Back in April 2020, Justin and Hailey Bieber hopped onto Kendall Jenner’s Instagram Live to have a chat about their lives during lockdown. In it, they admit that life has been difficult for those struggling with their daily expenses, acknowledging how the pandemic has been a negative impact for many.
“And, you know, they look at us, and obviously, we worked hard for where we’re at so it’s like we can’t feel bad for, you know, the things that we have, but I think just us taking that time to acknowledge that there are people who are struggling is important,” Justin asserts.
Social media was quick to pile on accusations about him being “tone-deaf” despite his come-up from nothing during his YouTube days (though, the same can’t be said for Hailey and Kendall). Still, it felt like he was putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound; where public acknowledgement was somehow enough to inspire the masses to make a change.
Justice, his 6th studio album, evokes the exact same feeling but in album form.
The first track is a chief example of this. Opening the record off with Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, Justin then proceeds to sing…about loving his wife? It’s a baffling way to make use of the MLK sample and fails to justify why it was even needed.
“2 Much” itself is a decent enough track, reminding me of Purpose opener “Mark My Words” with their sombre piano instrumentals and soothing vocals. Not too ambitious while feeling vulnerable enough to set the tone for a potentially revealing record.
Following that are “Deserve You”, “As I Am” and “Off My Face”, all also love songs dedicated to his wife (or a past flame). Same goes for “Unstable”, “Die For You” and literally every other track on the album other than “Lonely”, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Setting the music aside for a moment, it makes the MLK interlude stick out like a sore thumb. It reeks of performative activism and thoroughly dilutes the message that Justin believed he was going for.
Focusing solely on the music, however, there is a severe difference in quality when it comes to the album cuts and the singles. Tracks like “Holy”, “Hold On” and “Anyone” each have a distinct quality that leaves a strong impression needed for a hit pop song – like a sticky bass line, bouncy beat or an absolute belter of a performance.
“Peaches” with Daniel Caesar and Giveon, the best song on Justice, excels at having distinct qualities. The groovy R&B production, smooth as honey contributions from its guest stars and an infinitely addictive chorus, all add up to arguably one of Justin Bieber’s best tracks ever.
Speaking of his best tracks ever, “Lonely” with Benny Blanco is a heartbreaking ballad on Justin’s teenage years as a global superstar. A revealing look at how its like to mature under the scrutiny of the world, and a stellar showcase of how emotional Justin’s vocals can get.
Ultimately, the singles are the best parts of Justice and with those qualities I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to tell which songs are gonna end up getting radio play in the future too (*ahem* “Deserve You” *ahem*).
This isn’t too say the album cuts are bad. Most of them are actually pretty enjoyable but in comparison to the singles, I can’t help but feel that there wasn’t a same amount of care that was put into these songs.
At their best, they reminded me of the great electro-pop tracks from Purpose. At their worst, they sound like standouts from the one-note snooze fest that was Changes. All of them though, felt like Justin Bieber on cruise control. Songs that he could have done in his sleep despite their strong showings.
Though I do have to mention the 3-track run of “Peaches”, “Love You Different” and “Loved By You” which are all, again, good tracks. However, their inclusion on Justice does slightly rub me the wrong way. Given the strong pop focus of the record, the sudden shift towards R&B, Latin Pop and Dancehall felt like Justin drawing up a checklist off sounds to game genre playlists.
It doesn’t help that they’re all shoved towards the end like an afterthought. It just feels a bit scummy after the gross misuse of MLK’s presence on the album.
Justice is Justin Bieber’s best album since Purpose and one of the strongest in his discography. Despite its flaws, it’s still a very much enjoyable record that, unfortunately, completely squanders the thematic narrative that Justin halfheartedly set-up with its title and promotional rollout.