Justin Bieber entered the game at exactly the right time. In a world that was increasingly becoming dominated by the Disney gene pool and teenyboppers alike, the 13-year-old Canadian star became a messiah for an entirely new generation. He literally invented an entire hairstyle, became the wallpaper for every young girl growing up and pushed out pop hits like it was easy. But of course, being the world’s biggest popstar for over a decade never is quite as simple as it seems. So, in honour of the star’s return to music, we take a look at the sometimes windy but absolutely iconic evolution of Justin Bieber.
The humble beginnings of Justin are well known. His covers on YouTube were accidentally discovered by marketing executive Scooter Braun, who whisked the bright-eyed star away to become signed under Braun and Usher’s shared label before Justin joined the big guns of Island Records. He dropped his first single, the bubblegum soaked ‘One Time,’ in 2009 and quite literally became a superstar overnight.
And as the floppy hair, cosy grey zip hoodie and adorable smile proved, there just wasn’t anyone else like Justin Bieber. He was the total boy next door. He could be sitting at the back of your English class, he could easily dance with you at the formal and he, without a trace of doubt, could be the boy of your dreams. He had all the charisma of Dylan and Cole Sprouse, all the talent of the Jonas Brothers and he was the perfect age just for you. And it’s that exact identity that became the star’s entire brand.
Following the success of ‘One Time,’ Justin continued to drop hits and raise his pedestal higher and higher. The highly anticipated debut album My World 2.0 (a follow-up to his 2009 EP My World) dropped early 2010 and included the massive teen-pop hits ‘Baby,’ ‘Somebody to Love,’ ‘U Smile,’ ‘Eenie Meenie’ and ‘That Should Be Me.’ The album was a perfect introduction for the star and marketed his clean-cut dream boy status well. Over perfectly crafted pop beats, Justin begs for you – yes you!- to please just give him a chance. And that adorable I’m-really-cute-but-don’t-believe-it act just wins every time.
By 2011, Justin Bieber was the name in headlights everywhere you went. He had released a Christmas album (Under the Mistletoe), appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, embarked on his first official world tour, passed Stevie Wonder for the youngest solo male to top the Billboard 200 charts, and released his own part-biopic, part-concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. He was working the whole teen idol thing pretty well, learning to surf on his wave of female fans and killing the industry with every move he made. And it was all that the world could do to just sit back and watch him conquer it.
Enter then an 18-year-old Justin in 2012, grown out of his trademark hairstyle and childish grin and instead rocking a perfectly tousled quiff and bad boy persona that only cemented his heartthrob status more. His third album Believe dropped in June that year and included most of the hits we consider the star’s name with, such as the massive hit ‘Boyfriend,’ ‘As Long As You Love Me,’ ‘Beauty And A Beat’ and ‘All Around The World.’ Enlisting the help of producers such as Diplo, Max Martin, Mike Posner and Darkchild, Believe had elements of dance-pop and R&B and flipped Justin’s typical sound right on its head.
Believe was a total reinvention for the teen idol and laid the groundwork for Justin gaining the musical praise he deserved. Long gone were the cutesy “you smile, I smile” days of hand-holding and pinching cheeks, Justin was here to convince you why you wouldn’t want anyone else as your boyfriend. With incredible features from Drake, Big Sean, Nicki Minaj and fellow collaborators Jaden Smith and Ludacris, Justin flexed his contact list and proved that he could make any genre sound as though he had invented it.
The years following Believe were a little rough for the star. But it’s expected that someone who’s achieved most of their career by the age of 20 is going to fall off the rails a little bit. Trying his best to outrun his pubescent shell that made him famous, Justin’s highly adored status quickly took a turn. From several run-ins with the law (including two that ended in his arrest) to his toxic on-and-off relationship with Selena Gomez, the world was getting ready for the superstar to fall from his pedestal in the sky. Not even the sexy hits ‘Confident,’ ‘All That Matters’ and ‘Hold Tight’ (from the 2013 digital release Journals) or his follow-up film Justin Bieber’s Believe could really save him. But his ever-so-loyal fans stuck with him through thick and thin, as if they could almost sense that we hadn’t even discovered the best version of Justin Bieber yet.
2015 saw Justin’s true rebirth and, dare it be said, the best music he’s ever made. Yet again slipping into a different genre and making it entirely his own, Justin played with EDM and tropical house elements and produced the best comeback one could ask for. His fourth album Purpose was a pretty good apology, cutting open the star’s heart and letting it bleed out onto every song. Justin was a little older and he had learned from his mistakes, and he was going to apologise to every single one of us if it was the last thing he did.
The excellence of Purpose couldn’t really be pinpointed. Nobody knew why all of a sudden our parents, boyfriends and all music critics were suddenly Justin Bieber fans or why we collectively forgave the star for dipping his toes into trouble because we were too busy dancing. He nailed the sound of 2015 right on the head and created a brand new look and style (that blonde hair!) to go along with it. Justin worked with Skrillex, Diplo, Benny Blanco, Ed Sheeran and BloodPop on huge hits ‘Where Are Ü Now,’ ‘Sorry,’ ‘Love Yourself’ and ‘What Do You Mean?’ to make catchy tracks unlike anything of his we had ever heard before.
The success of Purpose and Justin’s new style only made things harder when he suddenly announced he was taking a break from music. Realising the speed was catching up to him, Justin cancelled the rest of his Purpose World Tour in 2015 in needs of slowing down. Only making music when he was asked to jump onto other artists’ songs, the years 2016-2019 saw the only mention of Justin Bieber musically being after someone else’s name. But while not necessarily making his own music, Justin continued with EDM and dance-pop styles, mixing in R&B where he could to trademark his new sound. And after a good amount of time to clear his head, marry Hailey Baldwin, and right all his wrongs, Justin Bieber announced his official musical comeback in 2019 and dropped his first solo single after five years, the infectious ‘Yummy.’
As we enter a new decade it seems fitting to have a new Justin Bieber lead us into battle. And while it’s easy to miss the squeaky-clean heartthrob we started out with, it’s fulfilling to be able to say we watched him well and truly grow up. We’ve been with the star to witness every moment of his life, and we’re not about to stop now.