*Not published because no photo with caption and credit, no bio photo for author, no feature photo, and also missing full tags.
On February 26, 2021, Justin Bieber took to Instagram to announce the debut of his newest album JUSTICE, to be released on March 19, 2021. The word justice in our contemporary world carries a lot of emotion and power, especially during the current situation of the pandemic and the high energy of the Black Lives Matter movement. In his post, Bieber describes that his goal in creating this album is to “make music that will provide comfort, to make songs that people can relate to and connect to so they feel less alone. Suffering, injustice, and pain can leave people feeling helpless.” He goes on to say “I know 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 much closer to being united.” Bieber acknowledges the power of the word justice and admits that his album is not a sermon of justice. Rather, it is a vehicle that can serve to provide a perspective of the intersectionality of injustice, in hope of spreading a tone of empathy, awareness, and building a supportive climate. In doing so there is optimism that cohesively, as a society, we move toward breaking down social barriers and arriving at a shared understanding of lived experience, to accomplish justice and healing across a plethora of marginalized communities. For Bieber, he speaks to the injustice he faced in the music industry at a young age and how it negatively impacted his mental health. In his lyrics he describes how the genuine love and care he received from his now wife, Hailey Bieber, was /is a guiding source out of his pain and toward recovery and happiness.
There is a synthesized flow of sounds that tie the songs together that make it a unique pop album. The prominent use of drums and the upbeat, repeated heartbeat rhythm of the electric guitar in the chorus of the song “Die For You,” provide sonics that shift toward the pop-rock side of the spectrum. “Hold On” is a combination of a beginning of electro-pop sounds and an intertwining of pop rock after the beat drop with a constant swift drum beat. “Ghost” has an intro of a lite electronic beat that transitions into a chorus with dominant sounds of folk-like acoustic guitar strokes. “Holy” and “Peaches” share similarity in their warm sounds and upbeat energy that give the songs a calming flow, weaving the sounds to themes of security and happiness in the songs with the lyrics about embracing one another and “feeling so holy” and how “the way [we] lift [each other] up” provides a sense of love and safety. Bieber also includes the voice of MLK in two of the singles of the album- one entirely dedicated to the voice of MLK, titled “MLK Interlude”. MLK’s voice in “2 Much” is accompanied by a soft gospel tone in the background of his speech “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. In “MLK Interlude”, his voice is powerful and outspoken with a static light sound in the background for a minute and forty-four seconds. Bieber has received a lot of critical reviews for including such powerful archives. Though unintentional, coming from a white male singing about his love life with his wife, it can be interpreted as a disingenuous way to advertise Bieber’s support of Black people and an ambiguous call to the consideration of the Black Lives Matter movement. Pitchfork writer Rawiya Kameir stating “Leave it to Bieber to, however unintentionally, hold up a mirror to a culture that doesn’t want to see itself.”
MLK’s voice within the space of the lyrics was a strong standout aspect of the album. While Bieber used these spaces in his platform to spread the voice of MLK to his immense fan base, I found that it sonically interrupted the album. MLK’s voice first appears in Bieber’s “2 Much”, for only a few seconds preaching “injustice everywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” The famous, iconic words of MLK that carry great historical significance are tuned out as the song transitions into Biebers lyrics about his need to be in the constant company of his wife, Haley Bieber, in fear that without her he would be incomplete. The stand-alone “MLK Interlude” is not accompanied by the artist’s use of sound. It falls in between two songs “Unstable” which is filled with deeper, more solom sounds and about toxicity of relationships, and “Die For You”, which it upbeat and talks about his dedication to, once again, his wife. Though I believe that the sounds and MLK voice diverge, Bieber’s message and the way the songs are organized is metaphorical for what MLK is preaching about. “MLK’s Interlude” speaks about finding a passion to die for, a greater principle than oneself and overcoming the fear to do so because of social pressures, stating “you are dead in spirit in refusal to stand up for justice.” It has symbolic placement between these two singles. “Unstable” recounts Bieber’s struggle with mental health and drug abuse which lead him down a path of self-destruction and suicide attempts. He sings about how he was “broken in pieces” as he “tired to ween and get off it”. He was “unstable” and “unable to love himself”- that “these memories have been so toxic”. It is almost as though Bieber comes out of the interlude with a new found perspective on life which he speaks to in his song referencing MLK, “Die For You”. He sings about how its “pain and passion” has brought him to his “desire”. He refers to Hailey metaphorically as the “angel in the flames” who “pulled him out”, and that because of this, “[he] would die for [her]/ the rest of [his] life for [her]”. Bieber sings about facing his fears and finding salvation in his marriage with Hailey- her possibly being a representation of being the “something so precious [to Bieber] that [he] would die for.” (interlude) Bieber and MLK come from two very different paths in life but both speak to facing injustices and overcoming suffering.
As a white, heterosexual, cis male, Bieber speaks to the injustice he experienced growing up in a world of fame and immense social pressures. Bieber is not saying that his injustice is more important than the one MLK is fighting for but rather applying MLK’s messages on the meaning of where justice, in any realm of life, can take you to heal. The song “Lonely”, speaks to the injustice Bieber faced in the commodification of his talent at a young age as a source of wealth and projection of pop-culture. His lyrics clearly call out the industry as he sings “maybe that’s the price you pay/ for money and fame at an early age”. Going on the sign about how he would “[look] in a mirror, [try] to steady [himself]/ and see somebody else” because “no one [was] listening” to his voice and personal desires. This neglect led him to feel “so lonely” and the sorrowful sounds of the song amplify this. It reveals Bieber’s internal struggle to create his own authentic identity and the silencing of his voice in an industry that forced him to conform to capitalist perceptions of the image that would yield him the greatest success. Holistically his album speaks to his own experiences of injustice and the felt emotions of pain, suffering, and loneliness. It recognizes these emotions and the journey he has taken to reach a healthy, stable point in his life. The lyrics in the album primarily reference Hailey and the redemption his marriage has brought him to be a happier, healthier individual and smoothly converge with the artist’s use of sounds. His relationship with his wife has been a guiding source in the healing process of his mental health and is metaphorical for his journey to finding justice. Compared to his 2013 album Journals in which he signs about toxic relationships, instability, and hurt, the lyrics in JUSTICE encourage spreading love, having faith, and how the strength of unity can establish a supportive, soothing climate.
In her book An Archive of Feeling, Ann Cvetkovich speaks about how in expressing trauma in public culture, we can connect our felt emotions from different injustices and come to reach a therapeutic phenomenon. She describes how “trauma cultures are actually doing the work of therapy; rather than a model in which privatized affective responses displace collective or political ones.” Whereas traditionally notions of trauma were ignored and seen as social political issues to be veiled from society, Cvetkovich explains the power in pervading the public sphere with affective life and expressing trauma in order to combat injustices of exploitation and oppression. JUSTICE serves as an storytelling of feeling in which sensational pop-star Bieber recognizes the affective experience of being commodified and silenced. Bieber’s goal in the album is not to provide a definition of justice or a certain way it can be accomplished but rather to provide his own recount of his struggle to connect with a greater circumference of individuals who have felt hardships of being devalued humanly. In sharing his own story, JUSTICE is its own archive of feelings to be interpreted and felt differently by millions of lived experiences.
This piece is part of the on-going series “The Social and Political Commentary of Music Reviews,” which is part of an Alternative Journalism course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Christine Capetola.