Review/Commentary: Justin Bieber is (Once Again) Under Fire by Dimitrios Siva, age 12


Bieber seeks supposed “Justice”  on new album, but rather, others demand it from him…

Westchester, NY– Thursday, March 18, 2021. The night before Justin Bieber’s album Justice, was set to drop worldwide. It started out exciting. Regions globally were getting what they wanted, songs full of features and producers. But by 8PM EST, things were looking rough. What was supposed to be an exciting day turned into one of lawsuits, controversy, and… Martin Luther King Jr.?

It was back in the hellfire of 2020 when Justin Bieber first began promoting his latest album, just months after the flaming mess that was Changes, a supposed R&B album with trap flavors that is so commercial and personality-devoid, it makes the last Imagine Dragons album look underground. What with the sappy love lyrics, the glorified Youtube documentary which made him look more like a saint than a popstar, and the: 

“Yeah, you got that yummy-yum

That yummy-yum, that yummy-yummy

Yeah, you got that yummy-yum

That yummy-yum, that yummy-yummy”

Image may contain: Human, Person, and Figurine

Bieber’s Changes, easily his worst. Source: Mike Rosenthal/Google Images

Justin Bieber had sunk to an all-time low. Unlike Changes however, Justice seemed to be looking much more adventurous. While the singles were overproduced and featured the usual lyrics for mainstream pop songs, they were much less robotic and bland than those from Changes. “Holy,” featuring the then-disgraced Chance the Rapper (right off his near-career ruining album, The Big Day), is a Christian anthem packed with lively choirs, and a groovy instrumental. “Lonely,” a song about Bieber’s struggles with fame, is compelling and well done. “Anyone,” the last single before the announcement of the album, is an electronic anthem that sticks by his wife’s side.  It was after these singles, however, that things seemed to go downhill.

February was quiet, as Bieber was getting ready to set the stage for his grand reveal, before the storm of March, which (as of writing) we are still in the midst of. The track “Hold On,” released on March 5, featured a heavily eighties aesthetic, that for some reason seems to have blatantly ripped off Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” especially during Bieber’s falsetto breaks. And while there has been some media speculation, neither Bieber nor Gotye’s team has spoken on the two songs’ similarity.

And then, March 18.

The band Justice filed a cease and desist for the album cover due to similarities to the band’s logo. To make it worse, Bieber’s team reportedly contacted them first, and later made the album cover without their permission.

The controversy didn’t end there, however. With the tracklist announcement, people learned that there would be a Martin Luther King Jr. sample placed within the album, and when it did drop, people found out that it barely made any sense in context. And while King’s family apparently gave Bieber’s team a clearance to use the sample, it set the Twittersphere, and the media in general, ablaze. “Leave it to Bieber to, however unintentionally, hold up a mirror to a culture that doesn’t want to see itself,” wrote Pitchfork. The New York Times said that he used the sample as a “a big gesture in search of equivalently ambitious commitment — political, spiritual, emotional, even musical — to bolster it.”

This could’ve led Justice to become the pop equivalent to Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V, which was blocked for years due to multiple disputes. But unlike Tha Carter V, Justice was dropped as expected, to a number one debut, beating out Morgan Wallen’s streaming giant, Dangerous: The Double Album. (Yes, that Morgan Wallen, who had actually been at number one for 10 weeks, the longest time since Drake’s Views five years ago.) 

It seems that the controversy has led to significantly fewer sales than the album could have had, however, as this was the lowest first week for any of Bieber’s albums, having sold 154,000 units in comparison to his peak of almost 650,000 with 2015’s Purpose.

Despite an underwhelming commercial performance, Justice has been receiving a lot of hype as Bieber’s best album. So, out of curiosity, I have decided to listen to the project. Here’s a track-by-track review:

