There’s seizing a cultural moment, then there’s putting one of the greatest orators who ever lived on your album as a tone-deaf wheeze. Justin Bieber’s sixth studio album, Justice, opens with Martin Luther King Jr urging a firm stand against injustice; a later MLK interlude exhorts people to meet society’s challenges with moral courage.
Somehow, Bieber’s takeaway here is a solipsistic, God-bothering set of gushing pop songs about the redemptive powers of romantic love. “I can’t breathe without you,” he sings on Deserve You; “there were times when I couldn’t even breathe,” he adds on Unstable – not out of solidarity with victims of police brutality, but as a metaphor for needing his partner, or as a symptom of anxiety.
Dr King’s speech equates a lack of courage in the face of injustice as a kind of living death: Bieber follows up with an 80s dance-pop tune called Die for You, in which he vows to lay down his life for his wife. Meantime, songs like Peaches inform fans that Bieber endorses Georgia’s totem fruit crop and California-grown weed. Funniest pandemic record, hands down.