If Justice is indeed Justin Bieber’s strongest front-to-back listen to date, it’s for two main reasons: The 15 songs on its standard edition (not including the interlude) include no true missteps, and the project is varied enough to avoid any staleness.
On the quickly created follow-up to last year’s R&B-steeped Changes, the superstar is open to exploring different sonic approaches — primarily operating in ’80s-inspired synth-pop, but also trying out different types of balladry, African beats, elastic dance arrangements and emo-pop — and making sure those detours cannot be shrugged off.
Although Bieber’s latest features high-quality pop throughout, some of its 15 songs stand out immediately. Here is a humble, preliminary opinion on the best songs on Justice.
15. 2 Much
Beginning the album with audio from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech (and previewing the interlude midway through the album), Bieber quickly segues into a muted piano ballad designed to show off his impeccable vocals. “2 Much” is relatively short and has room to spare sonically, but effectively introduces the romantic core of the album that follows.
14. Lonely with Benny Blanco
Adding months-old singles to the end of a track list is standard practice in pop’s streaming era, a way to acknowledge recent-ish hits while not exactly turning them into the centerpieces of a new body of work. Yet ending Justice with “Lonely,” the somber piano ballad alongside Benny Blanco released last year, feels like a strange choice, considering how the rest of the album is relatively triumphant — perhaps suggesting more to come.
13. Holy feat. Chance the Rapper
Released last September, “Holy” has become one of the more enduring radio hits of Bieber’s long career, as well as the most successful mainstream gospel-pop hybrid in recent memory. While Bieber is “running to the altar like a track star,” Chance the Rapper’s wordplay stretches out the song, trading its sincerity for one-liners like “Life is short with a temper, like Joe Pesci.”
12. As I Am feat. Khalid
Somehow, Bieber and Khalid, two of the most dominant pop radio presences of the past five years, had not collaborated before “As I Am” — but the team-up plays out just as fans would have hoped, with each singer digging deep into their feelings on a rhythmic pop showcase. Bieber ultimately takes control of the track with some post-chorus theatrics, but “As I Am” should be the first of several team-ups between the two.
Searching for an inflection point between the sound of Bieber’s 2020 output and his 2021 music? Look no further than “Anyone,” which kicked off his year (literally, on New Year’s Day) on a brighter, more anthemic note, with a melody that harkened back to bygone pop eras without sounding too derivative of those times.
10. Loved By You feat. Burna Boy
When you gather Justin Bieber, African pop giant Burna Boy and Skrillex onto the same track, good things are going to happen. “Loved By You” is a self-examination that lets you two-step, with Bieber figuring out ways to make up for his flaws before Burna Boy slides in and steals the show.
Give “Ghost,” a heartfelt song about losing someone you love, credit for being the most sonically adventurous track on Justice: chattering beats give way to an unforeseen acoustic guitar strum, then the two sounds swirl into a dizzying hook. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, especially with a subject that could have turned saccharine, but Bieber drops one of the best vocal performances on the album here and carries the concept through.
8. Unstable feat. The Kid LAROI
Taking elements of the emo-rap sound that has pushed itself to the forefront of popular music in recent years, Bieber sings about healing from his lowest point and his early marital insecurities as disembodied voices echo around him. The Kid LAROI, one of the biggest new stars of the past year, fits snugly in the concept here, matching Bieber’s wounded intensity pound for pound.
7. Off My Face
Over a gentle guitar lick, Bieber sings about the fulfillment that love has given him, selling the stripped-down romance with an earnest vocal take that conveys how meaningful he finds the message. “Off My Face” is far from the flashiest cut on Justice, but there’s a reason Bieber placed it so high in the track list.
6. Love You Different feat. BEAM
“Love Different” recalls the trop-pop jams of Bieber’s Purpose, but with more wisdom behind his delivery now, as if he needed a few more years to figure out how to confidently declare, “I will/ Love you/ Different.” The beats percolate, particularly when BEAM, an underrated producer receiving an enviable guest spot here, shows up with a more playful tone.
5. Die for You feat. Dominic Fike
The ‘80s influence is turned way up, to sensational effect, on “Die for You,” which refashions the era’s finger-snapping synth-pop into something familiar but surprisingly fresh, the sonic equivalent of a kickass Cobra Kai battle. Dominic Fike proves a game co-pilot to Bieber’s somersaulting vocal take, as he lets the melodrama congeal and explode on the hook.
4. Hold On
Building off the momentum of “Die for You” on the track list, “Hold On” scoops up its synthetic formula but adds an even weightier chorus. Credit producers Watt and Louis Bell, who know exactly where to place the blasts of percussion under Bieber’s calls for answers.
3. Deserve You
If you fell in love with the lite-FM ‘80s vibe of “Hold On” a few weeks before Justice arrived, “Deserve You” — especially its fluttering, falsetto-driven chorus — will be right up your alley. Just a year removed from the R&B-steeped Changes, a song like “Deserve You” would seem like a hard left turn for those not paying attention to the advance singles.
2. Peaches feat. Daniel Caesar and Giveon
Following a run of serious, synth-heavy ’80s pop showcases on Justice, “Peaches” flips the script with vivacious R&B energy, levitating off the ground with Giveon and Daniel Caesar along for the top-down ride. As he’s peered into himself on his past two albums, Bieber hasn’t left a ton of room for something as casual and uncomplicated as a song like “Peaches” — so when this piece of sunshine hits, the listener soaks in the warmth.
Six years after Skrillex helped Bieber find a pathway forward for his sound with smashes like “Where Are U Now” and “Sorry,” the EDM king has co-produced the song on Justice most ripe for a festival shout-along. Until then, “Somebody” boasts a universal refrain for pandemic life (“Everybody needs somebody/ Somebody to remind you that you’re not alone”), with Bieber navigating the colorful synths, swatting away feelings of disconnection and generally tapping into his well of charisma.