Justin Bieber's musical journey has been a compelling one. From boy wonder on YouTube to bonafide pop megastar, he has always shown an understanding of musicality, originality and authenticity with a keen eye to new business models. While his personal life (good and bad) has often overshadowed his artistry, he continued to challenge himself and expand upon the early foundations he set out in stone.
2009's My World EP contained early traces of urban and bouncy pop flair. Many detractors pegged him as nothing more than a young kid taking advantage of the system, but, as evidenced with his comeback last year, he has so much more to say. Of course, he has released a string of albums, acoustic reissues, remix packages and a Christmas record through the years, and with each release, it was evident there was a musical mastermind bubbling under the surface. My World 2.0 gave the world massive hits like "Baby" and "Somebody to Love," setting the stage for 2012's Believe, the 2013 Journals collection and 2015's massive Purpose.
AXS lived with all of Bieber's landmark projects (including his debut EP and 2011's Under the Mistletoe) to definitively rank them. Check out our findings below:*
Essential Track(s): "One," "One Lonely Girl," "Down to Earth"
It is the extended play that set his entire career in motion. It was an appropriate primer of Justin the Artist to the world. Listening to this EP now, you can certainly hear the immaturity in his voice, which would fully blossom on record in later years. The tone of his delivery still had something promising, cool and confident.
Essential Track(s): "Roller Coaster," "All That Matters," "Bad Day," "Swap It Out"
Musically experimental, the project, released as a series of singles leading up to the full release, lacked the same kind of massive pop hook he had been know for previously. Points for stepping well outside his comfort zone and dabbling in significantly more provocative material. Looking back now, it was a nice bridge from the bubble-gum pop of his youth into a more mature R&B performer.
Essential Track(s): "Eenie Meenie," "Somebody to Love," "Baby," "Stuck in the Moment," "U Smile"
As far as just damn good pop music, you can't get much better than this in the broad scheme of things. Infectious with often driving beats, this album solidified Bieber as a rising star with tons of potential who only needed a few years of living to completely come into his artistry.
3. Under the Mistletoe (2011)
Essential Track(s): "Mistletoe," "Silent Night," "Drummer Boy,"
When you consider the Christmas cannon, every artist of every genre as at least recorded one Christmas standard at some point in their careers, with many recording full-length albums. Most of the time, it's dreary, lackluster or just plain boring. But Bieber's take on many holiday songs was deliciously satisfying. This was a watershed moment for him; the choices he makes on songs like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Drummer Boy" and "Silent Night" was mind-blowing and hinted that his talent could take on any form.
Essential Track(s): "Boyfriend," "All Around the World," "Die in Your Arms," "Be Alright"
As Bieber himself put it, this probably deserved at least a Grammy nomination on sheer vocal strength alone. Too, it makes some pretty cool pop moves, as he blurs the lines between bubblegum, R&B sensuality and pounding dance-club euphoria. Featuring a chain of urban artists such as Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Drake and Ludacris, his bold playfulness with sonic upheavals and layered production was captivating.
Essential Track(s): "Love Yourself," "Sorry," "Life is Worth Living," "The Feeling," "Been You"
This is the appropriate evolutionary step after Believe. He mixed what he did on that 2012 record with some of the atmospheric textures of his Journals to create an outstanding piece of art. As one of the best albums released in 2015, he confronted the norms and flipped the industry on its head. Purpose is the closest he's gotten (so far) to having that career-defining album.
*Acoustic reissues and remix packages not considered