All this publicity perfectly set up the launch of Justin’s first album. My World 2.0 debuted at the top of the US charts and, powered by its first international hit single, ‘Baby’, would go on to sell more than three million copies in the US alone. More TV appearances and a second single, ‘Somebody To Love’, maintained sales across the year and, by the end of 2010, Justin had become a teen phenomenon, with news stories claiming that Justin was already responsible for driving a significant proportion of all the world’s internet traffic.
While working on his second album, Justin made an appearance in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, featuring a graphic scene in which the character he played got gunned down. Less controversial was Justin’s strongly received performance at 2010’s MTV Awards and the release of an acoustic set called My Worlds Acoustic. A single, ‘Pray’, was lifted from the collection and made US No.61 in a year that also saw Justin enjoy a sizeable smash duet with Sean Kingston on ‘Eenie Meenie’.
Starting 2011, Justin’s 3D concert film and documentary, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, did astonishingly good business at the worldwide box office and led to a remix album called Never Say Never: The Remixes. In June 2011, Justin was almost at the top of Forbes’ annual poll of Best-Paid Celebrities, and he rewarded his legions of fans with a special seasonal gift when he released Under The Mistletoe, his first festive album, that November.
Believe became Justin’s next studio project, with lead single ‘Boyfriend’ selling well, but frustratingly failing to deliver his first chart-topping track when it entered the listings at its peak of No.2 in March 2012. The album did, however, top the US and UK charts when it was released in June of the same year, just ahead of the worldwide tour, which travelled around the globe in the months that followed.
Another acoustic package came out early in 2013 and again topped the US charts, but there was concern that spring when Justin was hospitalised following a performance in London. He managed to complete the tour and retreated to the studio to finish songs to support the release of his second movie, Justin Bieber’s Believe, which hit theatres that December. Those tracks were released on consecutive Mondays and all briefly made the charts, but only one, ‘All That Matters’, broke out beyond his core fan base. Later packaged together digitally as Journals, the set didn’t make a physical release at the time but was subsequently put out on vinyl.
After those hectic few years, it’s no wonder that 2014 saw little new material, save a duet with Australian singer Cody Simpson in November 2014. When Justin re-emerged properly in 2015, the first signal that he was taking a distinctly different direction came with the collaboration with Jack Ü, an electronic outfit formed by Skrillex and Diplo. ‘Where Are Ü Now’ was an EDM epic that gave Bieber a worldwide hit, earned a Grammy for Best Dance Recording, and made the Top 10 in the US and UK markets.
Bieber’s first single from Purpose was ‘What Do You Mean?’ and it finally yielded the Billboard chart-topper that had eluded him to date. It made a similar impact in almost every market and was comfortably the singer’s most successful single to date. The follow-up, ‘Sorry’, did almost as well, failing to debut at the top stateside but finally getting there after an agonising eight weeks bobbing about near the top of the listings. In the UK it reached No.1 much faster and helped Purpose become the fourth best selling album worldwide in that year. The ballad ‘Love Yourself’, a change of pace from the dance direction of the previous cuts, also peaked at No.1 both sides of the Atlantic.
With the Purpose Tour, which started in March 2016, currently not scheduled to end before September 2017, Justin is still finding time to record new music with a new collaboration, ‘Cold Water’, getting a release in 2016. This time, Major Lazer and MO helped Justin secure a No.2 US hit, while the song topped the charts in the UK. ‘Let Me Love You’, a project with DJ Snake featuring Justin on vocals, was another Top 10 hit and has already been awarded platinum status in the UK.
For a young man growing up in public, Justin has matched his phenomenal work ethic with a demonstrably smart head for business, endorsing many famous brands and becoming one of the faces of Calvin Klein from 2015. For all the charitable work he supports, the tabloids are still keen to seize on every incident that portrays him badly. Though, as with many young men his age, there have been serious run-ins with the authorities, Justin is always quick to apologise for these and remains keen for everyone to focus on what he does best. Still in his early 20s, that musical confidence is building and his back catalogue already contains a handful of songs that have become part of the soundtrack to a generation growing up with him.
