While Adele’s glorious return dominates the music landscape this fall, there some other major stories. Modern music’s only relevant boy band, One Direction, and pop music’s Veruca Salt, Justin Bieber, will both release their albums Friday — “Made in the A.M.” and “Purpose,” respectively. It’s the biggest chart showdown in recent pop history. Their fan bases may overlap generously, but the two acts are at very different places in their careers.
“Made in the A.M.” is the final album from One Direction before their “temporary” hiatus. It’s also their first album since Zayn Malik broke hearts all around the world with his abrupt departure from the band. Ever since 2011, One Direction has churned out a best-selling album every November, and they are burned out. They’re not even touring for this new record, even though their tours in 2014 and 2015 each grossed over $200 million.
Musically, the group is not making any big changes with “Made in the A.M.” (Conspiracy theory: A.M. actually stands for “After Malik”). They’re sticking with the same pop-rock sound they’ve had ever since 2013’s “Midnight Memories.” Their last ambitious song was “Story of My Life,” which was off that same album.
There have been two singles so far, “Drag Me Down” and “Perfect”, and two more buzz songs, “Infinity” and “History.” While the songs are fun to bop to while you’re getting ready to go out to Club Café, they won’t win the group any new fans in the way “Story of My Life” did.
As One Direction finishes their victory lap, Justin Bieber has been on a non-stop apology tour. It’s a blatant PR move for his awful public image, but he does still have a lot to apologize for. Like his temper-tantrum when he didn’t get any Grammy nominations. His sizzurp partying days. Spitting in his neighbor’s face when confronted about reckless driving. The fiasco in Germany with his pet monkey. Writing “I bet she would have been a Belieber” about Anne Frank during a visit to her house in Amsterdam. Shouting epithets at a picture of Bill Clinton and peeing in a mop bucket. The vandalism charges in Rio. His relationship with Selena Gomez. His probation for an egg assault on his neighbor’s house. His Miami arrest for DUI, drag racing and resisting arrest. His assault on a Toronto limo driver. The iconic bratty deposition tape. And the videos of him making racist jokes and using the n-word.
As Bieber’s public image tanked, so did his music. His 2013 compilation “Journals” performed so poorly his label did not release sales figures. His 2013 concert doc grossed 10 percent of his 2011 one.
Just as it seemed all hope was lost for nasal-voiced pop brat, he returned early this year as a feature on a genuinely good song, Jack Ü’s “Where Are Ü Now.” The new electronic sound gave hint to Bieber’s new musical direction, which culminated with the release of the tropical house smash “What Do You Mean?”. The song defied the odds and debuted at #1 on the “Billboard” Hot 100. While his voice is still weak, the production behind his new music has been consistently stellar. “Purpose” is without a doubt his best effort yet.
To complete his redemption arc, Bieber is thirsty for that number one album, but One Direction is not going down without a fight. The first-week sales for their last three albums have all topped Bieber’s highest debut. At this point, it’s a full-scale promotional war between the two. Bieber has a release-day Staples Center event planned, where fans can buy a ticket and album for only $22. He’s also partnered up with Lyft, offering users his new album for only $5. Both acts will saturate television next week, and Bieber’s already had a week-long stint on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” To spur interest and inflate first-week sales, buzz songs have been released by the day — between the two there are ten songs in the top forty on iTunes.
So who will win the showdown? Sources at “Billboard” say that it’s still too close to call. In the end, One Direction will probably come out on top. They’ve had platinum albums every year since 2012, while Bieber is still an album wildcard at this point. Their consistency is key.
Recent activity has suggested that, shockingly, Bieber’s apology tour was a farce and he’s still an entitled brat. Abruptly cancelling concerts and stopping songs to tell people to clap on beat does not endear one to their fans. It won’t take much to undo all the good press he’s generated these past few months, and with that will go any hope of a comeback.
In the end, however, both One Direction and Justin Bieber will be forgotten in a week when Adele slaughters them with quality music and record-breaking sales.