Justin Bieber’s last tour was in 2017. After performing 150 concerts across 40 countries during his Purpose World Tour, fans were shocked to find out he’d cancelled the remaining 14. "I want my career to be sustainable,” Bieber wrote on Instagram following the news, “but I also want my mind, heart, and soul to be sustainable.” Visibly frustrated throughout the tour, Bieber’s behaviour reflected his inner turmoil; from storming off stage and cutting performances short to being visibly distraught on stage and being banned from China, the tour was fraught with moments of disrepute. But since then a lot has changed.
Months before announcing the premature end to his tour, DJ Khaled’s I’m The One featuring Bieber, Chance The Rapper, Lil Wayne and Quavo dominated the charts, hitting number one on the Billboard 100 — the first hip-hop song to achieve this since Eminem’s Not Afraid’in 2010.
In 2015, prior to the release of Bieber’s fourth studio album Purpose, Diplo and Skrillex’s collaborative effort, Where R Ü Now caused a seismic shift in Bieber’s image. Battling an image crisis after a series of bad boy antics including his first arrest for a DUI followed by a combative deposition, the bubblegum pop star was in dire need of reprieve. The EDM-hit did just that, earning Bieber newfound notoriety with audiences that once wrote him off as fangirl fodder. Where R Ü Now was given the number 1 spot on The New York Times 2015 end of year list. In many ways, the song became Bieber’s coronation.
While many speculated that the tour cancellation signalled an end to his music career, Bieber had other plans. Chances are, you’re familiar with his coming-of-age story; from Canadian YouTube sensation to international phenomenon Bieber laid the blueprint for digital fame, so it only makes sense that he’d pioneer a new path for himself in music later on.
Bieber’s affinity for feature work was ignited early in his career. From his first collaboration with mentor Usher on First Dance to joining forces with a slew of heavy hitters including Nicki Minaj, Drake and Big Sean on his sophomore effort Believe, it was clear Bieber thrived with other artists. But it was the release of his 2013 compilation record, Journals, that galvanised this point of view. The lilting R&B solo hits were bolstered with grown-up bop Confident featuring Chance The Rapper, the 808-heavy What’s Hatnin' with Future, and sultry boy-band era song, Memphis alongside Big Sean. The squeaky-clean, formulaic pop that once defined Bieber was long gone.
The first single to drop since the news of his hiatus was Friends, an electro-pop collaboration with Sorry co-writer, BloodPop. The perfect vehicle for Bieber’s silvery vocals, Friends was an anti-breakup anthem, longing for connection with a past lover over an EDM beat. Bieber’s strengths were on display.
But if any of his previous dalliances with R&B and hip-hop were anything to go by, it was only a matter of time he’d return to the woozy textures and seductive melodies that made his features on Travis Scott’s Maria I’m Drunk, Post Malone’s Deja Vu and Chance The Rapper’s Juke Jam cult hits.
Bieber wielded the Midas touch and while every one of his guest features turned into musical gold, his public presence in 2018 began to wane. No Brainer, the unofficial sequel to I’m The One which saw DJ Khaled return with Quavo and Chance The Rapper was Bieber’s only release that year.
The announcement of his marriage to model Hailey Baldwin arrived at the tail end of 2018, further fueling the rumours that Bieber had not only become reclusive to public life but had no intention of releasing music again. Pop music’s favourite bad boy had toyed with the idea of retirement in 2013, but it was an Instagram post at the beginning of the year that seemed like the beginning of the end.
“Just wanted to keep you guys updated a little bit hopefully what I’m going through will resonate with you guys,” Bieber wrote in March. “Been struggling a lot [...] I always bounce back so I’m not worried just wanted to reach out and ask for your guys to pray for me.” New music seemed like the last thing on the newly married star’s mind, but just a month later everything changed.
Just a month later in April, Bieber made his first live appearance in two years. Storming the stage at Ariana Grande’s second and final performance at Coachella this year, the two sang his hit single Sorry ending the performance with the news everyone had been hoping for: “By the way: album coming soon.” "This was not planned at all," Grande said on stage. "Thank you for being here, Justin. We love you so much." It wouldn’t be long before fresh music arrived.
I Don't Care, a dancehall-inspired, pop hit brought Ed Sheeran and Bieber together for their fourth collaboration. Released in May, the bop captures Bieber’s renewed joy and playfulness that for some time seemed all but gone. The Max Martin co-production is tempered by the chemistry between the pair who bounce off each while soft handclaps and burst of rhythm play hypnotically. In addition to co-writing the ex-obsessed Love Yourself, and Major Lazer's Cold Water, which featured Bieber, Sheeran also contributed guest vocals on Lil Dicky's song Earth.
Then earlier this month, Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane released his New Orleans-style hit, Love Thru The Computer featuring the Canadian singer. Bieber’s highly stylised and vocoder-treated vocals are comfortable on the soulful hip-hop beat, making for what seems like the most fun Gucci’s had in a long time.
It’s true that Justin Bieber’s guest features carry cultural cache comparable only to the likes of Drake, Cardi B and Ed Sheeran, but it’s also where he seems the most himself. Discovered at the age of 12, guest features for DJ Khaled and Gucci Mane seem like a rare moment of respite from over a decade of record-label controlled musical output. When the industry almost crushed pop’s prodigal son, EDM features and verses on hazy hip-hop jaunts renewed his joy but also brought us the promise of what is set to be one of his most exciting albums yet.
Listen to Justin Bieber on Dan + Shay's new song, 10,000 Hours, now.