Justin Bieber staged one of the most impressive comebacks last year. After several shocking personal incidents, he issued a heartfelt public apology, setting the stage for his music to be heard with fresh ears. He later dropped "Where Are Ü Now" (with Diplo and Skrillex at the helm), and it instantly demonstrated his artistic and vocal growth. When it was clear the general public had forgiven him, he began to unravel his Purpose era with a string of commanding monster tracks like "What Do You Mean?," "Sorry" and "Love Yourself." But he has secretly been building up to this moment for quite a few years, spanning back to his first release—yes, even his My World project contained sprinklings of the kind of R&B, urban and pop sensibilities he would later unleash unapologetically onto the world. He has since released several other studio albums, acoustic repackages and a Christmas LP, often delivering even better music than the story his hit singles tell.
AXS takes a walk down memory lane and revisits all of his past albums, including 2013's Journals, to uncover his 10 most underrated (and frankly, his best) cuts. Take a look:*
Key Lyric(s): "Gotta believe in me. Believe me like a fairytale. Put your tooth under your pillowcase. And know I won't, I won't ever ever let you down (no), like a Seasaw let you down (oh). You know why 'cuz we ain't on the playground no more."
Bieber has always had a penchant for massive hooks and urban-leaning polish. The lyrics, though, were appropriate for his age, strewn with images of fairy tales, the playground and the Tooth Fairy. Adorable.
Key Lyric(s): "I can show you what I'm talking about. Be obliged just to show you how. Follow my lead, that's what you oughta do. No pressure. Swapping out ain't ever been a crime. If it was, then I'd do the time. Throw away the keys as long as I'm here with you...forever."
Swagger for days, this cut comes in the latter half of his personal collection. It's a smooth-talking gem which gives Bieber license to play colorfully within the R&B constraints, and he does so rather impressively.
Key Lyric(s): "Now Romeo and Juliet, bet they never felt the way we felt. Bonnie and Clyde, never had to hide like we do, we do. You and I both know it can't work. It's all fun and games 'il someone gets hurt. And I don't...I won't let that be you."
This is what we call an insanely catchy pop track. This is one of the very early signs Bieber would soon become a massive pop force.
Key Lyric(s): "I never thought that it'd be easy 'cause we both so distant now. And the walls are closing in on us. And we're wondering how no one has a solid answer, just walking in the dark and you can see the look on my face. It just tears me apart."
If you ever had a doubt that Bieber was a master of delivering a heartfelt ballad, returning to his early days with this song will do the trick. This is pretty unrelenting and compelling. Even with lyrics far more mature, he delivers with as much honesty as he can muster.
Key Lyric(s): "You said you needed a little time for my mistakes. It's funny how you use that time to have me replaced. But did you think that I wouldn't see you out at the movies? What you doin' to me? You're takin' him where we used to go. Now if you're tryin' to break my heart, it's working 'cause you know that that should be me."
This deep cut has a rather haunting arrangement, supported by Bieber's soft, lilting vocal delivery. It mixes the best aspects of his acoustic leanings with the R&B edge he has impressively developed since then.
Key Lyric(s): "Oh, I can't help it I'm just selfish. There's no way that I could share you. That would break my heart to pieces. Honestly the truth is, if I could just die in your arms, I wouldn't mind."
The track, which samples Michael Jackson's "We've Got a Good Thing Going On," sees Bieber make some coolly bold melodic choices. He brings the past into the present with a confident, falsetto-flecked vocal, too.
Key Lyric(s): "Ended up on a crossroad, try to figure out which way to go/ It's like you're stuck on a treadmill, running in the same place. You got your hazard lights on now, hoping that somebody would slow down, praying for a miracle. Who'll show you grace? Had a couple dollars and a quarter tank of gas, with a long journey ahead, ween a truck pull over. God sent an angel to help you out. He gave you direction, showed you how to read a map, with a long journey ahead, said it ain't over. Oh, even in the midst of doubt..."
The Biebs has lived a lot of life even in his twenty-something years. He's done things he regrets, and he owns up to his mistakes. He channels that energy and wisdom into one of 2015's finest empowerment tracks. With a piano underpinning, the Canadian performer offers up a gut-wrenching, emotional performance.
Key Lyric(s): "Lonely overseas, only memories. Wish I had the key to your heart. People come and go. Baby, they don't know what we had before, what it felt before our eyes."
This is a roller coaster of delight, by all sense of the word. It has an infectious beat, hook and memorable presentation. It spins across the dance-club floor with a syrupy production style, pinned together with a charming vocal.
Key Lyric(s): "All alone, in my room waiting for your phone call to come soon. And for you, oh, I would walk a thousand miles, to be in your arms, holding my heart."
This simmering, nearly acoustic ballad is Bieber's bread 'n butter kind of song. The music sits in his back pocket and allows him to sit above the arrangement. It's a sweet, tender and wholly finessed performance.
Key Lyric(s): "The repercussions, I'm missing your loving, haunts me tonight. The ghosts are alive. All of the memories of serenity dwindle in my mind all the time, like a permanent stain, wishing I could've just wash away, away, prayed our love wasn't vain. Who was to blame for all the pain? For all the pain?"
A shimmering club banger, this Bieber track washes away like a smooth shot of whiskey. As with many Purpose tracks, he has undeniably come into his own as a legitimate music-maker.
*Acoustic reissues and the Christmas album are not included here