Let’s rewind to June 2020. The conversation around racial injustice and systemic oppression is at an all-time high. Celebrities are posting black squares and messages in support of Black Lives Matter, and artists like Justin Bieber are getting called out for being so vocal about racial injustices while never acknowledging how their music, performances, and fashion have been influenced by Black culture. However, Justin heard the criticisms, admitted to have been inspired by and benefitting off Black culture, and committed to using his platform, from that point on, to identify ways to be part of much needed change. That’s why it’s so disappointing that his new album, Justice, reeks of performative wokeness.
Announcing the project last month, on Instagram, JB told fans that his goal is to make music that will provide comfort and make people feel less alone.
“I know that I cannot simply solve injustice by making music but I do know that if we all do our part by using our gifts to serve this planet and each other that we are that much closer to being united. This is me doing a small part. My part. I want to continue the conversation of what justice looks like so we can continue to heal."
“Small part” is an overstatement. After listening to all 16 tracks, there’s actually no real mention of justice on the album. So I’m struggling to understand where Justin’s contributions to the conversation about what justice looks like are taking place.
He opens the album with a Martin Luther King Jr snippet, which feels off even before you discover how out of place it is. Then halfway through the album, Dr. King appears again on a track titled “MLK Interlude” which features the civil rights leader speaking about causes so great they are worth dying for. That interlude serves as a lead-in for track 8, “Die for You”, about Bieber’s love for Hailey Bieber: “I would walk through burning fire, even if your kiss could kill me. You know I would die for you, yeah, I would die for you.” It’s not deep. It’s not romantic. It’s shockingly tone deaf and offensive.
The most frustrating part is that you’d assume Justin would be sharing his own point of view on this album and instead he’s doing the same thing white liberals have been doing since MLK’s assassination half a century ago. Using Dr. King’s words to communicate non-threatening and palatable support for the Black community without having to do the real work. Which would involve actually looking inward and finding your own words to express how racial injustice makes you feel.
Bernice King did thank Justin on Twitter for his donation to The Martin Luther King, Jr Centre (among other donations he made in honour of the new album) and the clips were cleared by the MLK estate, but I wonder if they just cleared the tracks in which his words were featured and not the context in which the tracks appear, like right before a song about being willing to die for his wife or just generally amongst 16 tracks about love for Hailey Bieber and/or God. A more appropriate title for this project would have been Changes Part II, considering it feels like a natural continuation of his 2020 album, more than a socially conscious body of work that reflects our times.
Speaking of Hailey, another weird moment on the album appears during “Love You Different”, where Bieber sings “Under covers, ain’t no rubbers. On this planet I’ll treat you like a mother. Let’s make babies.” TMI? But we already knew there are few things Justin likes talking more about than God and that’s having sex wife his wife (“that yummy, yummy”?) and wanting kids.
Despite the album’s (huge) thematic flaws, it’s got some good material if you’re in the mood for pop songs about honeymoon bliss. Last year on Changes, it was like Justin was trying to prove to us he’s mature, like hey look, I’m married, we’re having sex, I’m grown now. This album is where his music is actually starting to sound more mature, naturally — not to mention it’s one of his best vocal performances. It is too bad nobody on his team told him to lose the whole Justice narrative or lack thereof.
Attached - Justin and Hailey at Nobu in Malibu yesterday.