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Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Justin Bieber’s ‘Changes’ Debut & Latest Top 10 Hit

By Max / Published on Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020 06:27 AM / No Comments / 70 views

Justin Bieber is at the top of this week’s Billboard 200 albums chart, as Changes bows with 231,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. The R&B set marks Bieber’s seventh No. 1 album, making the 25-year-old the youngest solo artist ever to have that many Billboard 200 chart-toppers. Also contributing to Bieber’s major chart week: “Intentions,” the second single from Changes featuring Quavo, reaches No. 9 on the Hot 100 chart, becoming the album’s second top 10 hit following “Yummy.”

How significant of an achievement is the Changes debut for Bieber? And how much higher could “Intentions” climb? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.

1. Changes started with 231,000 equivalent album units in its first week of release. What’s your immediate reaction to that debut number — which is the third-biggest debut of 2020 so far, but less than half of equivalent album units of the debut week of 2015’s Purpose (649,000)?

Andrew Unterberger: My immediate reaction is that five years is a longer time than it used to be. Purpose was as big of a full-album win as any modern day pop star could ask for, and Bieber spent a good two years casually dominating top 40 — both with his own hits and as guest on others’ — off that momentum. But the end of that run was about three years ago at this point, and over that ensuing period, Bieber’s commercial prowess went from unassailable to…  powerful, but vulnerable. Not having the strongest lead single or most commercial-friendly sound with Changes didn’t help either, obviously, but if he’d released this album in 2018 I bet it still would’ve done 500k or so. Now he’s in Man of the Woods first-week territory.

Bianca Gracie: While selling 231,000 units is an overall impressive feat in this current industry landscape, Bieber’s numbers being significantly lower for him this time around didn’t surprise me. He was at the height of his career when Purpose was released, and that loyal fan base has wavered a bit since then. This is Bieber’s first project in five years, and I think that excitement for a proper comeback slightly weakened as time went on. Also, leading with a non-pop song like “Yummy” caught many casual fans off-guard, which likely hindered the sales.

Jason Lipshutz: Five years is a long time in pop music, and there’s been a huge change in expectations for a major release’s debut numbers since 2015, which makes Changes’ significant drop-off from Bieber’s Purpose number not all that surprising. Does the fact that Changes has spawned fewer immediate hits than Purpose play a factor on its final number? Sure — there would undoubtedly be a few more first-week streams if the album contained a “What Do You Mean?” or “Sorry” on its track list. Yet even with surefire hits, 649,000 is a number that would have been incredibly difficult for Bieber to replicate in 2020.

Lyndsey Havens: That number seems spot-on to me — Purpose was a different album, from a different Bieber, released in a different time, more top 40-friendly from an artist still leaning heavily into pop. Plus, there was the added fun of thinking, “He could be singing to any girl.” On Changes, he’s matured, married and all-in on slinky R&B jams. I’m not surprised it sold well under what Purpose did, nor that it topped the Billboard 200 as the third-biggest debut of the year… at least for now (to name-check the title of track 16).  

Taylor Weatherby: Although it is relatively surprising that Bieber couldn’t beat out recent debut numbers by Eminem and Halsey, even some of pop’s biggest stars like Billie Eilish and Post Malone haven’t reached 500,000 equivalent album units in their most recent debut weeks, so Bieber’s 231,000 doesn’t really phase me. And while I personally love “Yummy,” it just wasn’t as big of an album kickoff as “What Do You Mean?” was for Purpose, so I figured the album wasn’t going to perform quite as well. That was a very long-winded way to say: Bieber, forget the numbers, and you celebrate that No. 1.

2. Changes is Bieber’s seventh No. 1 album, following My World 2.0, Never Say Never: The Remixes EP, Under The Mistletoe, Believe, Believe: Acoustic and Purpose. Out of all of Bieber’s chart-topping albums, which one is the most underrated — the one that most deserves a critical re-appraisal?

Andrew Unterberger: Not gonna go so far out on a limb to say that Believe: Acoustic is an essential listen, or even a compelling one all the way through — but as one that most casual fans probably don’t even have any frame of reference for, I do think it’s interesting. Even pre-Journals, it was the intimate record that showed that Bieber was perhaps yearning for a deeper emotional connection through his music than his more pro forma dance-pop fare would suggest, and it contains one absolute gem in the gloomy “Yellow Raincoat,” which today sounds like a cry for help that we probably should have paid more attention to in 2013.

Bianca Gracie: First off, #JusticeForJournals, but aside from that near-flawless compilation, Believe is the one that I’ve found myself revisiting the most lately. The record was Bieber’s first official foray into the contemporary R&B that he attempted to revisit on Changes. Lead single “Boyfriend” is reminiscent of *NSYNC’s R&B-driven Celebrity era, “Right Here” is the perfect in-my-feelings jam (and, of course, Drake is the guest artist), and deluxe track “Out of Town Girl” has so much swagger for someone who was only 18 at the time.

Jason Lipshutz: Nearly a decade after its release, Bieber’s lone holiday full-length, Under The Mistletoe, has aged… pretty well, actually! The single “Mistletoe” has endured as a new-school Christmas staple, an updated “All I Want For Christmas Is You” with Mariah Carey has remained an enjoyable duet, and “Drummer Boy,” featuring Busta Rhymes, is as weird and wonderful as it promises to be. Under The Mistletoe could have been a cold-weather cash-in, but Bieber’s take on the holiday season has been worth a yearly replay.

Lyndsey Havens: I might be skirting around the question here, but… Changes! I am overwhelmed by how underwhelmed many Bieber fans are by this album. I strongly believe that, in a couple years, people will admit they slept on this one, or at least misjudged its staying power at first.

