing his spots. Perhaps that’s why the party line about Justin Bieber’s fourth studio album, Purpose, is that it’s all about rebirth: At the moment, the pop star needs to be perceived as likable, since his well-publicized instances of bad behavior—among them, throwing eggs at a house and getting a DUI—and the subpar response to 2013’s Journals have damaged his reputation. On Purpose, Bieber succeeds at conveying sincere reflection and remorse on the breezy, island vacation-vibing “Sorry” and the nearly a cappella “Mark My Words.
You have not truly heard the trauma that a lifetime in the spotlight can cause until you hear Justin Bieber sing, “What about the children?/Look at all the children we can change.” That simplistic plea comes near the end of the 21-year-old singer’s new album, “Purpose,” on a song called “Children.” Over an ecstatic dance beat full of jagged synthesizers, Mr. Bieber looks out at the world’s grand problems and wonders what he can do, as Michael Jackson might have, or a typical third grader might. Fame has made this of Mr.