On Friday 19 March 2021, Justin Bieber dropped his sixth album Justice, returning to his pop roots after a questionable attempt at an R&B album with last year’s Changes. The 27-year-old Canadian singer surfaces this time with honesty and versatility, but the 16-track record still feels limited by its conflicting messages.
The album opens with a voiceover of civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jr. stating, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, which sets us up to believe that Bieber will sing about the state of the world today. Instead, it fades into the first track, ‘2 Much’, a song about Bieber being desperately in love with his wife Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin). This misleading choice pops up again in ‘MLK Interlude’ halfway through the record, where King’s voice returns, speaking about how important it is to find a cause to die for. The following song, ‘Die For You’ (featuring Floridian singer Dominic Fike), is a saccharine love song which, despite being a decent 80s pop-rock tinged tune, feels inappropriate following King’s passionate speech.
If you somehow make it past the tone-deaf inclusion of King’s speeches, you’re left with a coherent pop album which sees Bieber dipping his toes into new sonic territory. Songs like ‘Deserve You’ and ‘Somebody’ give into the 80s nostalgia sound that has circulated through mainstream hits in the past year from artists like The Weeknd and Dua Lipa. He even dabbles in Afropop infused sounds on ‘Loved By You’, a track that features one of Afrobeat’s superstars, Burna Boy. The album navigates well between these different genres with the help of Bieber’s versatile and matured vocals, and features from a range of artists including dancehall star BEAM and Chance the Rapper.
The standout track is arguably ‘Peaches’, a warm song with an undeniable groove that leaves you pining for summer. While Bieber sounds comfortable on this track, it’s the features from Grammy-winner Daniel Caesar and rising R&B star GIVĒON that steal the show. Caesar swoops in with his smooth vocals which feel refreshingly relaxed after Bieber sings a slightly rushed chorus (if you agree, check out NPR’s Tiny Desk version for a jazzier rendition). Nevertheless, ‘Peaches’ is an undeniable hit which is sure to be playing everywhere as we creep into warmer weather.
Lyrically, the album is simple and rote, centring themes of devotion to his wife and his faith, but often feels weighed down by Bieber’s confessions of insecurities and self-loathing with lyrics like “I hate the way I need to be loved by you” and “sometimes I don’t know why you love me”. While the vulnerability is appreciated, it culminates into something that feels dark, especially as it comes six years after the popstar begged for forgiveness in the chart-topper ‘Sorry’. It seems Bieber is still confronting his demons, but his earnest confessions are overshadowed by the palatable and routinely crafted pop music they inhabit.
Justice closes with two contrasting ballads: the monumental single ‘Anyone’ and a slightly self-pitying ‘Lonely’ that nonetheless makes you empathise with the “idiot kid” Justin Bieber admits he once was. This album shows that the former teen sensation continues to grow from his troubled past using the love he feels for others to heal, communicated by songs that feel equally calculated but more vulnerable than his previous releases. If you can ignore its non-committal nods to injustices that extend past Justin Bieber’s personal struggles with love and self-worth, Justice might just be the pop album you need right now.
– Amelia Lumme
Featured Image Source: Still via ‘2 Much’, Justin Bieber // YouTube