“We literally started from scratch.”
Photo: Kevin Mazur / AMA2020 / Getty Images for dcp
Changes introduced the new Justin Bieber to the world. When the pop star’s first album after nearly five years arrived in February 2020, he found it as a new, reborn Christian. He also found Bieber diving headfirst into R&B after the genre began to drive the charts, and other peers like Ariana Grande also dipped their toes. (This was not the first time; he worked at R&B in 2013 Magazines, also, but he called it a “compilation,” not an appropriate release.) Maybe Bieber went too far when he called the Grammys for a placement Changes in the pop category after being reported to R&B (not unprecedented: Grande’s sweetener i thank you, next they are still nominated for a Pop vocal album, as well as Kelly Clarkson for the 2017 soul pivot The meaning of life). But while criticizing the Recording Academy, Bieber also prepared the stage for what followed. “To be clear, I absolutely love pop music,” he wrote in a note on social media, “it just wasn’t what I intended to do this time.”
Bieber backed up his claim a month later when he released “Anyone,” his most undisputed pop song in years. Now, with True the outward turn looks even sharper. Released just 13 months after Changes, the new album sets Bieber ‘s R&B phase as a major detour. Instead of that, True pick up after Purpose, who was recently hailed by Vulture music critic Craig Jenkins as “one of the best pop projects of the previous decade”. But while most Purpose diluted EDM trends into pop hits, True prefers sleek pop-rock with 1980s synthetic fuel as a starting point.
The biggest choruses of wine are made in the same way that good worship music does, like what you could hear in Bieber’s former church, Hillsong. Even more than Changes,, True it is a clear product of Bieber’s faith, spreading the gospel of positivity, love, and hope. The album and title were announced by tweeting a series of vague phrases about “justice” and “healing”. “I know I can’t just solve the injustice by dealing with music, but I know we are so close to unification if we all do our part of the job using our gifts to serve this planet and each other,” he wrote. Then, after the delivery of the album, he got excited because with the help of clips of two speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., he presented the editorial “2 Much” and as an intermediate between the albums (before the song called “Die for You” about his love for his wife Hailey).
There’s a lot to process from Bieber, who has given several interviews about the new music. So look behind the scenes True, Vulture spoke with two of Bieber’s key collaborators on the album: a member of Bieber’s band since 2010 and current music director Bernard “Harv” Harvey and songwriter Gregory “Aldae” Hein. Harv is the co-author and producer of “Someone” and “Peaches”, while Aldae is the co-author of “2 Many”, “As I Am”, “Unstable” and “Someone”. Both collaborators described the rapid, detail-oriented process behind Bieber’s sound headquarters. “It’s about making sure this album is going to be the best album of the year,” says Harv. “All producers and writers, we all had the same idea.”
With True released so close Changes – Bieber debuted with his first single “Holy” just seven months after the release Changes out – it might have looked like the album was cut from the same sessions, like Taylor Swift folklore continued forever. “The original plan was to make two ‘back-to-back’ albums,” says Harv, but to separate the processes. “We literally started from scratch,” he adds. “We wanted to True that they have their own sound, their own identity, so we put those old songs back on the shelf. “To better establish this division between projects, Bieber has launched a number of new authors True, including Aldae. “People know Justin as a pop star,” he says of the shift. “I think it crushes R&B, but I personally prefer this style of music with it.”
In his note for the Academy of Cinematography, Bieber specifically mentioned “hip-hop drums.” Changes, many of which are manufactured on drum machines. But further True, Harv and Aldae say they wanted to emphasize live instrumentation, whether it meant starting songs on the piano or fooling around on guitars with screenwriter-producer Skrillex. None of the contributors possess 80s references that many listeners have drawn, but they don’t deny that rock influences are a comeback. Neither did Bieber when it came to “Someone” – but he didn’t want the song to be a thing of the past either. “It was like,‘ I want it to sound like a 90s rock song, ’” Harv says. “But let’s do it now.”
That energy it also bleeds into a live musical performance. As music director, Harv leads and performs in Bieber’s backing band We the Band, playing bass on recent performances for NPR and Good morning America. “What kind of music, we have to do that with a band,” he says performing new songs. Expect to see We the Band – which also includes longtime collaborators like guitarist Julian McGuire, drummer Devon “Stixx” Taylor and DJ Tay James – supporting Bieber on the eventual True tour as well. Harv specifically predicts that he will play “Anyone”, which he calls a “stadium-status song”, up to that size of crowd.
The argument about whether pop music is moving away from album form continues, but Bieber is still focused on it. Access pays off Truth; critics praised its cohesion. (Even Pitchfork called it “Bieber’s loudest statement about the length of the album so far.”) with Bieber easing the path from slower ballads at the beginning of the album to more optimistic songs after “MLK Interlude”. “We literally sat down and listened to every song and made sure everything sounded like they were working on the same project, ”adds Harv. “It was kind of hard for me, because I had a lot more songs that were supposed to be on the album, but it just wasn’t [fit together with the sound]. It was a moment for me to be like, All right, it’s about the whole work.“The sessions dealt less with the sound than with the unifying spirit of the work. As Aldae says, “There are songs you can dance to, but I think every song makes you feel something.”
When Bieber teased his photo of him planning a list of songs on social media, an impressive list of prominent artists – from Khalid and Daniel Caesar to Burne Boy and Beam – caught the eye of fans. For all the songs they worked on, Harv and Aldae said the characteristics come from Bieber himself. With “Peaches,” Bieber switched to A&R mode right after cutting vocals. “Like two hours later, he gave me FaceTime,” Harv says. ‘Justin was like,’ Yo, like I think we got it. ‘ I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ It was like, ‘I included Giveon in the lead role.’ The R&B singer, who has just started, inserted the top 40 for the first time as a feature in Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle” last year. Then, about a month later, Harv got another call. “Just like Justin, he’s going to face me from somewhere,” he says. “It was like,‘ Hey, let’s talk Daniel Caesar. ’” Some other features crashed on the wire though. Aldae mentions both Khalid and the rapper singer parts of Kid Laroi on their songs originated days before the album’s release.
And yes, Bieber’s choice of features has expanded to dr. Kinga. “2 Many” opens with his famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice.” The King’s daughter, Bernice King, later he said she approved the quote along with a longer album album, while Bieber committed work with the King Center among other social justice organizations. Aldae admits he didn’t plan to put a quote in “2 Much”. “At first I was a little confused when I saw MLK on credit,” he says. “Many classic albums have an insert at the beginning, something that will introduce you to the album. People who were close to me told me that there was a break in those two things, but to me it was simple: ‘Yeah, welcome to my album.’ MLK, one of the greatest speakers of all time. Why not?”
As he introduced the world to the ideas behind it True on Twitter, Bieber thought about them for months. In December, Bieber had a meeting with his associates about the significance of the project’s initiators. “He talked about how important this album is to us and how its name has actually been translated into justice [from Latin], and how important it was for him to strike and how he was in this high position. He invited us to help be a ship for what he wanted to redirect to the world, ”says Aldae. “He was very vulnerable with us because he wanted to bring that kindness into the songs.”
Some fans have noticed a discrepancy between Bieber’s messages and content songs on the album, many of which seem to be about his relationship with his wife. But Harv goes hand in hand. “If you listen to the words, it brings back love,” he says. “Sounds like a big pop, but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s very simple love songs.” After working with Bieber for ten years, Harv says he saw the album from its original location. “Where he is in life is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Like, how it is right now: mentally [health], his relationship with Hailey, his career and just his overall happiness, ”he says. “He put it all into this album.”