Look. Justice isn’t bad, but it’s not good either. It just is.
Released just this week, Justin Bieber’s Justice has to be one of the most stylistically confusing albums that Bieber, or any of his contemporaries, has ever released. It is ambitious, presenting a cavalcade of snapshots from Bieber’s sporadic and tumultuous career. It jumps between messages, genres and styles in unorthodox and seemingly random ways. Most of the tracks on the album are good, if not great on their own (except “Peaches,” but we will get to that later).
However, when compiled together, the tracks are a seemingly senseless hodgepodge of musical ideas. It feels like an EP with singles jammed in as an afterthought. The cherry on top of all this confusion is Bieber’s choice to include a Martin Luther King Jr. speech as an interlude, and to sample another of his speeches at the beginning of “2 Much.” But at least the guest artists — Skrillex, Chance the Rapper and Daniel Caesar — are strong choices, collaborating surprisingly well with Bieber.
In some ways, Justice seems naive in its attempt to incorporate tracks that detail Bieber’s personal life (like when he beautifully describes his love for his wife Hailey) with others that try to tackle complex social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement. These two ideas never seem to connect coherently in the album, so instead of making some deeper revelation that connects individual love to wide-reaching social issues, it just seems tasteless, like couples that kiss in front of war memorials.
Bieber has claimed to want to “provide comfort to the listener,” which seems to be a hot trend in music lately. Without question, many of the ballads on this album are incredibly pleasant to listen to. Most of the music comfortably plays into pop music clichés like the bubbly dancehall feeling of “Love You Different” (which is very similar to Bieber’s 2015 hit “Sorry”), the Nickelback-like pop-rock aesthetic of “Ghost” and the almost corporate sound of “Anyone.”
Unlike in Justice, Bieber successfully incorporated R&B in his 2020 release, Changes. Additionally, Justice is far less focused — “Peaches,” for example, is downright hard to listen to. The lyrics are cringeworthy at best and derisive at worst. As I listened, I dreaded the chorus: “I got my peaches out in Georgia (Oh, yeah, shit) / I get my weed from California (That’s that shit) / I took my chick up to the North, yeah (Bad-ass bitch) / I get my light right from the source, yeah (Yeah, that’s it).”
Bieber’s vocal delivery on this track is subpar, which is further exacerbated by the mixing, which makes his voice sound like it’s in a different dimension from the rest of the song. Daniel Caesar’s and Giveon’s performances are pretty strong — but not strong enough to save this pop-R&B track from sounding like it was made by a high schooler with GarageBand.
One highlight, however, is “Lonely.” The song has a surprisingly poignant message about the estrangement and alienation that comes with fame, without sounding whiny and entitled like the many songs that tackle this message tend to. The lyrics are well-written: “Everybody knows my past now / Like my house was always made of glass / And maybe that’s the price you pay / For the money and fame at an early age.” The bare-bones delivery with minimal instrumentation creates an environment of vulnerability and opening up — the listener gets the sense that this is not a gimmick, but a declaration of Bieber’s true feelings. It’s a reminder that, despite being the “Prince Joffrey of Pop,” he’s still human.
Despite being messy and disorganized, Justice is worth listening to. There are some moments sprinkled throughout that make you think, “Maybe there’s something more to him.” Perhaps Bieber is simply still growing — and we’re listening to it along the way.
Daily Arts Writer Jason Zhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.