After five whole years, Justin Bieber officially returned to the limelight with his fifth LP ‘Changes’, the successor of his critically and commercially successful 2015 album ‘Purpose’, known for hit-singles ‘Sorry’, ‘Love Yourself’ and panpipe-filled lead single ‘What Do You Mean?’ As 4th album ‘Purpose’ helped Justin to bend back his reputation after years of negative perceived behavior and run-ins with the law, with his number 1 single ‘Sorry’ – while directed on a relationship – indirectly acted as an all-round apology, the public was positive about a second chance.
Justin, however, needed some more time after all, cutting his Purpose World Tour short. Though the break seemed understandable: Signing his first contract with 13-years old after his manager Scooter Braun got impressed by his YouTube videos from 2007, and in the spotlight since debut single ‘One Time’ in 2009, followed by his debut EP ‘My World’, getting backup by famous performers like Usher. His teen-pop persona gained him masses of fans in a very short time. The so-called ‘Beliebers’ were often in a fine line between fandom and obsession and increased quickly and steadily in the early 2010s. His image, however, was often polarized, having almost an equal amount of haters and lovers. His hit-single ‘Baby’, for example, is to date the second most disliked YouTube video and almost has an equal amount of likes and dislikes. A battle of crazy fans and distinct bad-mouthers, and Justin in between the rollercoaster. In addition, his rebellious years of pushing the buttons of the law and the public created much dislike, so much that people even signed a petition to get him deported.
All in all, having the past behind us, and giving Justin a chance to escape the circus he was in, he finally was able to unwind, releasing docu-series ‘Seasons’ for an inside look of his new life with his wife Hailey that guides him through thick and thin, while also showing the process of creating ‘Changes’. The album already debuted at the top of the album charts and made him the youngest solo artist in Billboard history to earn seven No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200. Let’s dig in and find out what Justin has up his sleeve for his fans and listeners.
The album starts off with summer-esque ‘All Around Me’ that lays down a beach atmosphere and leaves marks here and there throughout the album. The Southern approach in the opener track can be heard again with tropical R&B influences in ‘Get Me’ that creates some laid back rhythms in 2000s fashion with the help of singer Kehlani. That certain feel then dominates in ‘That’s What Love Is’ where a playful acoustic guitar makes you visualize the sunbathed pavements in Spain. Noticeable is that Justin not only once calms down a track with simple instruments instead of computer-generated tunes, but also let the strings of an electronic guitar take its time in ‘E.T.A.’, then goes full acoustic again in title track ‘Changes’ that defines the theme of the album when he exclaims that though ‘he’s going through changes, it doesn’t mean that he’ll change.’
Besides touching on Southern feels, the album especially makes notice of itself in laid back fashion. Many tracks on the album give a relaxed mood, like in a dreamy moonlight setting in ‘Habitual’ reminding of deep cuts by Ariana Grande (‘Better Off’), or in ‘Confirmation’ where Justin after singing the first two lines decides to start over, quietly saying “one more time”, and re-sings from the beginning. The chill approach furthermore continues throughout the majority of the album, and is also hearable in lead single ‘Yummy’: In a rhythm that a snake charmer would use to hypnotize a snake, Justin hypnotizes the listener when he sings the words “Girl you got that yummy yum” while throwing some comical lines in there as well (“Bonafide stallion / Ain’t in no stable, no, you stay on the run”). Justin likes to put a funny twist in his comeback-single, especially mocked in its music video starting with Justin entering a fancy restaurant where a violin-version of ‘Yummy’ is played, the room full of round tables and people in colorful flashy outfits and crazy hairdos, with Justin sitting in one of the tables joining the guests where everybody is served abstract food with weird combinations (green jelly in tower-height filled with peas and a fish on top, plain sliced white bread with a slice of cheese, etc.)
In contrast to ‘Yummy’ is the approach of second single ‘Intentions’ very different. With a video released on February 7, it shows Justin, as well as featured rapper Quavo, helping out neighborhoods and the community with ongoing struggles of poverty. Even though the lyrics do not directly have a socially conscious background but rather talk about having good intentions with their significant other (“Shout out to your mom and dad for making you / Standing ovation, they did a great job raising you”). However, the uplifting feel-good nature suits very well with their approach in the video, offering a positive vibe of pop mixed with beats that bong around, with Quavo taking over very nicely in the second half of the song.
