Justin Bieber Finds The Answer on 'What Do You Mean?': Track Review

Justin Bieber
Track Review
4

Justin Bieber's last proper album, 2012's Believe, included its fair share of dance tracks, from the international pseudo-rave "All Around The World" to the Zedd-produced EDM banger "Beauty and a Beat" to the overly busy jam "Take You." None of the songs on the album contained the emotional nakedness of "Where Are U Now," Bieber's collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo for their Jack U project, quietly released last winter before slowly growing into a radio smash. "Where Are U Now" boasted nifty production gymnastics (as we recently found out, that flute noise is actually a pitched vocal!) and a memorably knotty drop, but the song's highlight is clearly Bieber's vulnerability, the way his question "Where are you now that I need you?" is actually a plea and the statement "When you broke down I didn't leave you" is a desperate cry for understanding. Bieber had danceable songs prior to "Where Are U Now," but they had never sounded nearly as personal.

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"What Do You Mean?," which follows Bieber's surprise hit and is positioned as his huge comeback bid, synthesizes the positive components of "Where Are U Now" and presents something warmer and friendlier, but no less nuanced or impressive. Opening with dramatic piano keys and ticking woodblock percussion, the single guides the listener through a safari of rhythms and synth hooks but remains unafraid to pivot back to the minimalism of the starting position. The electronic iciness of the "Where Are U Now" hook has been swapped out with a lush groove, while the arrangement smartly avoids the maximalism of his past productions but still has a high-enough BPM to inspire movement. "What Do You Mean?" is going to see a lot of club play, but its detailed array of sounds also encourages headphone listening.

And Bieber -- an immensely talented pop artist who spent years embroiled in controversy and away from the radio -- has seemingly unlocked the secret to sustained success as an adult star. Like its predecessor, "What Do You Mean?" allows Bieber to be universal and intimate simultaneously: his words are directed at a single person, but he's prodding the world at large. From his earliest YouTube days, Bieber has demonstrated a distinct vocal talent, and has spent his career looking through different styles in which to express that skill, from teen-pop to EDM to acoustic R&B. "What Do You Mean?" swirls those sounds together, and Bieber has never sounded steadier in his delivery. This is the second straight single for Bieber in which the title is a four-word question, but on "What Do You Mean?," Bieber at long last sounds as if he's found the answer.

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