On Wednesday night, Justin Bieber shared snippets from 11 previously-unreleased songs on Instagram, and they were pretty personal — or at least more personal than “baby, baby, baby.” That got me thinking: Has Justin Bieber officially entered his “mature” pop star period where his lyrics actually allude to the various ups and downs of his personal life?
And by that — disclaimer! — I obviously mean his past relationship with Selena Gomez.
But First, The History:
After going public with their relationship at the 2011 Vanity Fair Oscar Party, Justin and Selena broke up in November 2012. Since that initial split, the star-crossed pop stars have played a game of Instagram cat and mouse with their fans, posting intimate photos of themselves only to delete them soon after. Upload, delete, repeat basically — with moderate to light Segwaying.
Could the lyrics teased out in those new Instagram snippets officially confirm that Jelena is no more? Or, do they paint a portrait of a much more complex, on-again, off-again narrative that we haven’t necessarily considered? Either way, when an artist weaves details from his or her personal life into their work, they make for a compelling narrative, one that the pop-listening public has demonstrated a huge appetite for time and time again.
And Now, The Pop History:
Back in 2002, Justin Timberlake released “Cry Me a River,” the second single off of his debut solo album, Justified. The haunting, Timbaland-produced track sees JT breaking things off with someone who cheated on him: “You don’t have to say what you did/ I already know, I found out from him.” The track has long been rumored to be about Justin’s ex-girlfriend, Britney Spears, although Timberlake told MTV News at the time of release, “I’m not going to specifically say if any song is about anybody.”
Usher, likewise, tells a tale of infidelity on the title track of his 2004 album, Confessions, only in his case, the roles are reversed. “My chick on the side said she got one on the way/ These are my confessions,” he reveals to his partner, and many people reasonably assumed that he was recounting an actual moment from his two-year relationship with Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas of TLC.
“It wasn’t a specific situation that happened in my life right now,” Usher explained to MTV News back in 2004, elaborating: “In other words, I wasn’t in a relationship and got another girl pregnant — right now. But it is something I can relate to and it’s something that has happened to me in the past.” Hey, I said “elaborating” not “clarifying.”
If Justin Bieber is, in fact, playing the same card as his pop-music forebears, it wouldn’t be a bad move. “Cry Me a River” spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #3, while “Confessions Part II” rocketed all the way to #1 and lasted a full 25 weeks on that chart. Clearly, listeners love it when artists air out their dirty laundry — or at least play with the illusion that they are.
Now, Let’s Review The Evidence:
After watching all 11 videos and deciphering what exactly JB is saying in each Instagram clip (excluding the one where he straight-up starts speaking in tongues midway through), here are all of the lyrics that deal with a relationship gone sour.
On the fifth snippet posted on Instagram, Justin sings, “It doesn’t really matter at all/ I feel like me and you, girl, we had it all … Will we never speak again?”
In the seventh clip, the “Confident” singer softly croons, “How I feel about you/ And all those things you put me through.” Perhaps he goes on TO clarify said “things” later on in the track?
Most damning of all, the second-to-last teaser finds Justin on the verge of breaking up with someone as he weighs his options internally. “I shouldn’t say I’ll go/ How do I let her know/ Don’t wanna lose control/ I think it’s time to tell her that I’m moving on.”
True, the details depicted in these snippets don’t quite rival “You cheated on me, now CRY!” or “Ummm, I kinda got someone else pregnant,” but we won’t know for sure until the full tracks are released.
The follow-up to Journals could very well be as crucial to Bieber’s evolution as a mature artist as Confessions was to Usher or Justified was to Timberlake. Whether the general public is willing to forgive the 20-year-old singer for his ongoing legal woes or those racist joke videos and enter this next phase of his career alongside him, however, remains to be seen.