Can Justin Bieber throw the horns alongside the metalheads? When the pop star kicked off a lengthy North American tour supporting his Purpose album earlier this month, headbangers began noticing pop fans sporting black T-shirts with the singer’s name written in jagged lettering in the vein of speed-metal bands. The rendering of the word “purpose” even summoned comparisons to the logo on the cover of skate mag Thrasher.
The merch, which Bieber has personally tweeted that he loves, is more authentic than fans of Slayer and Carcass might think. It was designed by artist Mark Riddick, a staple of extreme-metal art whose illustrations have also graced the merch of Autopsy, Dying Fetus, Exodus, Suffocation, Morbid Angel and others. He’s also conceived art for the heavy-metal cartoon Metalocalypse. The Northern Virginia resident has published several books of his art, including 2012’s Compendium of Death and 2008’s Logos From Hell, the latter of which inspired the collaboration.
Rolling Stone spoke with Riddick and Jerry Lorenzo — designer of the Fear of God clothing line — about how the collaboration came about and what it means for fans of metal and pop.
How did the idea for a heavy-metal Bieber logo treatment come together?
Jerry Lorenzo: In creating Justin’s wardrobe, his stylist, Karla Welch, and I wanted to come up with a fresh way to incorporate vintage Eighties and Nineties band tees into his onstage wardrobe. We borrowed the idea from Fear of God, of printing rock-inspired logos on super-rare vintage tees. We wanted to print “Purpose Tour” and “Bieber,” but we needed metal-like logos for the exercise to make sense.
Karla and I knew we wanted Justin’s onstage vibe to transcend to his merchandise so we created logos that could speak on many platforms for the tour: wardrobe, signage, merchandise, etc. I knew Mark was the man for the job, as his Logos From Hell book is one of my all-time favorites.
Mark, you’re well known for your work with metal bands. What went through your mind when you got the Bieber offer?
Mark Riddick: My initial reaction was, “Why would Justin Bieber need my style and approach to art?” I draw for underground death metal bands — a far cry from pop music.
Jerry, what did you ask Mark for?
Lorenzo: I just sent him tons of metal references from Motörhead to Testament. I wanted him to focus on “Bieber,” as we thought at this maturation stage in Justin Bieber’s career, it was crucial to focus on his last name. For the Purpose logo, we wanted something fun and skate-inspired, which speaks to Justin’s interests and younger fans.
Mark, how did you workshop the logos?
Riddick: Working with Jerry has been an atypical experience for me. My background is in dealing with metal bands and independent record labels. The underground metal scene functions in a vastly different way from popular music, so it took a while for me to wrap my head around the entire process.
In addition, Jerry has been a tough client to work for, and I mean that in the best way possible. Jerry has a distinct vision in his mind, and he pushed me hard to get what he felt suited the tour package. I’m not used to doing so many rounds of sketches for a client, but his work is different from typical metal merchandising. Jerry is an artist in his own right — he is a designer and stylist, and above all a complete professional. His success as a brand, under the Fear of God moniker, is a testament to this.
How did you decide on the final logo?
Lorenzo: It was just the best logo for what we wanted. You can feel the metal roots, but it was soft enough for his audience to digest.
Mark, you posted several options you considered to your Facebook page. Do you have a favorite alternate?
Riddick: I’m content with what ultimately ended up being used, however it wasn’t my personal favorite of the sketches I provided. I was more into the very sharp and pointed traditional thrash metal–inspired logo concepts, though I realize with a robust female audience, this sort of thing could be a hard sell. As most are aware, metal music is a predominantly male fan base, hence I’m familiar with catering to this audience type. One of the reasons I accepted this assignment was to challenge myself as an artist by doing something I was completely uncomfortable with.
Have either of you gotten feedback from Justin on the art?
Lorenzo: Justin loves his merchandise. That’s actually a real tweet that he put out [laughs]. He’s stoked on it, as it’s more in line with the stuff he likes and wears, which is important.
“I’d rather see Justin utilizing a metal-inspired logo made by a real professional from the industry rather than a haphazard interpretation of one.” —Mark Riddick
Mark, has the metal community been supportive of you working with Bieber?
Riddick: I knew I was taking a chance by accepting this assignment. The heavy-metal community is notorious for elitism and often frowns upon pop culture’s misguided use of heavy metal aesthetics. I knew I would lose fans and followers who weren’t mature enough to understand my reasoning for working for such a popular client. In all, the response has been both positive and negative. I’ve been called a poser and a sellout, which I knew was coming.
Are you a sellout? Did you get an absurd paycheck for this?
Riddick: I charged Justin Bieber the same I charge any other client I work with. Some might think this is foolish, since Justin is well off, however, I’m a fair person. I believe in treating others fairly. There is no denying that Justin is a hard worker; his success makes this clear. He has an unimaginable amount of demand on his time; I can’t even fathom being in his shoes. Just because he’s rich doesn’t mean I should take advantage of his wealth. He earned his status and place in society just as I have. He should be treated with the same respect I treat my other clients.
It sounds like this was a positive relationship.
Riddick: The real benefit I gathered from this entire experience is that I developed some insight into the inner-workings of the pop music industry, which functions in a much different way than the metal music industry. In addition, I’d rather see Justin utilizing a metal-inspired logo made by a real professional from the industry rather than a haphazard interpretation of one. There is a sincere authenticity to the logo, and I hope it somehow resonates with the way Justin is reinventing himself and his brand.