When Justin Bieber took to the Coachella stage last April as a surprise performer and promised that his album would be coming soon, he was met with roaring applause from fans who had been waiting since 2015 for a new release. In the following months, Bieber teased that the theme of his upcoming album would be similar to his under-the-radar, yet well-received compilation album “Journals” (2013). He used the hashtag #RnBieber when discussing the album, shared pictures from the studio with songwriter and producer Poo Bear (responsible for hits such as “Despacito” and “What Do You Mean?”) and even released a 10-episode Youtube Original documentary series about the album-making process titled “Seasons.” After months of buildup and underwhelming lead singles, “Changes” is Bieber’s most disappointing work to date.
As someone who grew up listening to Bieber’s music, I wanted to like an album that promised a new side of him. I expected to hear songs that pointed to Bieber as the mature, married man that he kept insisting existed. All I got was an album with repetitive beats that seem to only appeal to radio play, and lyrics that have the emotional undertone of a teenager trying to prove something to the world.
For those looking to find the second half of his 2015 chart-topper “Purpose,” it can’t be found here. Nowhere on “Changes” is there nearly the same emotional depth as his fourth album, something that even Bieber admitted to during an interview with Zane Lowe, making “Changes” feel like a filler album in Bieber’s futile quest to come up with something better. Knowing more people care about his name than his music, it seems Bieber is content with continually releasing unsubstantial music so long as it keeps his name buoyant in mainstream media.
The result is a series of tracks that try to explain the excitement that comes with marriage that end up sounding so similar that they’re entirely forgettable. The tracks “Come Around Me,” “Forever,” “Second Emotion” and “Confirmation” all start with beats that sound identical at first listen, and all of them feature generic, yet oddly possessive love lyrics that made me question whether I had already heard them before.
The lead single from “Changes” was “Yummy,” and I can confirm that it does not sound better with time. Even if it was possible to ignore the repetitive chorus that simultaneously offers no substance while also screaming “too much information,” it was hard to enjoy the verses.
In his pursuit to take Roddy Ricch’s spot on the chart, Bieber resorted to creating dozens of music videos to increase his streaming numbers, using David Dobrik’s YouTube platform in an awkward attempt to surprise fans while also promoting the single and even going so far as to instruct his fans to listen to “Yummy” on low volume while they sleep in a now-deleted instagram post. Never in Bieber’s career — not even when he was a child star releasing singles like “Baby” — has he or his team seemed so desperate to cling to relevancy. The strangest part of all of this is that there are standout tracks on this album, tracks that would have made much better lead singles if Bieber’s management wasn’t trying so hard to make it onto pop radio.
With respect to what these outstanding tracks are, the falsettos in “Habitual” are beautifully executed and prove that first and foremost, Bieber is a vocalist, and that hasn’t changed. The title track “Changes” is the most emotionally revealing song and a refreshing diversion from the rest of the album. With nothing more than an acoustic guitar and smooth vocals, the track is well-produced with a signature ending speech that is similar to the ones on “Purpose” and “All In It” (2015). He reflects on the last beats of the track, saying “people change, circumstances change, but God always remains the same.” This line seems fitting with the theme of the song, acting as a beautiful bow of closure for the track.
It’s hard to listen to a body of work that pales in comparison to Bieber’s previous albums. Save yourself the disappointment of watching a very capable young man underperform just because he can afford to.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, print edition. Email Samaa Khullar at [email protected]