It feels like a prerequisite that with the title of celebrity comes the ever-watchful eyes of the media and greater public. Ingrained within the upper-echelon of society is a leech-like tendency within reporting that either make or break the stars of a given generation, the likes of which are often cruel to those who aren’t properly ingratiated, or to the youth who aren’t familiar with just how integral the maintenance of a squeaky clean image is. It feels like no artist has faced quite as much scrutiny as Justin Bieber. Whilst I’ve made no effort in hiding my distaste towards his music historically, a part of me has always been able to differentiate between the Bieber of commercial fame, and the teen that yearned for development behind the security of supposed ‘closed doors’.
His latest track *‘Lonely’*, is a team-up with the enigmatic Benny Blanco, who has served as somewhat of a puppet master to the pop ecosystem for years now, gives us insight into celebrity, as Bieber invites us into the pitiful sorrows of the reality of a young boy whose life was advertised to the masses. Historically, I have struggled to direct praises to the pair as each respective act has built a brand almost equally as hollow and uninventive as the other. Unfortunately, *‘Lonely’* is no exception, as the powerhouses combine to create this nothing sandwich of a ballad. Where I had hoped they would bring the best out of each other, Blanco and Bieber mix like fire and ice. Such a statement is only partially correct, as neither are as distinct as the elements, yet they manage to cancel each other out, leaving me dismayed with the lackluster aftermath.
By far and away, the most offensively generic aspect of the track is the production. With each release, it becomes more and more apparent that Blanco is phoning it in, as I find myself more and more disappointed each time. What is perhaps most bewildering are the tracks he chooses to be directly credited for. Working behind the scenes as one of the most informally recognised, yet decorated pop producers over the last two decades, he has begun attaching his name to his work as of recent, only this time, to intermittent success. He has become ignorant and outdated as each credited Blanco performance feels as generic as the last. Here, he lays the foundation with these drab, limp keys. Sparse and vapid in nature, this synthetic ballad feels particularly shallow as Blanco demands his vocalist plaster the holes he punches. Passing the buck to Bieber, it’s as if he’s left stranded and uncomplemented by his partner in crime.
Vocally, the track feels like a blast from the past, as nothing is suggestive of growth or development since Bieber’s last album. Sonically and stylistically, everything points towards the track being a B side from *‘Changes’*, which is a feat in itself given just how one-note and forgettable the material was. His flavourless and murmured brooding feels far too stripped back and removed for it to have the impact and emotional potency the track so desperately needs. As a general unspoken rule of the piano ballad, it is the role of the vocalist to truly pour their guts into the performance to make up for lost ground, yet here, Bieber strictly feels mildly inconvenienced. The plot thickens as we reach what is perhaps the single most anticlimactic chorus in the Bieber discography. Letting loose with this goofy yodeling, the refrain is amongst some of the most unintentionally hilarious material released this year. Regardless of how I look at it, I fail to justify the contentious inclusion as I feel it interrupts what little dejection filled immersion the track boasts.
The saving grace of the track is ignited by just how intimate and heartache-prone the subject matter is. *‘Lonely’* feels like the song Bieber has been striving to make his whole career. For the first time, *‘Lonely’* feels like a song that could be performed by Bieber and only Bieber. It’s a fine line he walks, we’ve seen high profile figures crying over the pressures of celebrity shtick done time and time again, and more often than not do they end up coming off as these unlikeable, unrelatable anthems of braggadocio, yet here, Justin isn’t a man who is unappreciative of his status, but one that feels ostracised by it. It is the lines like *“And everybody saw me sick/And it felt like no one gave a shit/They criticized the things I did/As an idiot kid”* that bring this sense of legitimacy and hurt that have become stark naked and non-existent within the Bieber catalog. It feels as if Bieber is here to rectify the disingenuous and performative wrongs of *‘Changes’*, and make an effort to provide insight into the true loneliness of being on top of the superficial social hierarchy.
Whilst I appreciate that Bieber has decided to venture down the route of exploring his introspective demons, there’s something to be said about his inability to translate the heartfelt subject matter into a compelling tune. *‘Lonely’* truly feels like a byproduct of the modern market, tailor-made to suit the streaming landscape, but to the detriment of the song. In his most raw and robust hour, it feels like the track is cut prematurely, as the abrupt ending diminishes any potential or noteworthy progression. It feels like the victim of gentrification, and whilst this genuine depiction of Bieber feels a whole lot more substantive and believable than his previous charade, I continue to be mesmerised by just how lazy and by the books he has become, with no signs of stopping either.