  1. “2 Much”: A piano ballad made by the abrasive-EDM producer Skrillex of all people, discussing, once again, the love Bieber has for his wife. And that MLK line that starts the album off? Ugh!!
  2. “Deserve You”: An 80’s Funk/Soul song with similar lyrical content to the first track.
  3. “As I Am (Feat. Khalid)”: A modern day electro-pop jam that, while still talking about the love he has for his wife, does it from a refreshingly more moody and dark perspective.
  4. “Off My Face”: A guitar ballad packed in with a few millennial whoops that regresses back to the first two tracks, but is still pretty sincere and sweet, with the more bare instrumentation.
  5. “Holy (Feat. Chance the Rapper)”: The aforementioned Christian single that takes a more divine take on Bieber’s love for his wife.
  6. “Unstable (feat. The Kid Laroi)”: This song takes a similar approach to the third and fifth tracks.
  7. “MLK Interlude”: How is this real? Why is Martin Luther King Jr. being sampled in a Justin Bieber album, at both the beginning of the first track, and for two minutes here? Whose mind naturally thought that comparing Dr. King’s revolutionary practices to Justin’s love for his wife was a cool thing to do? Either way, I hope the King estate got a big fat check for his voice to be in this album.
  8. “Die For You (feat. Dominic Fike)”: Another 80’s song that makes no lyrical correlations to the previous track, and feels more like the last few.
  9. “Hold On”: The song that sounds like Gotye. At this point, Bieber should make a compilation of songs from his last two records and call it Ode to Wife: The Compilation.
  10. “Somebody”: Another 80’s song that has little to no defining qualities compared to the last few times he pulled out this kind of song.
  11. “Ghost”:  A fast-paced song that is actually pretty chilling, with lyrics about settling for the ghost of someone if they can’t have the most of someone. But it does have the noticeable flaw that the chorus instrumentation and verse instrumentation transition and meet together in a very cobbled together fashion that sounds rushed.
  12.  “Peaches (feat. Daniel Caesar & Giveon)”: An actually pretty fantastic summer 80’s jam, and one of the few times the 80’s revival attempts on the album really work.
  13.  “Love You Different (feat. BEAM)”: A song that is eerily similar to “What Do You Mean” back from the Purpose days of Justin’s career.
  14.  “Loved By You (feat. Burna Boy)”: An ethereal track that suddenly turns into a bland, reggaeton-inspired track that sounds more like a Latin trap version of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” than a faithful interpretation of the recent Latin wave.
  15.  “Anyone”: A relatively good intro that turns into an arena-sized, overly produced ode to his wife (for the millionth time).
  16.  “Lonely (feat. Benny Blanco)”: This is one of his best songs, but in the context of being the final song on the record, it fails to give a sense of closure and would be better fit in the midst of the first, moodier leg of the album.

Before concluding, here’s a brief overview of the Triple Chucks Deluxe version:

The opener for the deluxe, “There She Go,” features rapper Lil Uzi Vert, with the first trap production on the album. Yes, it’s another song about Bieber’s wife. 

The track  “I Can’t Be Myself” features Jaden, son of Will Smith. It is another upbeat 80’s song that has a little groove to it.

“Lifetime,” the only song with no feature, is a guitar ballad that has a few romantic lyrics.

The next track, “Wish You Would,” features Quavo, of rap trio Migos fame, with whom Bieber previously collaborated on the hit, “Intentions”. It’s another romantic trap song, akin to what you might find on Changes.

“Know No Better (feat. DaBaby)” is probably the best track here. It has an R&B groove, and some actual imperfections in the production, which makes it much more enjoyable. As for DaBaby, who has rarely sung on a track, believe it or not, begins his verse singing, and very well! I’d say that he is a more soulful singer than Justin himself. The rest of his verse is alright. It has the trademark DaBaby flow we all know, but the beat still helps it in spades.

The final track, “Name,” features Tori Kelly, and is one final guitar ballad. If you were to ask me, this should’ve been the real ending, as it ties up the theme of love and marriage running through the album.

Overall, Justice is an improvement on most fronts after Changes. Better production, better vocals, and better features. It takes more sonic risks and has a more varied palette of sound as well. However, it is marred by very formulaic lyrical content and the shameful MLK samples. 

All in all, Justin could’ve ventured into more experimental material with the genres and sounds he used than he ultimately did. But of everything he’s done since the more intimate and lyrically diverse direction he took on his 2015 album Purpose, Justice has been the best album he’s done since.

Listen to Justice

Rating: 4.6/10

You know, next album Justin, you may want to consult with lawyers before ripping off someone else’s logo. And you may also think twice about comparing one of the most influential civil rights leader’s desire for change and “Justice” to your desire for your wife. 

Regardless of the album’s quality, however, Justice was sure to be a success because of Bieber’s icon status, which isn’t likely to fade away soon. Every controversy, ever video, and every headline will all add up to Bieber’s lasting legacy as one of the true pop gods, immortal in status, and one that can’t be shaken with even the most shocking of stories.

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