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