With Purpose certainly establishing a template that should see appreciation of the star develop as the years progress, it’s easy to draw parallels with other singers dismissed in their formative years because they targeted a pre-teen audience. Just read the textbook histories of Justin Timberlake and the late George Michael to see how misjudged such a dismissal can be. Evidence suggests that time Justin has spent studying those subjects will be time used very wisely indeed…
Within two months of release, My World went platinum and two of its singles hit the Top 20, making Justin Bieber an almost inescapable teen pop phenomenon. This ten-song disc, which follows its seven-song predecessor by just over four months, is intended to be the second half of his debut rather than a true follow-up. It’s a shrewd ploy that benefits his insatiable following -- much of which could be into something else by 2011-2012 -- and, in turn, his sales. The two releases are certainly of a piece, filled with upbeat R&B-flavored pop songs with a few ballads that might be termed adult contemporary if the singer happened to be of age. Bieber makes all the right, charming moves for a teen, and he covers all the bases. The dance-pop songs are light on the ears yet memorable; the unrequited material sounds deeply felt; the ballads have all the necessary us-against-the-world teen-love dramatics (though the references in “Stuck in the Moment,” featuring Bonnie & Clyde and Sonny & Cher among other doomed couples, make zero sense on a song voiced by a peppy 16-year-old in 2010). As with My World, everything is age-appropriate. “She says she needs a little company,” sung with the slightest wink in the eye, is as racy as it gets, and even then, Bieber projects an image that is utterly harmless. Words: Andy Kellman
Credit to Justin Bieber for the effort he put into Under the Mistletoe. Most artists sleepwalk through Christmas albums, but Bieber took this release so seriously that he co-wrote nine of its 15 songs and was motivated to tweet, “forget the hype...i want it to be about the music. listen to the cd. then judge me.” Bieber definitely sounds more enthused by the original songs -- some of which resemble everyday numbers with patched-on seasonal references -- and a cover of Mariah Carey's “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (featuring Carey herself). The versions of holiday staples are pulled off with varying results; “Little Drummer Boy” gets a goofy modernized spin with Busta Rhymes, while “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” lifts bits of the Jackson 5's “ABC” and “I Want You Back” (rather than echoing the Jacksons' version of the song). Some of the Bieber fan base might be a little miffed that the inspirational ballad “Pray,” included on My Worlds Acoustic, makes another appearance here. There’s also the fact that Bieber (still) has yet to release a standard full-length album. He has two EP-length releases, a compilation of those two releases, a set of (mostly) acoustic versions, an EP-length remixes/documentary tie-in disc, and now a holiday album, to his name. Words: Andy Kellman
If you subtract the remixes, acoustic versions, live takes, and holiday material that filled Justin Bieber's releases from 2009-2011, Believe falls only a few tracks shy of doubling the singer's quantity of original songs. That fact alone will satisfy a large portion of his fans. More notably, Believe finds Bieber co-writing all but one song and handling his "not a boy, not quite a man" status with poise, despite some considerable contrast between his age and what he has been through. He's at a point in his life where he would fully deserve a pass for taking himself too seriously, but there's "Boyfriend" -- a G-rated "Wait (The Whisper Song)" with a My World-like chorus -- in which he compares himself to Buzz Lightyear. He has endured puberty, including a voice change, all the while undergoing intense public scrutiny that has included fallout from a paternity accusation. He addresses the paternity issue head-on in "Maria," a real-life, modern-day rewrite of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean": "That ain't my baby/That ain't my girl." (The song is not on the shorter 13-track edition, but it's the most significant song in Bieber's catalog thus far.) Given the space allowed by an hour-long release, Bieber aims for just about every pop market. Believe incorporates appearances from Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Big Sean, while Ludacris is back for the first time. A song featuring slabs of dubstep bass is followed by an acoustic ballad. The throwback "Die in Your Arms" heavily references young MJ, harpsichord and all, and is driven by a well-known breakbeat. The title song involves a gospel choir, while the sound of an acoustic guitar is almost as common as a dance beat. Lyrically, Bieber seems to be in no rush to enter Chris Brown territory. He stays PG, flattering and flirting or stating devotion throughout the majority of the songs; "Loving you is so damn easy" might be the line most likely to raise an eyebrow, while several others, like "Everyone's itching for beauty, but you're scratchin' the surface," have a goofy/awkward teenage charm to them. Believe has enough strong material to keep most of the followers satisfied for another year, while elders should feel relieved that nothing is as sickly sweet as "Baby." Words: Andy Kellman
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. In another odd twist, perhaps an act of sabotage or one of confused mercy, the album was not submitted for sales tracking, so it did not appear on the Billboard 200, where it would have presumably landed in a low slot. As for the film, that grossed barely two-million on its opening weekend. The entertainer's career was in a bizarre state. Roughly a year later, Skrillex and Diplo resuscitated a vulnerable piano ballad Bieber handed them and applied it to a wobbly dance-pop production. That song, "Where Are Ü Now," reached the Top Ten in the singer's native Canada, the U.S., and several other territories. By the end of 2015, Bieber's career and personal life, which had been marked by a series of public blunders, appeared to be back in order. "What Do You Mean?" and "Sorry" had skillfully latched onto the spritely tropical house sound; the former became his first number one hit in the States, and the latter narrowly missed the top. These singles also showed him making a deeper connection with his material and that, yes, he was progressing from performer to artist. Highlighted by those three hits that preceded it, Purpose is characterized as much by its inward-looking ballads, like the voice-and-piano-only "Life Is Worth Living" and the title track, both of which offer full-effort stock spiritual platitudes. In those songs and many others, there's repentance for personal and romantic slip-ups, and Bieber -- yearning, aching, but not desperate -- frequently sounds as if he's trying to win over a lover for the long term. There are many metaphorical obstacles in his path -- he dodges lightning, a blizzard, and an avalanche, skates on thin ice, gets stuck on a treadmill -- yet he ultimately owns up to his own mistakes and admits "Don't nobody deserve myself." A bumpy, oddly compelling restart, Purpose should hook open-minded pop fans who previously paid him no mind, and it could even win back some of those who wrote Bieber off years ago. Words: Andy Kellman