Arts and Entertainment

No “Justice” for Justin Bieber

On his sixth studio album, Justin Bieber finds his voice, but the derivative lyrics and misguided nods to social justice make “Justice” another mediocre project.

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By Ismath Maksura

Pop superstar Justin Bieber rose to fame in 2009 after his debut single “One Time” broke platinum status in his home country of Canada. The 15-year-old soon went on to conquer the American music scene with his first EP, “My World” (2009), reaching startling heights of stardom, even in the earliest years of his career. Bieber is known for his commercial pop hits and a die-hard fandom, and his success is rooted in his teenage fame.

After years of living a demanding life brought on by his early stardom, Bieber took a brief hiatus from music following his marriage to Hailey Baldwin. Bieber’s domestic bliss was the subject of his fifth album “Changes” (2019), featuring the abominable track “Yummy,” regarded as one of 2020’s worst songs. Despite the suboptimal reviews “Changes” received, the album was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. However, Bieber found it “strange” that his album was nominated in that category. “Changes was and is an R&B album,” the artist posted. “I grew up admiring R&B music and wished to make a project that would embody that sound.”

Thankfully, Bieber abandoned the lite R&B of “Changes,” going back to his pop roots on his sixth studio album “Justice.” While Bieber largely does retreat back to his comfort zone on this project, the tracks still draw inspiration from genres like R&B, ‘80s dance-pop, and even rock. This variety is reinforced by the plethora of artists Bieber features on the album, including up-and-coming reggae singer Burna Boy, Chance the Rapper, Australian melodic rapper The Kid LAROI, and Khalid. Stylistically, Bieber embraces his beginnings and welcomes cross-genre influences without falling prey to the cookie-cutter contemporary R&B he released over the last few years. “Justice” shifts the focus back onto the elements that made Bieber a star.

“Justice” surprises listeners with twists and turns on each song. Whether it’s slowing down the tempo and accenting Bieber’s voice with heavy instrumentals or pumping up the synths for dance-pop tracks with ‘80s sheen, subtle changes keep listeners captivated for the entire tracklist. On “Die For You,” Bieber pairs with Dominic Fike, an alternative hip-hop/rock artist, to create a classic chart hit veering into pop-rock territory. “Hold On,” a track featuring a modern-pop feel with pumping synths and a pounding bass groove, features one of Bieber’s strongest vocal performances in the collection. The ‘80s-inspired instrumentals continue on “Somebody,” while the subsequent track “Ghost” kicks off with an electronic beat smoothly fading into acoustic guitar and contrasting passages of tender harmonizing and solid vocals. Bieber slows down on “Peaches,” one of the few non-pop tracks, and partners with Daniel Caesar and Gideon. With its relaxed melodies, lush vocals, and seamless instrumentals, the warm, sunkissed R&B song is one that’ll get stuck in your head. Outside of its impressive sound, “Peaches” fails lyrically, with its most meaningful lines being about peaches and pot.

This shortcoming seems to be the case throughout the tracklist: “Justice” succeeds sonically but falls flat with its lyrics, singing about the joys of his married life with prosaic, unimaginative lyricism. Bieber occasionally sings about his experience with self-hatred, feelings of loneliness, and his maturation—notably on the piano-backed track “Lonely”—but these raw, confessional lyrics are overshadowed by his saccharine and shallow testimonies about religion and marriage. While those topics are not necessarily unwelcome, “Justice” fails to bring a new story to light and regurgitates the contents of your run-of-the-mill wedding ballad or love song. Especially compared with the intensity and vulnerability of some individual lines, the album does not live up to lyrical expectations.

Even with lines as unoriginal as “I will love you different, just the way you are,” perhaps the most significant shortcoming of “Justice” is its title. The issue is that the album is not about justice in any way. The opener, “2 Much,” begins with a famous quote from American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” After Bieber promised to use his platform “to speak up about racial injustice,” listeners were anticipating a strong message condemning bigotry or promoting social change. Instead, MLK’s voice is followed by a two-minute ballad dedicated to Bieber’s wife, featuring odes to Aerosmith and formulaic lyrics. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time Bieber samples MLK on the album. The seventh track is a lengthy snippet of Dr. King’s “But If Not” sermon. MLK’s words about dedicating one’s life to fighting for justice are sandwiched in between two songs highlighting his thankfulness for his wife and detailing his commitment to her, “Unstable” and “Hold On.”

The ill-advised inclusion of these MLK excerpts seems to be nothing more than a cash grab. Riding the wave of content inspired by the resurgence of several social justice movements, “Justice” aims to capitalize on our ever-changing political climate by sprinkling in some conventional messages about justice rather than delivering strong, meaningful messages on the topic. This incorporation is exceptionally egregious when considering the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last few months. The album’s lyrical shortcomings and surface-level messages are only worsened by such weak attempts to be relevant.

With its expert production, “Justice” is one of Bieber’s smoothest albums to date. Still, the ear candy is overshadowed by the miserable failure of the messages behind the tunes, resulting in a mishmash of sappy love songs, simplistic messages about religion, and a few stray introspective pieces all tied together with a misleading title. On “Justice,” Bieber seems to have found his sound, but his search for meaningful subject matter and original lyrics continues.