Pop

Five Burning Questions: Justin Bieber Debuts at No. 1 on the Hot 100 and Billboard 200

Justin Bieber Houdini Estate
Sami Drasin

Justin Bieber photographed on Feb. 20, 2021 at the Houdini Estate in Los Angeles. CELINE jacket, X karla tank, Second/Layer pants, Nike shoes.

The charts are ripe for Justin Bieber's picking this week. As his new LP Justice debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with 154,000 equivalent album units moved, the set's single "Peaches" also bows at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It's the eighth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 for the Canadian pop superstar, and his seventh Hot 100 No. 1 song -- though it marks the first for the single's two featured artists, R&B singer-songwriters Giveon and Daniel Caesar. Together, the simultaneous No. 1 entrances make Bieber just the third artist to bow atop the two charts in the same week, after Taylor Swift and BTS became the first two in 2020.

What does Bieber's big week mean for his career? And what could be next to come from Justice? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. While Justin Bieber has had a long string of hits since returning with "Yummy" at the top of 2020, "Peaches" is his first No. 1 since then as the lone lead artist. Why was it this song that was able to put him back over the top? 

Lyndsey Havens: While Bieber's team has said his label didn't really know what to do with the R&B-leaning Changes album that arrived in 2020, here he is with a certified R&B jam that shot him (as well as Daniel Caesar and Giveon) to No. 1. I believe it's all about power in numbers, especially when those numbers include two of R&B's leading men. Plus, on "Peaches," Bieber finds lyrical middle ground. Sure, he's singing about a fruit, but refrains from calling it that "yummy yum." And yes, he's singing about love, but without shoving marital bliss in fans' faces. When paired with a vocal delivery from all three as smooth as the track's beat, there was little in the way of this song enjoying a sweet debut atop the Hot 100.

Jason Lipshutz: I’m a big fan of both “Intentions,” the biggest radio hit from Changes, as well as the ‘80s-inspired synth-pop that composes the backbone of Justice, particularly the recent single “Hold On” and album cuts like “Somebody” and “Die For You.” With that in mind, “Peaches” is simply more immediately appealing, a rhythmic pop foray as casual as a warm spring breeze after too many months of frigid weather. On the Justice track list, “Peaches” lands like a blast of sunlight -- and based on its first-week numbers, a lot of listeners have been returning to that feeling.

Mia NazarenoI think the assists from Giveon and Daniel Caesar propelled him to the top, tbhIf you combine Giveon and Daniel Caesar’s loyal fanbase in the R&B world with Justin’s pop following, enough people will be listening to it. The track also has a fun, seductive quality that’s easy to listen and sing along to if you don’t think about the lyrics too much. Like, what do “peaches” mean in this context? I want to know! 

Neena Rouhani: Hip-hop and R&B are dominating the charts and streaming platforms right now, and Bieber really leaned into that. Calling on two coveted R&B artists who value quality over quantity is what really catapulted this track to the top. The features gave the song an extra boost and created added buzz, making it the triumphant song on the album. I also think the track is one of the first this season to emulate that big summer top-down energy after a really heavy summer last year and people are hungry for that. But at the end of the day, it's still Bieber.

Andrew Unterberger: It seems like Bieber finally found the R&B vibe that connects for him both personally and commercially. A knockout chorus and two popular guest stars certainly helps, but there's a relaxed casualness to "Peaches" that we haven't really heard from Bieb -- who's been leaning hard on near-overwhelming earnestness in most of his recent singles -- since his last No. 1 single as a featured artist, "I'm the One." It's certainly a fit for the upcoming warm-weather months, and just kind of a good wavelength for Bieber in general.

2. Justice returns Bieber to the top of the Billboard 200 for the eighth time, but with a smaller first-week number than Changes (231,000 to 154,000), after Changes was far down from Purpose. Is it a worrying trend for Bieber, or more a sign of the times for 2021 pop/R&B than anything?

Lyndsey Havens: Well, it is and isn't a sign of the times. For example, Taylor Swift closed 2020 with the top-selling album, Folklore, which in its debut week earned 846,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. Sure, that number is eight times was Justice moved, but even that figure was slightly less than her previous album (2019's Lover earned 867,000 equivalent album units in its opening week, while 2017's Reputation was well over one million). In general, I'd say the numbers are going down, but that it shouldn't be a cause for concern for any one artist in particular. Plus, Bieber may be selling cassettes of Justice, but isn't offering any vinyl pre-sale, a format that has continued to spike year-over-year and in the case of Swift, did help drive sales.

