The year is 2014: Sochi is hosting a poorly-financed Olympics, tensions between Israel and Hamas grow, my GPA plummets as Psych 151 (the “easy” science requirement) serves a tenuously adjusted second semester first-year a slice of humble pie. 2014 was not kind to the International Olympic Committee, Hamas, Israel, nor one needlessly cocky first-year trying and failing to fit in/fill her science requirement. These unrelated nadirs, however, pale in comparison to that of Justin Bieber.
In 2014, Bieber sported a muted pompadour, shrunken tuxedo jackets and frequently, an imploring expression as if he were bartering with a stern yet malleable salesman. Charged with drunk driving, resisting arrest and driving without a valid license, Bieber also frequented strip clubs and egged people’s houses like a more attractive, wealthy, better-dressed version of the really terrible guy you dated in high school mainly out of convenience. Bieber offers a glassy-eyed, forced smile in his mugshot, executed by thinking of the fact that things can only improve from here, or perhaps his laudable ability to look as handsome as ever in prison orange. Yet in all this Bieber darkness appears a Bieber light: Journals. Originally a series of songs released weekly in late 2013, the album hit iTunes early 2014 to much critical acclaim.
Highlights include the album’s first feature, “PYD,” which is more of an R. Kelly song mistakenly forwarded to Bieber than a Bieber song with an R. Kelly feature. It’s not a narrative song, but rather a list of places Bieber plans to put his listener down (sexually? Or like an aged labrador with hip dysplasia?), the highlight of which is “On a plane, a train, an automobile, doesn’t matter/I’mma put you down.”
“Confident,” featuring Chance the Rapper, toes the thin line between skeezy and suave. Bieber reflects, “That’s right I think she foreign/ Think she foreign, got passports,” which makes me wonder if this girl is just your average American citizen because, technically, since Bieber’s Canadian, an American girl would be holding a foreign passport; the term is relative. Bieber’s shameless exoticism continues into the chorus as he recalls “Then she started dancing, sexual romancing / Nasty but she fancy, lipstick on my satin sheets / What’s your nationality? I wonder if there’s more of you / She’s got my attention, she’s confident.” The refrain left me googling whether “sexual romancing” is a term that I should know (confirmed: it only exists in this song), as well as wondering if Bieber moonlights as border control since he seems so singly focused on her nationality.
The final chapter, “Memphis,” offers a cross between N*Sync era boy band begging in sing-song and Bieber’s trademark melodic beseeching. “Memphis” is a second cousin of “Purpose,” but is dull to the point that Big Sean’s verse is its indubitable highlight, particularly the lyric “I put the writing on the wall, but you don’t understand it like we in Chinatown” and the multiple choices of “I can take you to the crib, condo, or the cabin, what’s up?” For what Big Sean lacks in stature, he clearly makes up for in hospitality.
Justin Bieber is not Beyoncé, Kanye or even the conniving Taylor Swift; we do not owe him universal recognition for his flawlessness, artistic ability or even prowess over the rocky waters of fame. In 2014, he was poised for further growth in both his art and fame, as well as potentially his muscle mass. In this context, Journals becomes it’s very namesake, like a flowery tween diary, marked “DON’T READ!!!”