One year and one month since the release of Changes, an album he feels was miscategorised as a pop record by the Grammys because “it is undeniably, unmistakably an R&B album”, Justin Bieber is back sooner than expected with his sixth album, and it’s his poppiest yet. Unmistakably so.
Dialling in a gospel choir and his friend Chance the Rapper, the 27-year-old kicks this era off with Holy, the head-in-hands lead single that celebrates his two biggest loves: God, and his wife, Hailey Baldwin. Baldwin (the daughter of the actor Stephen) is the main subject and saviour on Justice, but don’t let their marital status distract from the fact that Bieber is returning to a state of shameless pop.
The Canadian megastar dials down the ego and drums up a message of optimism on the Skrillex-produced Somebody and the Afropop-leaning Loved by You, featuring the Nigerian singer Burna Boy. Humility from millionaires can feel patronising – remember when half of Hollywood covered John Lennon’s Imagine? – but Bieber hits the right notes.
The album was recorded in Toronto and Los Angeles, where he lives with Baldwin, and his hitmaking team captures universal lockdown struggles and filters them through Bieber’s life lens. “When I was broken in pieces, you were my peace of mind,” he sings on Unstable, the downbeat collaboration with the 17-year-old Aussie rapper the Kid Laroi.
The isolation blues continue on the emotional Ghosts, a song that deals with the absence of a loved one: “And if I can’t get close to you, I’ll settle for the ghost of you.” And if we can’t travel this summer, the West Coast bounce on Peaches is just the ticket.
While he doesn’t explore any new territory, Bieber borrows familiar sounds for comfort, with Deserve You striking 1980s power-ballad gold and Off My Face serving soft-rock stylings and drunk-in-love double entendres. Hold On comes with a punchbag of an upbeat chorus, but the real coup is Die for You. Introduced by a Martin Luther King audio clip (“If you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live”), this playful duet with Dominic Fike takes the personality of Michael Jackson’s Beat It and the joy of Hall and Oates’ Maneater to create a home-disco remedy until dance floors open back up.
Created when he was locked in and feeling down, Justice sees Bieber loosen up – and it’s a relief, because, as hesitant as he is to be a popstar, he plays the role so well.