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ON RECORDS: THE BIEBER PHENOMENON

The Justin Bieber juggernaut was one of 2015’s biggest stories—and in these first days of 2016, the Def Jam star shows no signs of letting up. How has he racked up these numbers, and how does he keep growing?

His smash album, Purpose, sits at #2, behind only the mighty Adele, on our most recent album chart, and that ranking is duplicated on the iTunes album leaderboard; it’s moved some 1.3 million albums RTD, and nearly 2m TEA. Meanwhile, multiple singles continue to explode—“Love Yourself” is #1 at iTunes, while “Sorry” perches at #3 and “What Do You Mean” holds the #17 spot.

At radio it’s a similarly resounding story, as “Sorry” holds onto #1 at Pop, while “Love Yourself” and “What Do You Mean” are Top 15 and Top 20, respectively. “Sorry” is #2 at Rhythm. “Love Yourself” recently ascended to the #1 spot on Shazam’s USA Top 100 (and #4 U.K.) as well.

Bieber is also a one-of-a-kind phenomenon in the world of streaming, dwarfing even his biggest contemporaries at the platform by as much as 3-1. It’s also worth noting that Bieber is dominating Spotify’s charts worldwide, with the top three songs in the U.S. but also multiple top titles in an array of international markets (especially European ones).

What’s behind this still-cresting wave? How did an artist who for so long languished in tabloid hell—and whose career was in many circles thought to be over prior to last year’s monumental comeback—achieve this bounty, which just keeps accumulating?

It seems fair to say that no mere marketing machinations could sustain this level of success for this long.

Has manager Scooter Braun done a brilliant job of orchestrating the overall campaign? Certainly. Did Steve Bartels and team Def Jam deliver? No question. Does Biebs’ very active fan base power a fearsome social-media factory? Without a doubt. Did Bieber himself convey a pitch-perfect blend of humility, good humor and passion as he made the talk-show rounds and addressed his checkered past? Damn skippy.

All of which might explain Bieber’s initial powerhouse impact. But it seems fair to say that no mere marketing machinations could sustain this level of success for this long.

A record that maintains this high level in sales, radio, streaming and impressions has struck a nerve with listeners—not only longtime fans but new ones, many of whom may have discounted Bieber in the past. The songs reflect a maturing creativity, confidence and, yes, purpose. What’s more, the EDM-informed sound of the new material fits him like a glove—whereas he often seemed to be grappling for authority as an R&B crooner, he sounds simultaneously freer and more in command on a dance track. That EDM setting has also given Bieber a massive boost internationally.

Just ask a handful of reasonably hip pop-music fans outside the “Belieber” base, and they’ll likely talk about Bieber with a sense of discovery, even though they were aware of his prior recordings. Purpose, they will tell you, has been a game-changer that has caused them to completely reassess the artist.

It’s also worth noting that Bieber is pretty much the only major male artist working this lane right now, with that other Justin off cycle.

Certainly writer/producers Skrillex, Diplo and Poo Bear and a brace of other gifted writers share the credit for the project’s windfall. But look at their discographies and you won’t find many stories like this one. Bieber’s sterling performance in the marketplace suggests that he just needed the right elements to achieve greatness. How big will he get? That’s certainly a question we’ll be asking as we make our way through 2016.

Got some thoughts on the matter? We’d love to hear ‘em.

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