Justin Bieber has finally found himself. “Justice,” Bieber’s newest album, acts as a vessel for the artist to express his idea of what love means — a theme that has followed him throughout his career. Yet, it seems he has been able to capture everything he has alluded to in the past with this new album. As such, “Justice” might be one of Bieber’s best, a true work of art forged by love.
Prior to the release of the album, Bieber released two singles: “Holy,” featuring Chance the Rapper, and “Lonely,” with production by benny blanco. Bieber lays the groundwork for his personal journey throughout the album in “Holy” and “Lonely,” where he tackles how he went from feeling lonesome to finding happiness in communal religion. After being in the spotlight for 12 years, Bieber has had his ups and downs, both personally and professionally. Over the years, he’s had several run-ins with the law on account of vandalism, drugs, DUIs and fights with the paparazzi. In his song “Lonely,” Bieber reflects on his past transgressions, expresses remorse for his mistakes, provides context and describes his mental health struggles. His reflection is honest and heartbreaking, and allows listeners to get a new look inside Bieber’s mind and memories.
Bieber sings about his mental health struggles in “Lonely,” “What if you had it all/But nobody to call?/Maybe then you’d know me/’Cause I’ve had everything/But no one’s listening /And that’s just f—ing lonely.” Bieber is fragile, vulnerable and authentic. He is unafraid to share that with his fans. The way his voice breaks as he goes in and out of his head voice on the word “lonely” in the chorus demonstrates his cry for help, like an injured bird warbling for someone to listen.
Delving into a new topic, Bieber describes his long-lasting relationship with religion in the song “Holy” when he sings, “I hear a lot about sinners/Don’t think that I’ll be a saint/But I might go down to the river/’Cause the way that the sky opens up when we touch/Yeah, it’s makin’ me say/That the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me / Feels so holy.” Bieber recognizes his past mistakes and hopes for a promising future. He seems to relish the word “holy” as sacred, repeating it throughout the song as if he’s reliving the experience of being with his wife, Hailey Baldwin.
The soft vocals, wispy use of piano, subdued percussion and backing vocals in “Holy” mirror the sounds of gospel choirs, making his messages of faith and love crystal clear. The entirely new sound is a welcome departure from the teenage-heartthrob pop songs of his past.
“Holy” is undoubtedly a celebration of the gospel music genre. In the chorus, the background singers echo Bieber when they belt out “on God” and emphasize the word “God.” At the end of the song, the backing vocals get louder during the chorus, as more singers riff and improvise. One cannot help but feel uplifted by the synergy of these many voices. As the song progresses, the vocals and accompaniment become more joyful, urging listeners to sing and dance along.
As the album progresses, we see a more complete Bieber in “2 Much,” “Unstable,” featuring The Kid LAROI, and “Hold On.” He celebrates the love he found with his wife and the love he has found within himself.
The singer expands on his understanding of love in “Hold On” and talks about being there for the person you love, allowing them to “hold on” to you when they need a hand. I loved both of these songs, as they not only reflect his love for Baldwin, but also hone in on specific ways in which the couple loves each other. The lyrics were incredibly personal and moving, and the vocals matched in terms of intensity and passion.
In one of my favorite tracks on the album, “Off My Face,” Bieber references Baldwin when he sings, ‘Cause I’m off my face, in love with you/I’m out my head, so into you/And I don’t know how you do it/But I’m forever ruined by you.” This simple, beautiful ode to his wife, composed of fine guitar picking and airy falsetto notes, makes the listener feel as if the artist is singing directly to them. Bieber’s easy vocals and smooth, river like riffs make the listener feel warm and fuzzy, entirely at ease.
In “As I Am,” Bieber pushes forward the message of loving someone the way they are and emphasizes the importance of self-love and being supported by loved ones. Although the sentiment is slightly trite, the lyrics and passionate vocal delivery make it sweet. Bieber pushes forward when he sings, “Take me as I am, swear I’ll do the best I can/Say, ‘I’m not goin’ anywhere.” The bright, eager vocals from both Bieber and Khalid and the subdued piano during the verses emulate a confession. Lyrically, the singers are open and honest, letting listeners into their minds and hearts with their heartfelt delivery. Echoing, high-pitched synth and intense percussion build up to the upbeat, catchy chorus, persuading listeners to sing along and chant.
In “Ghost,” Bieber sings about making the most of his time on earth. Bieber sings, “If I can’t be close to you/I’ll settle for the ghost of you/I miss you more than life/And if you can’t be next to me/Your memory is ecstasy/I miss you more than life.” The floaty synth, brassy guitar strumming and heady vocals make listeners feel as if they are listening to an elegy Bieber has prepared for his loved ones. When he sings that he “misses her more than life,” it seems as if Bieber is thinking about the future and we are listening to him worship his love’s memory, as it is the only thing he has left after her death.
The tone of the album changes again with the song “Peaches, featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon,” an upbeat R&B tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. that’s also about the feeling of being with a girl you love. Bieber attempts to honor Dr. King through his lyrics, and although the melody is catchy, the two subjects do not mix well. While Giveon and Daniel Caesar provide rich, soulful vocals that add to the R&B vibe, the lyrics in the verses and chorus do not match thematically. The song is catchy and makes listeners want to sing along, but lyrically, it’s all over the place.
Similarly, in “2 Much” Bieber samples Dr. King saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” While this clip resonates with both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter, it doesn’t fit with the content of the song. “2 Much” is primarily about Bieber’s time with his wife, and how he doesn’t want to “close his eyes” for fear of missing too much. Bieber does not reconcile his aspirations for world justice and racial equality with his feelings about his marriage. As a result, the song’s overall message is blurry.
However, this is not the only instance in which King is intertwined with Bieber’s music. Bieber features a second clip of King speaking in the track “MLK Interlude.” In a time when racial prejudice is at all-time high and the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum, Bieber’s decision to add King’s voice is timely, yet somewhat inappropriate and ill-fitting for the album.
While I understand that he was trying to promote a cause he believes in, he should have dedicated an entire song to the topic rather than sprinkling in audio clips here and there. Throwing in random clips of King, speaking into his songs about love and self-love is confusing and doesn’t honor the civil rights activist’s legacy properly.
Despite the fact that “Justice” isn’t really about justice, the beautiful pop ballads about love and self-love are some of Bieber’s best work to date. My only real qualm with “Justice” is Bieber’s attempt to call for racial equality and civil rights. After videos of Bieber saying the N-word and making prejudiced jokes in 2014 resurfaced, Bieber’s inclusion of King’s audio clips feel performative — like a shortsighted attempt to prove to his fans he’s anti-racist. Although I recognized the idea, the tribute to King and goal of calling for justice was not fulfilled.
“Justice” is a complex, intricate album that I’ve had on repeat for the past week. It made me think about love and all of the ways we express it, and how we should really learn to love ourselves as much as we love others. His heartfelt, ardent salutes to his wife and their love are gorgeous, and his joy is contagious. Give “Justice” a listen. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Email Maya Mehrara at [email protected]