Twenty-one-year-old pop juggernaut Justin Bieber’s fourth full-length album, Purpose, arrives in stores today with a narrative of redemption. After a string of embarrassing PR catastrophes, including but not limited to peeing in a bucket, egging his neighbors, getting arrested in Miami for "careless driving," and generally behaving insufferably, Biebs has been on an aggressive apology tour, projecting humility as opposed to puerile arrogance. He offered a public mea culpa during his Comedy Central Roast, shed tears following an emotional VMAs performance, re-embraced his faith via Hillsong church, and released Purpose's not-so-subtly titled single, “Sorry.” This, my friends, is how you stage a comeback.
But will any of it work? Yes. It will. It’s already working. Because everything always works out for Justin Bieber. Just look at the data. The album’s first single, “What Do You Mean?” became Bieber’s first No. 1 track on the Billboard Hot 100 back in September, making him the youngest male artist in Billboard history to debut at the chart's top position. That was on the heels of February's “Where Are Ü Now,” his left-of-center collaboration with Diplo and Skrillex, which even received justifiably reverential coverage from the New York Times. In many ways, Bieber is re-enacting the Justin Timberlake teen-pop maturation arc: Align yourself with taste-making producers, co-opt international music styles bubbling up in the underground, play nice with popular comedians, and drop hints about a tumultuous relationship from your youth. He’s one Alpha Dog away from the transformation being complete.
And like Timberlake's breakthrough album, Justified, Bieber's made a strong musical statement with Purpose, a nimble, carefully crafted batch of classic dance-pop boasting contemporary EDM influences. But here’s the thing (and all due respect to the other Justin): Bieber's records have always been great. The moody R&B confessions of Journals, the icy whisper-pop of “Boyfriend," and the Ludacris-enhanced “Baby” were are all flames. As it happens, the seeds of Bieber’s "comeback" have been in front of us all along, namely in the video for this very first single, “One Time.”