Taylor Weatherby: I’m a big advocate for Believe. There are R&B flavors on it, so the album did feel a little more true to who Bieber wanted to be as an artist than his previously sugar-coated pop projects — but without totally erasing his pop foundation, thanks to super-cute love songs like “Die in Your Arms” and “Fall.” Plus, those features! Ludacris, Big Sean, Drake and Nicki Minaj all appear on Believe, and while they may have felt a little out of place with his still-not-quite-grown-up vocals, they make a whole lot of sense now.

3. Meanwhile, Bieber’s “Intentions” featuring Quavo enters the top 10 of the Hot 100 this week, climbing up to No. 9. How high do you see “Intentions” rising — could be it Bieber’s first No. 1 single as a lead artist since “Love Yourself” in 2016?

Andrew Unterberger: Nah on the No. 1. A top 10 placement is already respectable for “Intentions,” and it’ll probably end up as the biggest (and best-remembered) pop hit from this album, but it’s not gonna put up the streaming numbers to unseat “The Box” anytime soon, and it’s already at risk of getting lapped by multiple new songs from countryman The Weeknd. Top five isn’t out of the question, but if I were a betting man I’d say No. 9 is about as good as it’s getting.

Bianca Gracie: I don’t think “Intentions,” one of the weaker songs on the album, is going to move further than the top 5. Plus, Quavo’s solo guest features (aside from DJ Khaled’s multi-artist collaborations) haven’t moved past the No. 8 position since Post Malone’s “Congratulations” in 2017. And while the, er, intentions of the music video were very heartwarming, it mirrored Drake’s “God’s Plan” in a way that was less than monumental.

Jason Lipshutz: I remain a staunch defender of “Intentions”: snicker at the “Heart full of equity, you’re an asset” line all you want, just give me three-and-a-half minutes of Bieber and Quavo amiably gliding over icy R&B rhythms, please and thank you. “Intentions” may not be able to climb way up to No. 1, but a top 5 stay appears realistic, considering that its structure and hook sound more ready-made for top 40 radio than its predecessor, “Yummy.”

Lyndsey Havens: I can definitely see it entering the top 5… and it does seem like a strong contender to dethrone Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” after 11 weeks and counting. I hear it in heavy rotation on top 40 radio, the music video has well over 32 million views and the message is so well-intentioned — for lack of a better word — that I can see people gravitating toward this one for a while.

Taylor Weatherby: I don’t think it’ll make it to No. 1 (Roddy Ricch seems to have a pretty strong hold on that for now), but I could see it going top 5. While I love “Intentions,” I’m not sure if it’s bigger than any of its chart predecessors — but if I keep up my daily “Intentions” binges, maybe I’ll help Bieber prove me wrong.

4. Following “Yummy” and “Intentions,” which Changes track do you hope becomes a future single for Bieber?

Andrew Unterberger: In terms of what I hope, it’d have to be “That’s What Love Is,” the guitar-only ode in which Domestic Bieb traces his definition for the big L in ways typically heartfelt and awkwardly phrased (“My hands can’t hold enough of your greatness”). But that’d be commercial poison even by Changes standards, so I’ll keep things slightly more realistic and say “Habitual,” an R&B ballad with the same glowing aura and hooky melody as “Yummy” without the truly unforgivable chorus.

Bianca Gracie: The first two singles are more upbeat, so I’d like for Bieber to slow things down and head into mid-tempo ballad territory for the next one. “Take It Out On Me,” a.k.a. my favorite song on Changes, would be the perfect choice. It samples DVSN’s bedroom-ready “Too Deep” (which, in turn, interpolates Ginuwine’s 1999 classic “So Anxious). “Get Me,” the sultry duet with Kehlani, would also be a dope alternative.

Jason Lipshutz: My vote goes for “Come Around Me,” one of the more legitimately sexy tracks on the album which finds Bieber reaching deep into his bag and pulling out an achingly pure falsetto. If “Yummy” is getting picked up at rhythmic radio, “Come Around Me” should be able to find a home at the format, too.

Lyndsey Havens: Oooh boy, where do I start… I’m a big “Habitual” fan, but an even bigger fan of the Bieber and Posty combo that we get on “Forever,” also featuring Clever. In addition to chart-topping star power, the plinking production is catchy, and as one of the few tracks that strays from more traditional-sounding R&B, this seems to be an ideal third single.

Taylor Weatherby: I can’t stop playing “Forever”: it has an insanely catchy chorus, and I could totally hear that melody on the radio. And though Bieber’s latest single is a collaboration, there’s not a bad time for a Post Malone collaboration these days. I could also see Justin wanting to go with another solo track for his next single, and if that’s the case, I hope it’s “That’s What Love Is.” Radio needs a Bieber ballad!

5. From 2012’s Believe to 2015’s Purpose to 2020’s Changes, Bieber favors one-word album titles. Look into your crystal ball: the title of Justin Bieber’s next album will be ___________.

Andrew Unterberger: Acceptance. Regardless of your feelings about Changes, you have to give it up to the young man for really seeming to be getting comfortable with who he is as an artist and a person. Maybe he goes back to chasing hits from here, but I think more likely, he contents himself with his still-considerable remaining fan base and enjoys this phase of his career and life as a happily married adult R&B crooner.

Bianca Gracie: Based on his personal journey over the past few years, I’ll say Freedom.

Jason Lipshutz: Let’s go with an ode to new parenthood, with some religious overtones, titled… Father.

Lyndsey Havens: Bieber… or Justin. But definitely not Justin Bieber.

Taylor Weatherby: My initial thought is Hailey, because of how much Bieber gushes over his wife on Changes, but I’m not sure he’d go that far. I almost wonder if he’d go the self-titled route, since he hasn’t yet, and just do Justin or Bieber? I have no real idea. What Changes has proven, though, is that no matter the album title, Bieber’s going to continue to bring the jams.

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