- Justin Bieber’s new album “Justice” begins with a famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
- It also has a song called “MLK Interlude,” which is an excerpt of a 1967 sermon delivered by King.
- The album has nothing to do with civil rights. Sampling the activist is performative.
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The first voice you hear on Justin Bieber’s newest album does not belong to the pop star himself. Bizarrely, it belongs to Martin Luther King Jr.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It’s one of the late activist’s most famous quotes, delivered in his immediately recognizable baritone.
It’s also the only time the hefty concept of “injustice anywhere” is broached, and one of just two times the word “justice” is used on the album, which is somehow titled “Justice.” Bieber himself never says it.
After King’s brief intro, Bieber launches into a set of lyrics about love so grand that he doesn’t even want to sleep, lest he squanders one second that could be spent staring at his wife.
The opening song, titled “2 Much,” is much too representative of the 16-song tracklist.
In fact, 14 of those songs tread the same lyrical terrain. Like 2020’s underwhelming “Changes,” Bieber spends nearly the entire album singing about Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin), their relationship, and how he sees marriage as a balm for self-hatred.
The only exceptions include the closing track, “Lonely,” which describes child stardom’s toll on Bieber’s psyche.
The other is “MLK Interlude,” a one-minute and 44-second excerpt of one of King’s lesser-known sermons from 1967.
“I say to you this morning, that 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,” King begins in the clip.
He goes on to say that if you refuse “to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause,” then your spirit is already dead.
“You died when you refused to stand up for justice,” he concludes – though the final word is cut off very quickly, perhaps intentionally, so it sounds like he’s saying “Justin.”
The very next song is called “Die For You,” in which Bieber sings that he “would walk through burning fire” for “the type of girl you only dream about.”
-RacismSummitBookingAgent (@KirkWrites79) March 19, 2021
Sampling King feels empty and reductive when the album has nothing to do with civil rights
Bieber told Vogue that he wanted to “amplify Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice to this generation.”
“I think his message was that a lot of people can be afraid to stand up for what is right,” he said, “but if you’re not standing up for justice – for what is right – what are you doing with your life?”
What’s baffling – and somewhat embarrassing – is that Bieber spends exactly zero seconds on this album “standing up for justice” in his own words.
“I’m sorry to get so deep, but these are the times we’re living in,” he added in his Vogue interview. “That’s why I wanted to make this album because I think it’s very timely and very necessary.”
And yet, there isn’t one song on “Justice” that can be described as “very timely and very necessary.”
Instead of examining and engaging with King’s message, much less educating himself on the radical progress that King actually fought for, Bieber isolates and bastardizes his words. He attempts to conflate them with his own personal views on romance, sex, and domesticity.
In conjunction with the album, the 27-year-old singer did announce his support of several social justice organizations, including The King Center. King’s daughter, Bernice King, also gave the album her stamp of approval on Twitter.
After the historic protests of 2020, Bieber is clearly trying to align himself with Black Lives Matter. But the album makes no explicit mention of racial issues like discrimination or police brutality.
There’s nothing in Bieber’s own words to address the inequalities that infect every corner of our society, including the music industry.
-????☠️B-MO????☠️ (@BIMMERBRYCEO) March 19, 2021
To be clear, there is no requirement for activism in pop music. Nobody asked Bieber to make a protest album.
To borrow a phrase from a woman named Mariah on Twitter, it all reeks of “performative white nonsense.”
-Mariah (@grammaticalerer) March 19, 2021
By using King’s sermon about political action in the face of violence – made all the more poignant by King’s assassination at age 39 – as a prelude to a love song about a wealthy white woman, Bieber profits from King’s words without honoring his movement. He indicates that he had no intention of spotlighting any worldview beyond his own.
It recalls a “comfortable vanity” and ineffectual version of white leftism that King himself criticized.
Bieber even told Vogue that he named the album “Justice” because “there’s so much injustice in this world” – before adding, “My name actually means justice, so there’s that.”