Justin Bieber's new album Purpose is a gift to us all. Here, we have a star who could have made a successful album as impersonal and cookie-cutter as most great pop, but he instead chose to bare his famous, youthful, tortured soul in an album that is a celebration of sadness. Justin Bieber's Purpose explores complex themes of life in the spotlight, mistakes as a natural part of growing up, and honest fragility. There's also a lot of contradiction throughout the album; he says "sorry" in one moment and doesn't accept blame in the next — but his philosophy seems to be that contradiction is part of life.
While there are lots of very danceable numbers among this album's 18 tracks, it's overall a dark album. Even more lyrically traditional songs like "Company," which asks a lady to keep him company, contains a hesitance and caution about getting close to people. Bieber's flaws are on the table in all of these songs, but, regardless of tabloid hyperbolizing, young people are flawed and messy, and it's rarely the end of the world. Bieber, who has recently spoken out about the price of his fame, seems to confront those who have made him a cultural punchline; yes, I make mistakes and can be an idiot, he seems to say, but what do you expect from a multi-millionaire 21-year-old who has grown up in the spotlight? I'm trying.
Here are those themes he's forcing both his fans and detractors to reckon with in the truly excellent Purpose.
An overall feeling of uncertainty pervades this album, and it is not an accident. Many of the song's titles are questions or pleas. Bieber seems very comfortable confronting the limits of his perception, from not being able to distinguish real love from enjoying the feeling of love in "The Feeling" to questioning his entire existence in "Purpose." Admitting your own ignorance is a pretty remarkable feat for a 21-year-old guy, especially one with a private jet.
2. Taking The Leap
While he has a lot of uncertainty, he also seems to believe that sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. In "Trust," he emphasizes that both he and a potential love need to trust their instincts, while "We Are" implores a woman to stop thinking so much and just go for it (him). He reconciles his self-doubt with personal faith with the album's last song; in "All In It," Bieber admits that he's not perfect and doesn't want to manage the expectations of people who expect perfection, so instead he chooses to focus on his faith in God.
3. The Price Of Fame
Critics might view Bieber's frequent miserable discussions of his own fame as whiney, but there's a long line of young celebrities that he is very aware of to demonstrate that the pressure he laments can have disastrous, deadly consequences. "I'll Show You" is the most direct ode to his fans, but he frequently drops hints that he realizes that he is often being used by people he loves, and that no one truly understands him.
4. Redemption And Growth
Like many pop singers before him, this is a redemption album, with Bieber frequently apologizing for his mistakes and proclaiming a bright new path. But Bieber does not seem to think that this album marks that moment of redemption; instead "Life Is Worth Living" proclaims that there's "a long journey ahead" and "I'll Show You" tells the public that he won't fail if we all give him time to grow up. He isn't foolish enough to proclaim that everything is better now, but it's instead a process he's just begun.
Justin Bieber and Drake feels very comfortable exploring his emotional side, and that comes through on this album. The opening song "Mark My Words" features the pop star pleading that he's going to show us all, while the title track is almost cloyingly sweet even before it includes a spoken word clip of an emotional interview. "Give it all you got," he repeats, begging us to understand.
6. Masculine Fragility
Throughout this album, Bieber often seems interested in exploring his own hubris, while, at some points, it just kind of bubbles up. The excellent "Love Yourself" is passive aggressive to such a hilarious degree that it allows Bieber to explore his own bitterness. "I don't [care] but, you still hit my phone up," he insists. In the first line of "Sorry," he demonstrates that he's not good at apologies by insisting that that same ex who will remain nameless is mad at him because of his "honesty" before admitting he's bad at apologies in the next line.
7. Celebrating Youth
Not only does Bieber seem content with embracing the uncertainty and vulnerability of youth, but he seems to think that youth culture will save the world. In "Children," he suggests that emotional vulnerability and wearing your heart on your sleeve has revolutionary potential, which seems incredibly relevant considering the condescending responses to the emotional intensity of protests currently happening on college campuses.
Whether you are a fan of Justin Bieber's past work or not, I recommend listening to this album, which is thoughtful, cohesive, and autobiographical, providing access to the inner life of a celebrity that many people have already made up their minds about.
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