Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean is as much a dramatic stab at self-reinvention as it is a straight up single. After all, Bieber has spent the last six months desperately trying to save his tarnished reputation, releasing distinctly more ‘mature’ tracks in an all or nothing attempt to eliminate memories of his slimy deposition and all the bucket peeing and fan spitting that he has been engaged with for the majority of his professional career.
Is the single a success, then? The answer is a hesitant, slightly conflicted yes. While it’s still miles behind the work Bieber’s peers have been releasing this year – it feels juvenile when placed next to the recent work of artists like Rihanna, Fifth Harmony or even 5 Seconds of Summer – it’s still a marked step up from his work of the past.
A lot of the track’s success is due not to Bieber’s voice or the ever so slightly stiff lyrics but to the exotic instrumentation that sits at the heart of the song. Building the work around the rich textures of a clock’s tick is a stroke of genius, and the electro pipe work that adds layers of intrigue to that central structure is genuinely intoxicating. Melodically, it’s a hypnotic, charged track, that manages to feel both uplifting and inspiring.
Bieber’s fans have been very quick to forgive him, but the rest of the world is still taking some time to come back around to the man who could once quite easily have held the title of the world’s brattiest pop star. Nonetheless, What Do You Mean is a very distinct and very welcome step in a better direction. If Bieber keeps up the way he has been going, the listening public at large might be able to fall in love with him again.