Justin Bieber has been an inescapable part of pop culture of the last decade. The second he exploded onto the scene thanks to a few YouTube covers landing in front of the right people, it seem destined that his fame would be longstanding. How could it not – he was the new teen dream, and his legion of fans were, and still are, ready to do anything for him. But, as the years have gone on and Bieber himself has grown up, the consensus on him, and his music, has changed too.
Gone are the days where Justin Bieber was considered a tween heartthrob by those unwilling to broaden their pop horizons. Now, he’s as legitimate and as talented of a popstar as some veterans, offering mature and vulnerable insights into his widely publicised life with silky vocals and thumping megawatt production.
His evolution has been fascinating to witness, so here are 10 essential Bieber bops from throughout his rollercoaster discography.
1.‘Baby (feat. Ludacris)’, My World 2.0 (2010)
Please, quit while you’re ahead. You know every word, even if you hate it. No song that is truly so horrible could possibly have such an earworm hook that it has endured over 10 years on.
2. ‘Boyfriend’, Believe (2012)
Put the “swaggy” aside, ‘Boyfriend’ was the first real precursor we had on to what Justin Bieber’s career would be about, some 10 years later. It traversed delicately into a realm of pop that Bieber would be most comfortable with (driven by hip-hop) thanks to his under-the-breath raps and striking 808s. But, it still danced in the guitar-laced, teen-friendly acoustic pop that fans – and parents of fans – had become accustomed to. Justin Bieber never had an explicit “I’m an adult now” phase of his career in the way some other stars did, but ‘Boyfriend’ let the world know that he could if he wanted to.
3. ‘Beauty & A Beat (feat. Nicki Minaj)’, Believe (2012)
All these years later, and we’re still keeping an eye out for Selenerrrrr.
4. ‘Where Are Ü Now?’ (with Jack Ü), 100% Hits 2015 Volume 2 (2015)
With what is easily the most important song in the Justin Bieber lexicon, ‘Where Are Ü Now’ was a game-changer. With lyrics and vocals by Biebs and production by the Midas-like duo of Skrillex and Diplo, the song gave the world the impression that the best was yet to come (they were right). Dropping in early 2015, ‘Where Are Ü Now’ took JB out of the teen-heartthrob lane of pop and placed him into the select apex of stadium-ready stars, and it did it without even trying. Justin Bieber was no longer just your little sister’s crush – he was a party, a nightclub and a festival gargantuan.
5. ‘What Do You Mean?’, Purpose (2015)
Capitalising on the success and impact of ‘Where Are Ü Now’ was never going to be an easy task, but ‘What Do You Mean?’, dropping a few months later, would make it seem that way. While not as immediately commanding as its predecessor nor the single that would follow, those infectious tick-tocks backed with delicate keys would eventually become inescapable and unforgettable. The song sets Bieber’s frustration against pulsating flute instrumentation and semi-trop synths, making Bieber’s pain almost feel like paradise.
6. ‘Friends’ (with Bloodpop), Friends (2017)
By no means the most famous or most successful collaboration between Bieber and Bloodpop, ‘Friends’ is as underrated as it is banging. With the unbeatable songwriting assistance from Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, ‘Friends’ dives headfirst into the new iteration of EDM-pop that the late 2010s thrust us into. It was less about drops that soared and more about the drops that snuck up on you. Bloodpop’s work in guiding pop giants can be seen with acts like Lady Gaga, but his work with on ‘Friends’ helped to usher out this phase of Bieber’s career in spectacular fashion.
7. ‘I’m The One’ (with DJ Khaled, Quavo, Chance The Rapper and Lil Wayne), Grateful (2017)
As Bieber got older, his life got slower. Eventually taking five years between albums, he went through major life changes, growing up and slowing down. As a reflection of that, his music followed the same route. Kickstarting that change was DJ Khaled’s Miami-drenched, bouncing megahit ‘I’m The One’. The cut is a major posse track, and even alongside Quavo’s oozy adlibs, Chance’s spirited bars and the quintessential Lil Wayne closing verse, Bieber’s silky braggadocio means he can hold his own.
8. ‘Peaches (feat. Daniel Caesar & GIVĒON)’, Justice (2021)
Bieber’s latest album, 2021’s Justice, saw the superstar return to superstar status. After laying low for a few years, and stepping back into the game with 2020’s Changes, Justice gives us Justin Bieber as he wants to be seen – matured, relaxed and patient – and ‘Peaches’ is the proof. It grooves slowly, ebbing and flowing over minimal production, spotlighting Bieber’s gorgeous vocals. Those vocals are complimented beautifully by R&B heavyweights Daniel Caesar and GIVĒON, whose delivery is both rich and smoky. Once it all culminates in the song’s final moments, we have one of Bieber’s best songs to date.
9. ‘STAY’ (with The Kid LAROI), The Kid LAROI’s F*ck Love (2020)
Don’t be fooled – just because JB has slowed down, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it in him to still give us the hits. Case in point: ‘STAY’ alongside our very own The Kid LAROI – indisputably the biggest song of the year. It feels like Bieber almost passing the baton on to the next generation of superstars, and he does it on top of production that is meant for only the biggest stages.
10. ‘Sorry’, Purpose (2015)
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that thinks this isn’t Bieber’s magnum opus. At this point in his career, he still had his narrow-minded detractors that couldn’t see the talent behind that famously-swooped fringe and baby face. ‘Where Are Ü Now’ and ‘What Do You Mean?’ helped lay down the groundwork, but ‘Sorry’ sped through and completely blazed the trail. It is bright and bubbly from the very beginning, with combined production from Bloodpop and Skrillex pounding just when it needs to as Bieber confesses his guilt and performs one of his most vulnerable works to date. Couple that with the now-iconic vocal manipulation and its famously Bieber-less music video, and ‘Sorry’ is an all-time pop classic, and a huge part of the pop zeitgeist of the 2010s.
Justin Bieber has announced four Australian arena dates for late next year as part of his world tour behind his latest album Justice. If you haven’t already nabbed one on pre-sale, general public tickets go on sale this Wednesday, 24th November.