By Jayleen Rolon
Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Bieber has become a household name since his rise to fame at age 14 with his hit song “Baby” featuring Ludacris, which accumulated over 2 billion views on YouTube since its release. His music has become unavoidable as he regularly tops the charts, making him a face of contemporary pop. Needless to say, Bieber has set a high standard for himself when he releases new music.
“Justice” opens with “2 Much,” a love song about savoring every moment with your significant other because any moment away from them is torturous. Bieber sings, “‘Cause eternity with you ain’t long enough,” which paints the picture of exploring the limbo between day and night while feeling content with your partner.
Shifting gears to a higher-energy song, Bieber admits that he feels inferior to his love, but still needs them in “Deserve You.” I found this message powerful of a man to say that he needs his partner, as toxic masculinity tends to shame men for being dependent in any context. Bieber sings, “I’m prayin’ that I don’t go back to who I was,” and here he finds renewal in his relationship that he hopes is not fleeting.
Next is my personal favorite “As I Am,” which features talented singer-songwriter Khalid, a vulnerable yet dance worthy plea for acceptance. Khalid and Bieber belt out, “Take me as I am, swear I’ll do the best I can / Say ‘I’m not goin’ anywhere’” in a beautiful merge between loyalty and insecurity. The entire song asserts that sometimes a relationship is faith when there is nothing else to do, a powerful and honest message.
“Off My Face,” a gentle love song, is a serenade about being intoxicated by love. If you’re looking for a song to slow dance to, this is it, although the message is not original, it is still aesthetically pleasing. “And I don’t know how you do it / But I’m forever ruined by you,” sings Bieber in the chorus, melting hearts everywhere to the soft instrumental of his guitar.
The role of religion in a relationship is explored in “Holy,” which features Chance the Rapper in an unexpected pair between subject matter and artist. Aside from the use of the slang phrase “on God” and Chance’s reference to marijuana that made me laugh due to the religious context of the song, “Holy” uses a tambourine and piano combo to emulate the energy of a church. “’Cause the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me / Feels so holy,” sings Bieber, referencing the innocent physical touch that is a love language for a lot of people.
The tone drastically shifts in “Unstable,” a heartfelt expression of gratitude for support during struggles with mental health, featuring The Kid LAROI. “Never know when my mind’s gonna turn on me / But you’re the one I call for security,” sings LAROI in a relatable articulation of the importance of stability in a relationship when suffering from mental health-related issues.
The next track is the interlude, which is a recording of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech where he speaks about living through taking on the courageous task of fighting for justice. Personally, this interlude coupled with the short snippet of MLK’s voice in the beginning of “2 Much” along with the title of the album, felt out of place in regards to the subject matter of love. Civil rights advocacy relies on love and respect, yes, but there isn’t a clear connection between Bieber’s love for his wife and the fight for justice MLK and many others speak of. It even felt a little tone deaf to imply that connection in an era of advocating for racial equality, especially coming from a white man. For Bieber to use the aesthetic of human rights advocacy without so much as a single song dedicated to the cause feels performative.
In “Hold On,” Bieber returns the emotional support given to him by his partner. Given the serious subject matter of depression, the upbeat sound is an interesting contrast with the solemn lyrics of “Painting stars up on your ceiling / ‘Cause you wish that you could find some feeling.” This song coupled with “Unstable” emphasizes the fact that relationships should be 50/50 with mutual support between partners.
“Peaches,” a double feature with Daniel Caesar and GIV?ON, is a chill song about not being tied down. The lyrics confused me at first, due to the ambiguous nature of the song. “I can’t pretend, I can’t ignore, you’re right for me / Don’t think you wanna know just where I’ve been,” sings GIV?ON, providing clarity to the message of not committing to one place or person.
In the third feature in a row, this time with Nigerian singer Burna Boy, “Loved By You” brings distaste for the dependency discussed in “Deserve You.” Lyrics like “(All I do) is wait around and hate myself / Oh, I hate the way I need to be loved by you” treat his desire for her love as if it were a flaw that he could do without. This song compliments “Love You Different” given their similar style and levels of energy, despite the more negative outlook of the latter track.
Last up is “Lonely,” an unusually raw tale of the harmful effects of childhood fame on mental health, which was produced by Benny Blanco. I’ve heard this song a number of times already, as it was released in October of 2020 and made number 12 on Billboard Hot 100 and number five on the Global 200. Bieber sings sadly, “What if you had it all / But nobody to call?” to the sound of a piano. This single is the outlier of the album in terms of topic, and makes me wonder whether it was better off as a stand alone single.
Despite the wide variety of featured artists and sounds in “Justice,” the theme of love is repeated throughout. Repetition is not inherently a bad thing, but it begs to question why Bieber didn’t take the opportunity to branch out in subject matter. If you’re in love, you love love, or you’re Hailey Rhode Baldwin Bieber, you’ll appreciate the many ways Bieber expresses his love and gratitude. If not, maybe a song or two will suffice.