One of the biggest highlights of the album is most likely 7th track, Poo Bear produced ‘Forever’ that shines with a mix of hip-hop, pop and funny ding-sounds in between. Just like most of the album’s content is also ‘Forever’ linked to his relationship (“Every time I go the wrong way you turn me back around”). Most notably, however, is the nice flow from feature to feature as the second verse is taken over by Post Malone, the third by Clever who both bring the song to another level. While all three deliver very nicely, Alabama musician Clever steals the show – singing high and low like a drunkard giving some emotional appeal. The song itself offers more edge the more it dives in, especially with Post Malone and Clever’s backup.
The features Justin brings in for his new attempt actually bring in more flavor for the album in general. Just like Lil Dicky in ‘Running Over’ where his draining rap reminds a bit of ‘Truth Hurts’ by Lizzo, and plays around in a fast but not aggressive beat that rather offers an uplifting feel. Travis Scott, on the other hand, decides to not follow the wavy rhythmic melodies of ‘Second Emotion’ at all and rather raps on his own rhythmic pace instead. A fun twist. On the other side, Summer Walker’s feature in the ‘Yummy’ Remix – that’s also included on the album – brings some Rihanna-esque flavor to the track, but as the song basically almost stays the same, it does not bring anything extra that the solo version didn’t already deliver on its own.
Besides what the features bring to the table, Justin himself also shows off his vocal ability in a bunch of his songs from ‘Chances’. Notably, a cool rasp on his voice is heard throughout the album, like in wobble-effected heavy bass track ‘Take It Out On Me’, but shows more depth in his singing capability in ‘Available’. Moreover, nice details in the bridge part of ‘Come Around Me’ show how he can play around with his voice in a chill but also sensual track, which actually would have been great if he’d show these moments more. Justin then ends his album with 2:29 minutes long ‘At Least For Now’. A happy-in-the-moment type song, being a nice track to close the album, filled with carefree shouts of ‘yeah-yeah-yeah’s’, reminiscent of similar ‘yeah’s’ in Avril Lavigne’s ‘I’m With You’ (re-used in Rihanna’s ‘Cheers (Drink To That)’).
With ‘Changes’, Justin follows a steady line that connects well with previous albums. Bass-lovers will have a field day as the album is filled with it. Plus, as mentioned before, the features help to carry the load, which doesn’t happen often in albums. Lyric-wise it’s safe to say that he dedicates the majority to his wife Hailey. Songlines make it very obvious when he sings about different aspects in love, like when he says “You just said ‘Hello’, I lost my sanity” in ‘Running Over’, for example. Makes sense that it was released on Valentine’s Day, too. Even though his lyrical content and melodies still to this day stamp him a modern poster child of a 90s boyband, and suits the ‘never breaking a girl’s heart’-blabla lead by Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, and Co. However, he does stay true to his style and delivers a positive vibe. Interesting enough never went crazy 180 degrees with his music, even during his rebellious times.
On a side note, innovation is somewhat lacking in ‘Changes’. There are definitely some tracks to put on repeat and nothing sounds bad, but certain tracks are kind of ‘meh’. The wow-factor is missing a lot of times, and the album could have easily been cut shorter. It basically follows the typical stream-culture – albums have more tracks than before while lengths of songs are cut short, often considered a method of record executives to get people streaming more tracks. For fans though it’s nice to have a long comeback album, and for Justin, it definitely feels like a fresh restart in the business for him: More positive, more determined.
Full Track List:
All Around Me
Come Around Me
Intentions (feat. Quavo)
Forever (feat. Post Malone and Clever)
Running Over (feat. Lil Dicky)
Take It Out on Me
Second Emotion (feat. Travis Scott)
Get Me (feat. Kehlani)
That’s What Love Is
At Least For Now
Yummy (Summer Walker Remix) (with Summer Walker)