Jon Bellion’s The Human Condition, released on June 10 from Capitol Records, is a vibrant and colorful pop record that is disarming in how brutally honest it is. Bellion offers commentary on individualism as defined by consumerism, acknowledges his struggle to unquestionably trust in God, and continuously reflects on his loneliness, success, and self-worth. He paints vivid images with his clever and sometimes unsettling lyricism, but all of this is presented through ridiculously catchy pop songs. Yet it must be noted that this album sounds nothing like the current pop landscape; Bellion is a master of space, and his music leans more towards pop-rock than EDM. Overall, this was one of my favorite albums of 2016, and the texture and emotion behind the music demonstrates that Bellion is a refreshing tour de force to be taken seriously.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard Bellion’s single “All Time Low,” which has recently blown up at radio. It’s even more likely that you’ve heard songs he’s co-written with other artists, including Eminem and Rihanna’s “The Monster” and Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets,” and he makes sure that you, the listener, knows this. On the opening track, “He Is the Same,” he shouts that he has won Grammys and has millions in the bank, but he wants you to know that “nothing has changed” and he is indeed the same fellow he used to be. He tries to prove this by explaining that he still lives at home at 24-years-old and his “parents make him take the trash out” to “keep his a** in check.” Jon vows that he is the same person he was before his success, but the repetition and aggressiveness of this vow makes it clear that he is trying to convince himself much more than he is trying to convince his audience — this introduction perfectly sets up the recounting of his various struggles, which illustrate that he is indeed not the same man.
Brimming with joy, Bellion enlightens us with the nostalgic happiness he feels with his love on “80s Films,” but that passion quickly turns into the gut-wrenching depression and loneliness of “All Time Low.” In “New York Soul, Pt. ii” he angrily raps about how his success fails to cure his emptiness, and on “Fashion” he discusses how people in our society sometimes turn to fashion (his metaphor for consumerism) to develop their individualism or to simply fill the void, but that those needs cannot necessarily be met by material goods — Bellion himself hasn’t filled this void, and on “Maybe IDK” he learns to trust that God will eventually help him feel whole. On “Overwhelming,” we are exposed to a jubilant relationship in which our singer boasts, “She call me Goose, I call her Maverick cause of Top Gun/They say we annoying, they just jealous cause we got love.” Can these lyrics be cheesy at times? Definitely. But they are witty and wholesome, without being so complex that the listener is unsure what the song is even about. They tell a multi-faceted story of Bellion’s emotions, and their honesty can be both heartbreaking and uplifting.
However, despite his endearing lyrics, Bellion really stands out with the way he utilizes space and silence within his music. Take “All Time Low” for example; the song begins with him simply stating “I” over some synthesizers, but everything abruptly stops, as if he is reconsidering pouring his heart out to us. You can’t hear it, but in that moment of absolute silence you can imagine him closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, and quickly deciding to give up on bottling up the devastation he is so ashamed of. This is merely two seconds of a song that is over three minutes long, but it is a clear example of the depth and thought that goes into Bellion’s music — this moment creates a powerful sense of anticipation. On my favorite track, “The Good In Me,” Bellion deals with the aftermath of giving in to temptation, mourning the goodness he believes he has lost. He laments in the chorus, “Like a knife in the woods, you hunt down the good in me,” and with every measure of this line the instruments drop out one by one, until we hear nothing except for Bellion himself, as if the “goodness” is slowly washing away from him, leaving him alone and empty. The music itself reflects the message of each song, and the space is smart, making for an engaging listen.
By the last track of this album, “Hand of God (Outro),” Jon admits “I am just a man/Who lusts, gives, tries/Sometimes I lose my way.” At the beginning of this journey, he swore that he hadn’t changed, but after reliving all of his different emotions, he has come to terms with the fact that he has changed. These experiences and feelings may have been hard for him to get through, and they have made him question his self-worth, but this last song provides us with so much hope; Jon admits his failings, but he trusts that he has found little glimmers of happiness in unexpected ways and that the future will be better. These themes are not new, but they still feel exciting and invigorating because Bellion is honest and raw, helping to embody the human experience. However, it is important to notice that this album is titled The Human Condition, not The Human Experience, and this explains this impressive conclusion. Having these experiences means that one is living, and Bellion is consequentially celebrating the state of being alive — his human condition. These feelings mean that he is human, and maintaining one’s own humanity in this turbulent world is something to rejoice.
Give Jon Bellion a listen, and catch him opening for twenty one pilots on the upcoming leg of their Emotional Roadshow World Tour!