Justin Bieber plays it safe, and sounds insecure as a result.
Justin Bieber is a married man now, and that's changed him, so he wants to sing about it.
That's the thesis anyway, but on the pop star's first album in five years, literally called Changes, Bieber refuses to dissect the tumultuous year of marriage he had in 2019, and instead settles for vague, tepid anecdotes about how he's "diggin" the way his wife "feels on his skin."
"Just trying to occupy my mind so that I don't go looney over you," Bieber sings, seriously on "E.T.A." "Thank you, yes, you're less than five minutes away from me. In your arms, rubbing on your face," he croons over an acoustic guitar. The 16-track mammoth is stuffed with lethargic sketches of sex and more sex, only broken up by a little bit of making out. While electro R&B fits Bieber like a glove, the production is so thinly-veiled that each track becomes indistinguishable from the next, and Bieber somehow makes emboldened love sound like poorly curated slam poetry. "Flowers open when they feel the sunlight, Moonrise, tide change, right before our eyes," He sings on "Habitual." "Aggressive but softly, you place your lips on my lips." While the sentiment is undoubtedly genuine, the result is pedestrian R&B that moves at the pace of a cardiac monitor. There are moments of fleeting vulnerability, but they are sung as brief whispers, and never lead anywhere meaningful. "Never thought I could ever be loyal to someone other than myself," Bieber sings on "All Around Me" before retreating back into his surface-level cocoon – "guess anything is possible with your help!"
R&B has always been Bieber's cruise-control. Raised as Usher's apprentice, it has remained a sound the child-star could rely on and easily navigate in times of trouble. But his 10-part YouTube series and the relentless and inappropriate promotion of "Yummy," advertised a Bieber fully ready to re-enter the spotlight and reclaim his throne. Then why does Changes sound so safe? Why is it so diluted, and why is Bieber so scared to talk about anything other than how "yummy" his wife is?
Changes sounds less like a proclamation and more like a scared little boy tip-toeing back into a world he's afraid doesn't want him anymore. In hindsight, the vicious promotion of this album all makes sense. Bieber feels insecure about his place in the genre he used to dominate, so instead of taking a modicum of creative risk, he's released a project destined to dominate the charts solely because it's "what the kids are listening to these days." The result is a project as corny and insecure as he is.