Album Review: Purpose by Justin Bieber

By Yising Kao

You may have heard the danceable drop of “Where Are Ü Now” or rhythmic beat of “Sorry” by now, but there are plenty of more phenomenal songs from Purpose, Justin Bieber’s fourth studio album, which was released on November 13, 2015. The 21-year-old was born in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, where he started playing instruments and singing at a young age. Although he grew a passion for music, his career goal was not to become an artist. However, he placed second in a local singing competition, and his mother started posting videos of him singing on YouTube for family members to watch. Eventually, the videos gained thousands of views, and his mother received numerous messages from record label managers interested in her son. Bieber decided to sign a contract with Island Def Jam Music Group in 2008. Since then, he has gained an enormous fan base, released nine albums, and after taking a three-year break from releasing an official studio album, he released Purpose, which charted as the number one album on Billboard 200. The album features thirteen tracks and eighteen tracks on the deluxe edition, and every song was produced with an immense amount of diligence and effort. Purpose incorporates original lyrics, different music genres with various collaborations, and is overall remarkable, unique, and inspiring. Bieber starts off the album with a track called “Mark My Words.” In this song, he creates a unique beat with his voice, singing “Nah nah nah nah nah no” repeatedly, while singing the lyrics over it. The ballad is about wanting to get back together with his ex-lover, as he passionately sings “I won’t let us just fade away.” Bieber shows his vocal range as he hits incredible falsettos, which are extremely high notes that a male can produce. The song fits well as the first track, as it is different from his past pop music and allows the listener to purely focus on his voice. In the album’s second track, “I’ll Show You,” Bieber sings “My life is a movie/ And everyone’s watching,” “It’s like they want me to be perfect/ But they don’t even know that I’m hurting,” and “Don’t forget that I’m human/ Don’t forget that I’m real/ Act like you know me/ But you never will,” portraying the message that every human makes mistakes. He wants people to realize that it is difficult being in his position; he has grown up with the world constantly judging his every move, expecting him to be perfect. However, just because he is a celebrity, it does not mean that he has to be perfect. These past few years were especially rough for Bieber, but he admitted his mistakes and learned from them, which helped inspire him to write this song. The listener of this song can clearly hear the passion and emotion in his voice, and understand the message he wants to convey. The chorus includes an electronic dance music (EDM) beat produced by Skrillex, who is a popular artist in this genre of music. But it is not the typical upbeat dance tune; it matches the slow, melancholy mood of the song, while adding a burst of exuberance to it. The lyrics are powerful and inspiring, and lets the listener comprehend that people should not judge others and makes assumptions about people they do not know. It also communicates the message that people can learn from their mistakes and show others that they have worked on improving themselves. The track placement is significant because it is part of introducing the album, and Bieber aims for people to understand that he is more than just what the media negatively reports about him. Another noteworthy component of the song is that Bieber harmonizes with himself, cooing with his soft voice and hitting a variation of notes, generating a mellifluous tune. Bieber collaborated with a few different artists on the album, creating a unique sound and integrating a variety of music genres. The main artist and producer he worked with in the studio is Skrillex. The track “Where Are Ü Now” was released a few months earlier from Skrillex’s and his partner Diplo’s album as a single, surprising many people since Bieber’s music genre was completely different than the duo’s. Originally, Bieber wrote the song as a ballad with just his voice and a piano, but Diplo wanted to collaborate with him, forming an unexpected alliance. The song starts off with Bieber’s raw voice and the slow playing of piano keys, as he sings about always being there for someone through hard times, but the person never being there for him. Then, the beat drops for the chorus and an energetic EDM beat begins, produced by Skrillex and Diplo. Since “Where Are Ü Now” was a huge hit, Bieber invited Skrillex to work on other tracks on the album as well, successfully mixing their different music tastes in a creative way. His EDM tracks are different than most songs in the genre because it starts off with only his voice with a slow beat, emphasizing his sincere lyrics. Another genre Bieber incorporates in his album is pop mixed with EDM, with one of the songs being “The Feeling,” featuring Halsey, who is known for her electro-pop music, such as “New Americana.” He sent her his song and invited her to collaborate, forming yet another surprising team since they have entirely different music styles, and Halsey strictly strived to produce only songs she wrote. However, she ended up loving his song and agreeing to be a part of it, remarking that they “found a balance between both of [their] styles that really came together harmoniously” (HALSEY Interview). On this Skrillex-produced track, Bieber and Halsey sing about wondering if they are in love with someone, or just “In love with the feeling.” Their silky voices effortlessly reach high notes and harmonize gracefully over the soothing melody, impressively merging their divergent music styles. Bieber brings back a rhythm and blues vibe that he expressed on his last album Journals, released in 2013 only through digital platforms. On Purpose, he collaborated with Big Sean, a well-known rapper and friend of his. Their song, “No Pressure,” features a steady beat with intriguing sounds that pop out, and Big Sean’s jocular rap flows fittingly with the mellow tune. The song is grouped between