Jason Lipshutz: Part of that new first-week number can be chalked up to slight over-saturation -- after all, Changes was Bieber’s first album in five years, and Justice has arrived just 13 months later, with several singles in between to keep the Biebs fresh in everyone’s minds. Plus, Changes preceded a huge (soon-to-be-postponed) Bieber tour last year, with a concert ticket/album sale redemption offer attached to it, while Justice has arrived in the middle of a pandemic and in a post-bundles chart world. Long story short, another six-figure No. 1 debut should be more than enough to satisfy Team Bieber.

Mia NazarenoYes, I think it is worrying, but Justin’s trying to fully cross over from pop to R&B and that’s not necessarily a natural transition for him (or his fans). The R&B sound of Justice is of course historically rooted in Black music, and I think Justin is aware of that -- as evidenced by him including snippets of MLK speeches in the album's intro and interlude, to everyone’s surprise. Especially in 2021, young listeners are more woke than ever, and they have their radar up for when an artist is appropriating and benefiting from a culture that’s not their own. R&B is also an especially trendy genre right now with so many artists – especially women – killing it. With Jazmine Sullivan, H.E.R., and SZA dominating the R&B space, I’m not entirely surprised that Justin is having some difficulty holding on to the top spot. 

Neena Rouhani: All in all, I’d say it’s worrying. I think the numbers for Justice being lower than Changes is a testament to the musical landscape in this moment. JB dropped Changes in early February 2020, when the music industry felt comparatively normal. Now, so much has changed. There’s sort of a renaissance happening in music, post pandemic. We especially see this in R&B and hip-hop; the numbers are going crazy. To put it simply, there’s some really amazing poppy R&B coming out and that creates a lot of competition for Bieber. To me, Purpose was his last album that felt really cohesive and fresh. With the help of great writers, the project pushed him into both dance and R&B and established him as a legitimate genre-spanning star. With Justice, it seems like he’s riding this “redemption” wave and trying to recreate the Purpose sound, but between the lyrical content, long track list, MLK speeches and overall sound, for me it just reads as confusing.

Andrew Unterberger: I'd say a slightly depressed streaming consumption market plus a lack of ticket bundles and other chart minutiae probably makes up most of the difference in first-week numbers between Changes and Purpose -- though it's clear that the Purpose-era days of Bieber putting up numbers to make him the envy of all other stars are probably firmly in the rearview at this point. Still, "Peaches" is already his biggest hit in years, and anyone who thought that the lukewarm reception to Changes (and "Yummy" in particular) marked a major career turning point for Bieber has now been proven wrong several times over.

3. "Peaches" brings two featured artists to No. 1 for the first time in a pair of acclaimed R&B singer/songwriters, Giveon and Daniel Caesar. Which of the two would you say the crossover success of "Peaches" is more meaningful to?

Lyndsey Havens: I don't think it's more or less meaningful to either, but I do think the timing is more fortuitous for Giveon. The rising artist's debut EP earned a Grammy nod for best R&B album this year, and he recently scored a top 5 entry on the Billboard 200 with the deluxe reissue of his second EP, 2020's When It's All Said and Done. Following a successful chart run last year, a crossover chart-topper early into 2021 couldn't have come at a better time to cement his status as an R&B star.

Jason Lipshutz: Giveon has become an ascendant force in modern R&B, earning millions of streams with his high-profile collaborations like “Peaches” and Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle,” as well as on his own tracks like “Heartbreak Anniversary.” “Peaches” ticks off another box in the singer-songwriter’s rise, but the No. 1 hit is actually more meaningful to Caesar, a critically acclaimed, slow-jam-focused artist who had never climbed higher than No. 75 on the Hot 100 prior to this week. Giveon could be on his way to scoring several crossover hits, but for Caesar, “Peaches” represents a change-up and a wholly unexpected smash.

Mia Nazareno: I would say it means more to Daniel Caesar! Giveon is a tiny bit more current given his recent chart success, but I think that people would already talking about Giveon even without a feature on a JB track. Whereas Daniel Caesar’s Case Study 01 peaked at No. 17 on Billboard 200 in 2019. And as much as I loooove Daniel Caesar and all his collabs with the coolest women in music -- like H.E.R.Jessie Reyez, and Kali Uchis -- he’s been playing it a bit lowkey for the last few years. Having said that, I’m just happy Daniel is back, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be re-obsessed with his music in 2021. 

