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.