Changes introduced the world to a new Justin Bieber. When the pop star’s first album in nearly five years arrived in February 2020, it found him as a newly married, born-again Christian. It also found Bieber diving headfirst into R&B, after the genre began driving the charts and other peers like Ariana Grande had dipped their toes as well. (It wasn’t the first time; he’d dabbled in R&B on 2013’s Journals, too, but called it a “compilation” rather than a proper release.) Maybe Bieber went a bit too far when he called out the Grammys for placing Changes in the pop category after it was submitted in R&B (not without precedent: Grande’s sweetener and thank u, next were still nominated in Pop Vocal Album, as was Kelly Clarkson’s 2017 soul pivot Meaning of Life). But as he criticized the Recording Academy, Bieber also set the stage for what was next. “To be clear, I absolutely love pop music,” he wrote in a note on social media, “it just wasn’t what I set out to make this time around.”

Bieber backed up his claim a month later when he released “Anyone,” his most undeniable pop song in years. Now, with Justice out, the turn looks even sharper. Released just 13 months after Changes, the new album positions Bieber’s R&B phase as more of a detour. Instead, Justice picks up after Purpose, which Vulture music critic Craig Jenkins recently hailed as “one of the previous decade’s finest pop projects.” But while much of Purpose diluted EDM trends into pop hits, Justice prefers the polished, synth-fueled pop-rock of the 1980s as a jumping-off point.

Read more