Lane: Chance the Rapper, Tobi Lou
Movement: Pop, R&B
We live in an ever-changing world. Relationships, careers, environment and music change at a rapid pace in the 21st century. Justin Bieber has changed too. It’s been 5 years since his EDM propelled romp Purpose and in that time he remixed Despacito, broke up with Selena Gomez, grew an interesting moustache, married Haley Baldwin and contracted Lyme disease. He’s also made a musical change in that time. Bieber, who’s dipped his toes in R&B in previous works was always a prisoner of the moment falling back to his pop roots. Changes is where Bieber finally takes the plunge.
Changes is dedicated to Bieber’s wife and their relationship. And like any relationship there are complexities that form over years that can only be seen through glimpses from the outside, Bieber just can’t provide a lens. There’s little doubt that Bieber loves his wife (there’s 17 songs and 52 minutes to attest to that), it’s all he shows.
Changes’ production is shiny but it’s also demure R&B with splayed ambiance, sparse 808’s and bouncy synths. It’s an open concept for Bieber’s musings. Yet he fills it with superficial, and silly lyrics to “Light a match, get litty, babe.” R&B requires deft or visceral songwriting and Bieber has neither.
His vocal inflections are at home in the spaces Poo Bear’s production affords, it’s just that the spaces are sterile. Changes is by the numbers, which makes for a good template, it just lacks texture. It’s clean but not cutting and ambient but not atmospheric. So, when Bieber’s “shout-out to your mom and dad for makin’ you,” lands between ‘Intentions’ predictable bubbling synths, it’s an unmasked groaner.
Before Changes Justin Bieber was singing pop songs, with paper thin lyrics and simple concepts. Craft a couple short verses, a punchy hook, maybe throw in a pre-chorus over Skrillex’s or Diplo’s production, and you can hit print on the money machine. R&B doesn’t offer that same luxury. Bieber is caught where he sees changes within himself, yet can’t translate it in his songs, leaving him in a lyrical dead zone with tepid production.
Changes is star studded with features from the likes of Post Malone, Travis Scott and Summer Walker, yet they all fall into the same trap of discussing adult themes with PG-13 complexity. Also, nearly every feature melds into their song’s aesthetic, muting their effectiveness. After years establishing himself as hip-hop’s audio astronaut, Travis Scott is reduced to his simplest echo-y form on ‘Second Emotion‘ by “Movin’ like the blitz (Blitz), crib like the Ritz (Like the Ritz)” without any production accentuating his presence. Lil Dicky’s verse on ‘Running Over‘ is a standout, but only because it’s an early nomination for worst rap verse of the decade.
It takes a shrewd pen to navigate love, faith and marriage. Although Justin Bieber evolved from Canadian teen superstar to bad boy to happily married man his songwriting hasn’t kept pace. Changes is supposed to showcase a mature Justin Bieber, one who’s left Bugatti Biebs in the rear view, instead it’s revealed Bieber’s lack of depth.
Fire: Come Around Me, Available
Ice: E.T.A, Intentions, Running Over, Confirmation