Justin Bieber’s new album “Changes” has polarized critics and fans. Its release on Feb. 14 has captured the intense delight of those who have long awaited Bieber’s next album, and alternately elicited a barrage of negative reactions among those waiting for a work of exclusive experimentation or novelty.
After his hugely successful 2015 album, “Purpose,” and a series of features on the albums of fellow pop music titans, Bieber released “Yummy” on Jan. 3 as the single tied to the then unreleased “Changes.” These features were enough to stay in the peripheral vision of listeners, but his fanbase awaited another Bieber album to match his last three, which all debuted in the U.S. Billboard top five. Most importantly, his 2011 album “My World 2.0” contained the twelve-times platinum single,“Baby.”
His rise was swift, and like his newest album, prompted extreme fervor from proponents and detractors of his work. To some, there was no excuse for his lyrics and melodies, whose cheapness was unwarranted even for someone of his age. Teenage girls his age were fanatical for the lyrics of “Baby” and the anthem-like allure to his song. “Baby” served as the embodiment of teenage longing, the innocent internal and tempestuous love for a middle school crush.
Years later, Bieber’s ironically titled “Changes” still seems tethered to his 2010s self. Where he could have reflected on how his experiential growth had complicated or changed his perception of love, “Yummy” maintains the same shallow and simplistic definition of romance that he employed in “Baby,” using the metaphor of food to focus on and prioritize oral sex in a relationship.
Where rappers like Lil Tracy or Lil Peep might use pink to inject an ironic or psychedelic element to their otherwise dark and violent track lyrical content and production, Bieber’s use of pink in the “Yummy” music video seems only to further validate his immaturity.
Instead of the pink eliciting some complex Joker character, whose smile is just an insane reaction to the terror of reality, or an abandoned theme park, whose vision for childlike entertainment has been eroded by economic recession or warfare, Bieber’s pink is blatantly elementary, causing listeners instead to envision a child in a pink hoodie, whose methods intended to make himself look older backfire and further prove his immaturity.
The lack of maturity and depth in lyrics was not necessarily fatal to the album, though. On the instrumental for “Habitual,” the synthesizer is pulsing and minimalist, aided by Bieber’s tightly mixed and straightforward voice, and a perfect addition to the theme of spring and summer rain discussed in the lyrics.
On “ETA” and “That’s What Love Is,” the acoustic guitarist creates a rhythmic and melodic novelty, which is again complimented by the foreground vocals.
“Intentions” has a chorus that seems to be superfluously repeated, yet it is also textured by a subtle can-opening noise, thanks to the production of Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd.
Unfortunately, within these moments of sonic adventurousness, there are only a few that are the product of a dual synthesis of production work and Bieber vocals.
At certain times, “Changes” does have a newness that deserves credit, but that aspect is in endless conflict with the crippling cliches of the lyrics.
The song “Changes” postures as the fulcrum of the album’s meaning, in one line culminating, “Though I’m going through changes / Don’t mean that I changed.” The melody proceeds to be subpar, missing the emotional depth that might be found in the dissolution of an artist like Frank Ocean.
After its attempt to evoke emotion, “Changes” puts Justin Bieber third on the songwriting credits, after Adam Messenger and Jason Boyd. Could he expect to create such a personal concept without having a primary hand in writing the piece’s words?
Bieber’s success has been controversial to say the least, bathed in a whirl of highstrung opinions. His middle school fans once felt a profound connection to his innocent and pure longing for love, and now, he captures the same crowd at a later date, building on that romantic wish with the same simplistic aura. “Changes” may be good for Bieber’s existing fans, but will probably fail to capture new audiences.