I really tried to have an open mind when first listening to “Changes,” but Justin Bieber certainly doesn’t make it easy. Plagued by terrible singles, desperate promotion and an image in shambles, his new album had a lot to overcome. So when Bieber’s voice erupted out of nowhere one second into the album like an alarm clock gone off far too early, my stomach sank. Not a good first impression.
Throughout the album, Bieber can hardly help his case. Often, just as a song would begin to lure you in, you’d be pulled back out by a cringey lyric or a jarring transition. It would not be an understatement to say that the album overflows with these flaws. For example (of which there are many), in his single “Intentions,” a collaboration with rapper Quavo, he gives listeners a quick Econ 101 lesson: “Stay in the kitchen cookin’ up, got your own bread / Heart full of equity, you’re an asset.”
You have to give Bieber kudos for at least trying a metaphor, even if it happens to be a little questionable. Unfortunately for “Changes,” the problems don’t stop there. For an album released on Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with wholesome love. Instead, Bieber and “Changes” go for the “I want you to know I have a lot of sex” route. Is this fine on a few songs? Sure! But when the message is so consistently shoved down your throat, it appears that Bieber might just be conflating love with sex. Also, who really wants to hear Bieber say “I’ll never get over you up under me,” as he does in every single pre-chorus on “Available”?
“Changes,” to its credit, boasts a strong lineup of featured artists. Besides Quavo, there are Post Malone, Travis Scott, Kehlani and several others. However, this multitude of guests causes a problem for Bieber: They consistently show him up. This is especially evident on “Forever,” where Post Malone, arguably a much bigger pop star than Bieber, completely takes over the track. The other notable issue with featured artists arises on “Second Emotion,” his song with Travis Scott. With seemingly more ad libs than actual lyrics, he ruins whatever flow the album had through his constant interjections. The song sticks out like a sore thumb from the other relatively smooth tracks.
Casting a shadow over the entire album is the elephant in the room, or more accurately, the elephant Thomas Edison electrocuted to death as an experiment: “Yummy.” Released as the lead single for “Changes,” the song and Bieber’s frenzied promotion of it were both highly criticized. Seemingly designed for the viral mobile app Tik Tok, “Yummy” has fairly shallow (but still disturbing) lyrics professing how his wife, Hailey Bieber, “got that yummy-yum.”
The song is unequivocally one of the worst singles released by a major artist in the past few years, with the closest comparison being Taylor Swift’s lukewarmly-received “Me.” Making matters worse for Bieber, the song is on “Changes” twice, once in its original form and once again as a remix with Summer Walker that isn’t any better than the original.
For the rollout of his album, Justin Bieber once again employed a unique promotional strategy. The album was advertised as a return to “R&Bieber,” despite its inclusion of several bubblegum pop songs. And, even though he very recently ascended to the number one in Spotify unique listeners (largely a product of artificial playlist exposure), he has been struggling to achieve similar levels of success as artists like Ariana Grande.
This led him to ask other artists to promote his album on social media, as revealed by a now-edited Instagram post by Charlie Puth. He also has four different Target-exclusive versions of the album where the only difference is the poster that comes with the album. What’s on those posters, you ask? Photos of Justin Bieber’s underwear.
All in all, “Changes” is quite disappointing, especially given what we know Justin Bieber is capable of. The album can hardly even compare to the Grammy-nominated “Purpose,” while “Yummy” and “Intentions” are blown out of the water by mega-hits “What Do You Mean,” “Sorry” and “Love Yourself.” Although the half-hearted return to R&B was not very strong, it isn’t even the biggest problem for an album haunted by atrocious lyrics. Here’s hoping that Bieber takes a songwriting class or two.
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