Neena Rouhani: Let’s establish that Justin Bieber is benefitting the most from the two features. The conversations surrounding "Peaches" are overwhelmingly about Bieber and further molding this R&B image he’s creating. It also follows the trend of his last three Hot 100 No. 1s -- they're all collaborations. With that being said, it’s Giveon next. Daniel Caesar already had four Grammy nominations across three award seasons and took home a win. This is Giveon’s first time being in a lot of people’s music libraries. While I do fully understand the argument that this track is helping Daniel Caesar rebuild his audience after a brutal public image crisis, I think the exposure it’s giving Giveon at this early point in his career is extremely meaningful.

Andrew Unterberger: It's certainly good news and good timing for both, as Daniel Caesar gets his name back into headlines for positive reasons and Giveon continues building on the recent commercial roll that he's on. Who it means more for will depend on what each has coming next, but my money would probably be on Giveon, since he's still the newer name and he's the one with the hit still climbing the Hot 100 ("Heartbreak Anniversary" is up to No. 29). By year's end, there aren't going to be a lot of music fans left who still don't know his name.

4. How satisfied are you with "Peaches" being the breakout track from Justice? Is there another new (or new-ish) cut on Justice you'd like to see follow it to similar success?

Lyndsey Havens: I will say, after watching Bieber's Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, "Peaches" immediately stood out for its, "Oh... huh... what's that?" quality. It had the same impact after the first listen through of the album, so I do feel content that it's the breakout track of the moment. That said, a track like "Die For You" with Dominic Fike is more uptempo and on-trend with the pop-leaning alternative hip-hop hits of today, while "Loved By You" is a personal favorite and hopeful follow-up hit. You can't go wrong with a Burna Boy guest spot.

Jason Lipshutz: “Peaches” deserves its time in the sun -- all peaches do, to fully grow! -- but let’s get a prolonged summer run for “Somebody,” the anti-isolation anthem that’s co-produced by Skrillex and returns Bieber to his festival-conquering Purpose days. The song distills the qualities of that unstoppable singles run, then applies them to Bieber’s latest, synth-laden approach to pop, with engrossing results.

Mia NazarenoI’m a big Daniel Caesar fan, so I’m very satisfied with “Peaches” getting all the recognition so far. Besides that, I do quite enjoy the fourth track “Off My Face.” From “One Less Lonely Girl” to “Boyfriend” to “Sorry,” JB is at his best when he’s singing exactly what girls want to hear. “Off My Face” is no exception especially when Justin sings: It's your world and I'm just in it. To me, that certainly sounds like he’s graduated from boyfriend to husband status. 

Neena Rouhani: With “Peaches,” I get it but I don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I like the song. Production wise, it’s the most simplistic among the R&B cuts, and in a lot of cases, less is more. It’s definitely a smooth listen and the hook is catchy. There were other songs on the album I liked more, like “Off My Face” and “Love You Different,” but I understand why "Peaches" was the one they chose to run with and I’m so excited for both Giveon and Daniel Caesar, two standout R&B artists, both notching their first No. 1.

Andrew Unterberger: Can't argue with the results, and I generally think "Peaches" is worthy of the four-quadrant pop domination it seems to be setting up for, even if I wish there was a bit more to the song beyond the groove and the chorus. But it's a very minor shame to me that the uptempo "Hold On," my favorite of the advance tracks from Justice, does seem like the only one that's not going to get an extended chart run, by virtue of radio and streaming playlists having too many older Bieber songs still to spin, and now having a new colossus to contend with in "Peaches." Oh well: It can join "Friends" and "Die in Your Arms" in the mini-canon of potentially classic Bieber singles that fell in between the cracks.

5. Between "Peaches" and Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar," it's back-to-back years now with a fruit No. 1. What should be the next fruit-themed smash to complete the hat trick in 2022?

Lyndsey Havens: I suppose strawberries could have a moment? Sure, why not. Strawberries, final answer.

Jason Lipshutz: Coming in 2022, hopefully: “Apple Bottom Jeans,” Flo Rida’s self-re-imagining of “Low” that returns the rapper to his rightful Hot 100 perch. Too many years have passed since a good old-fashioned ubiquitous Flo Rida single; time to take it back to where it all began.

Mia Nazareno“Pomegranate” by Lizzo – inspired by her favorite pandemic snack, as reported by her TikTok account. 

Neena Rouhani: Oh God…are lemons a fruit?

Andrew Unterberger: Drake keeps getting closer -- "Diced Pineapples" with Rick Ross and Wale hitting No. 71 in 2014, then "Passionfruit" reaching No. 8 in 2017 -- and apparently blueberries are a top Canadian export, so maybe a "Blueberry Syrup" anthem for when the clubs reopen could get him back to pole position.