Justin Bieber resurfaces with a vulnerable testimony to his experiences as a tween at the height of stardom in single “Lonely,” which premiered in a music video on the star’s YouTube channel Thursday.
The track was produced by Benny Blanco, an American songwriter and producer with credits on some of the most well-known hits in the U.S., from Kesha’s “TiK ToK” to Maroon 5′s “Moves Like Jagger.” When Blanco turned his hand to produce Bieber’s new single, however, he received more than just a credit: “Lonely” is marketed as a ‘collaborative single’ between the two artists. His name was even featured in the published title, styled as a song by “Justin Bieber and benny blanco.”
After a decade-long illustrious but tumultuous career, Bieber’s first album in over five years, Changes, was released this February to mixed reviews. The album was met with a viral fan reception, garnering over 500 million views collectively on YouTube, but failed to impress critics—- Rolling Stone, NME, and Pitchfork all gave it a two-star review.
“Lonely” is short and simple, clocking in at just over two and a half minutes with just a keyboard melody and occasional ambient strings behind Bieber’s vocals. The lyrics are heartfelt, detailing the loneliness the star felt growing up as a famous musician without anyone to relate to.
The accompanying video echoes Bieber’s melancholy. The video opens on a young Bieber, played by Jacob Tremblay, dressed in the star’s iconic white jean outfit, sitting in a large, empty dressing room. The boy ascends a dimly lit staircase and walks onto a stage, the camera panning to show that the concert’s seats are completely vacant.
Emotion dominates the song; Bieber laments a life in the public view with lines like “my house was always made of glass” and “everybody saw me sick and nobody gave a s---.”
Bieber addresses the fact that he was no stranger to negative attention in his second verse, singing “they criticized the things I did / As an idiot kid” and "maybe that’s the price you pay /
For the money and fame at an early age." Notably, the singer has accrued several accusations of reckless or drunken driving and was even arrested in 2014 at age 20 for resisting arrest and driving under the influence.
Overall, the song strikes a deeply somber chord, mourning Bieber’s lack of a regular childhood while growing up under an intense spotlight. The lyrics keep it simple, and for good reason—the lack of backup instruments and extra actors get the lonely emotion of the piece across.
Bieber is slated to perform as Saturday Night Live’s musical guest on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 8:30 PT.
In the meantime, you can watch the music video here.