Justin Bieber, “Justice”
The dawn of a new album cycle for Justin Bieber represents a swift turnaround (even if Atlanta saw it coming); Justice, his sixth record, arrives a mere 13 months after 2020’s Changes. And while Changes spawned a few undeniable hits and some (controversial) Grammy nominations, there was no denying that its reception was comparatively muted. It had the feel of a pop culture giant not yet irrelevant, but no longer at the peak of his powers.
The good news, though, is that Bieber hunkered down during the pandemic and crafted a disarmingly likable pop album. Justice is markedly more confident than its predecessor, sometimes even too confident; the hilariously misplaced Martin Luther King Jr. interludes (sandwiched indiscriminately between cooing, apolitical love songs) are not materially different from, like, SpaghettiOs shouting out Black Lives Matter on Instagram.
But elsewhere, that confidence unshackles Bieber to try new things; while Changes was dialed into its R&B grooves to a fault, Justice is more interested in expanding Bieber’s reach. There’s a deceptive level of texture and variety here—Bieber stakes out an agreeable middle ground between warm familiarity and bold diversion. “Ghost” balances the sweep of a house anthem with a bedroom acoustic ballad; “Holy” is indebted to guest Chance the Rapper’s uplifting gospel pop. “Peaches,” a highlight, is smooth and sunny; album closer “Lonely” is reflective and anguished.
Bieber’s love songs can still be a bit too doe-eyed for their own good. Intro “2 Much,” which mopes that “Two seconds without you is like two months,” is particularly eyeroll-inducing. But there’s also an endearing wholesomeness to Justice. He’s happily married, reflective about his darkest times, and pushing himself musically even though he doesn’t need to. It suggests that despite strange evolutions in the current pop landscape, Bieber is built to last.