other songs of the same genre on the track list, allowing the listener to soak in the rhythm and blues melodies for a bit. A couple lyrics are “Never give up a love like this” and “Talking to my conscience/ I made a few mistakes.” Throughout the song, Bieber pours out his feelings about how he knows he made mistakes in his past on-and-off relationship, but he wants to fight for love and give his ex-girlfriend time to think about giving him another chance. Furthermore, Bieber includes an acoustic pop genre on Purpose, as he teamed up with Ed Sheeran, a British artist who is known for his original acoustic music and meaningful lyrics. Together, they wrote “Love Yourself.” You would think the song is about boosting your self-esteem and loving yourself, right? Well, it is actually about the complete opposite. The song delivers the message of someone contently moving on from a past relationship in a witty way, through lyrics such as “My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone,” and “If you like the way you look that much/ Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself.” The song has three verses instead of the typical two, allowing the listener to fully absorb Bieber’s and Sheeran’s feelings. Sheeran sings background vocals in a higher key, harmonizing beautifully with Bieber’s lower voice. The two-beat guitar strums with a short pause after each one, along with the trumpet instrumental during the bridge, generate an organic and relaxing tune. On Purpose, Bieber took artistic risks by collaborating with artists of different music genres, but successfully created a unique blend of vocals and melodies that make the album flow smoothly, showing that artists can, in fact, work well with other artists of different genres. The album invites a diverse audience and can influence people to step out of their musical comfort zone, to become more open to different types of music. The two most inspiring songs on the album are “Life is Worth Living” and “Purpose.” Although the melodies are not the strongest, the lyrics are meaningful and heartening. In “Life is Worth Living,” Bieber sings “People make mistakes/ Doesn’t mean you have to give in,” implying that it is okay for people to make mistakes and they should not let others try to tear them down. Instead, they should stay strong, fight through difficulties in life, and never give up, no matter how worthless they feel. People can relate to this song and it can inspire them to think optimistically, and know that they can make it through anything they are struggling with. A couple lyrics from “Purpose” are “I put my heart into your hands/ Learn the lessons you teach,” and “You bless me with the best gift that I’ve ever known/ You give me purpose.” Bieber has always been openly religious, and this very personal song is about him reconnecting with God and developing a stronger relationship, after feeling lost for a while and trying to figure himself out over the past few years. It is an elegant ballad played with piano, which goes along with his euphonious voice. At the end of the song, Bieber inserts a few lines of him speaking, such as stating “You can’t be hard on yourself,” and “You’re trying to be the best you can be but that’s all you can do.” He believes that people often criticize themselves, but as long as they put all of their effort into what they want to achieve, that is what is most important. Songs from Purpose have very inspirational lyrics and can encourage people who are going through challenging times to never lose hope. Overall, Purpose is a unique and amazing album, from the high quality production to the album cover, which features a low saturated image of Bieber shirtless with his hands in a prayer position, and art by graffiti artist Retna. The eye-catching cover portrays the message of the album suitably, since Bieber shares his journey with God over the past couple of years. He is most likely shirtless because it is as if he has been cleansed of his past mistakes, and the picture exhibits his tattoos that are significant to him, including a cross on his chest. Purpose is also far better than Bieber’s last studio album, Believe, which was released in 2012. In an interview with radio host Zach Sang, Bieber reflected on Believe, claiming “I just wasn’t really as passionate about the last [album]” and “It wasn’t me…I wasn’t writing the music.” Believe is more in the pop genre, and Bieber did not feel any intense personal connection to the music since he was just given tracks to sing. He was also still a teenager trying to figure out his sound and what type of music he wanted to make. But for Purpose, he spent countless hours creating what he desired to do and poured his heart into it, mixing different genres of music and producing a much more mature sound, which has attracted an older audience. I agree with Kenneth Partridge, an album reviewer for Billboard, who claimed that “the album boasts a consistent palette of lush, low-key electro-dance sounds,” and “Bieber truly shows his growth.” The songs are special in their own way, and Bieber did not produce them just to make hit songs for the radio. He did not rush to release the album or a single; he released it when he felt ready to, after meticulously tweaking every detail on each song.            Additionally, Bieber said that after losing himself, he eventually found his purpose, which is to “inspire people and use [his] platform to help people,” and the album fulfills that quite well with its inspiriting songs (Justin Bieber on). Bieber shares his story with Purpose and strives to positively inspire people, while following his passion and doing what he loves. Although I may be biased since I have been a fan of him for a long time, many people have told me that they disliked Bieber before, but after listening to Purpose, they understood his perspective and realized that they judged him based on his mistakes and negative reputation, and they admitted that they actually enjoyed his music. As album reviewer Patrick Ryan from USA Today declares, “many people will still refuse to listen for the sole reason that it’s Bieber, but ultimately, that’s just their loss.”

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