Justin Bieber’s begins his new album Justice with a half-baked homage to Martin Luther King Jr. The quote he uses, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” immediately feels like an earnest attempt to show his allegiance to the cause. Considering society’s tendency to use MLK quotes as a basis for twisted arguments, it’s difficult to not see the gesture as the equivalent of slapping a black screen on Instagram with the caption, #blackouttuesday, and then calling it a year. It represents doing the bare minimum in a world that needs maximum effort from the white population to actually join the fight for social change.
I suppose it’s easy to look past that peculiar addition, as well as another MLK interlude halfway through the album, mainly because they oddly do not add anything to the overall themes of Justice. In fact, the term “justice” in general seems to bear very little resemblance to the music itself, which is honestly some of Bieber’s most exciting yet.
What made the Changes rollout in late 2019 and early 2020 so unbearably annoying were the constant pleas for added streaming numbers and the Drake-level pandering that contributed to an otherwise hollow album. Justice, meanwhile, finds the gargantuan pop star in a much more reserved, if not grounded tone. A majority of the tracks follow the basic song structure formula of short verse; billowing chorus, even shorter verse, billowing chorus; but for the most part, Bieber incorporates a good deal of soul and restraint across the original 17 tracks.
Deluxe aside, the project moves well thanks to Bieber’s insistence on keeping his ideas tight and consistent. After struggling with addiction and dealing with a rocky start to his novel marriage, it appears that Bieber has made his most authentic and forthright body of work to date.
The project seesaws between bubbling pop and soft-spoken balladry, giving the album a feathery weight that refreshingly avoids the bombast of most radio records. The intro “2 Much” is a sweet piano number that finds Bieber extracting a feeling from love’s emotional and physical presence (“Don’t close my eyes, I’m scared I’ll miss to much/Don’t wanna fall asleep, I’d rather fall in love”). “Deserve You” lives in a similar euphoric vein as “2 Much,” but the production, courtesy of frequent Post Malone contributors Andrew Watt and Louis Bell, is amplified with a more rhythmic backbone.
Unlike other Bieber projects, the stakes appear higher than ever before on Justice, even if some of the songwriting is dopey at times (“One touch, and you got me stoned”). “Ghost,” while a little muddled production-wise, exemplifies Bieber’s apparent connection with the physical and existential (“If I can’t be close to you/I’ll settle for the ghost of you”), a theme that is explored time and time again on this album.
Bieber’s two life motivators, his god and his wife, lay at the forefront of Justice with very little subtly involved. The Chance-assisted “Holy,” while a tad skeletal in concept and approach, at least carries a little more soul than prior collaborations between the two friends. The Kid Laroi collaboration “Unstable,” one of the strong points on the album, is reminiscent of Kanye West’s “Wouldn’t Leave” in its insistence on thanking another spiritual or physical being for never leaving either’s side even in life’s lowest points. Laroi and Bieber’s fluidity and “heart-on-the-sleeve” delivery are the perfect match on this atmospherically sedate instrumental.
Aside from the Khalid-assisted “As I Am”—which is probably the most cookie cutter track on the project—a majority of the features add a great deal of color to the album. Daniel Caesar and Giveon fit the cadenced, balmy breeziness of “Peaches” almost too well, while Beam and Burna Boy sit right at home on the sinuous dancehall tracks “Love You Different” and “Loved By You.”
As with most pop albums nowadays, the final song on Bieber’s latest effort is a reflective, albeit, compelling summary of his recent trials and tribulations. “And maybe that’s the price you pay/For the money and fame at an early age/And everybody saw me sick,” Bieber sings on “Lonely.” The track effectively ties the album together and allows the once tormented pop star an opportunity to hopefully begin a new chapter with a blank slate. The song, much like a lot of Justice, finds Bieber’s heart in the music rather than the streams.