Every track worth listening to on Justin Bieber’s Changes
It’s like a Magic Mike stripper fell in love and made an album about it.
Justin Bieber really, really loves Hailey Baldwin Bieber. And on his new record Changes -- his first in five years -- he’s keen to let you know that. On a Tuesday afternoon in a basement nightclub in Mayfair (phones have been confiscated so we couldn’t tell you what time it actually is), he’s taking a break from playing new songs he’s written to FaceTime his new wife, who’s back in Los Angeles. “I think she’s sleeping, and she’d probably be really mad,” he says, as the ringing runs out and the declined tone signals the call ending.
This is strange for a number of reasons, but perhaps most prominently because Justin Bieber was once impossible to pin down. For much of his now 12-year career, he was labelled a baby face heartthrob and, later, a lothario; his desire to run free leading him towards trouble. Then, a gear switched. After a stunning reinvention in the form of 2015’s Purpose -- a massive EDM pop smash -- he met the love of his life, took a step back from releasing standalone singles (though still managed to break chart records with the omnipresent “Despacito”) and recalibrated. And now he’s back with his fifth studio album.
Teary eyed, Justin tells the crowd at his playback that this record is “super dedicated to [Hailey] and my love towards her”. It’s also, as the title suggests, about the personal shifts that define who we are. 10 years after his debut My World 2.0, the narrative has shifted once again. He’s infatuated.
Changes is a hip-hop flecked pop album for the streaming era: 17 tracks that burst with the energy of a boy in love. The involvement of those around him -- label bosses, management -- feels minimal, because there’s little striving for a smash hit here. It runs, languidly, for 50 minutes, with tunnel vision intentions. Success, it seems, means something different to him now.
It lifts every so often from its to-the-point narrative to make a melodious curveball. At the playback party, Justin mouths along to the perfect falsettos on the laid-back highlight “Come Around Me” and skips over the very great Quavo-starring single “Intentions”, telling us to “go home and freakin’ Google it” if we want to hear it.
The tracks with rap interludes are some of the strongest. Post Malone pops up on “Forever”, a song blessed with tinkering synth lines and percussion loops and the hookiest chorus on the whole record. “Never thought I’d settle down, reckon I lied to myself,” he sings. “I was busy focusing on being by myself.” Those synths overlap as the song draws to a close, sounding conspicuously like church bells. Travis Scott appears on “Second Emotion”, a song, Justin tells us, that’s about deep conversations and reciprocating feelings over steel drums. It features a nice bit where he drags out the first syllable on “emotion”. They’re a nice bit of buoyant respite from some gritty guitar ballads, but that doesn’t necessarily mean said ballads are bad either.
So really, the fact this record drops on Valentine’s Day feels somewhat appropriate: it’s as much a record about being in love as it is about the carnal, sexier side of things. There’s a big Magic Mike energy to it, particularly on the downtempo “Take It Out On Me”, a track about frustration that Biebz claims is about him asking his wife to “take it out on [him]... in the bedroom, you know?”. It’s the closest he gets to Purpose sexy, and it sounds good.
It all draws to a close on a more somber, sweeter note though; those aforementioned ballads poking through again. There’s something quite gratifying about the plucky, Spanish strings on “That’s What Love Is”, pared back and and peppered with acrobatic vocal acrobats that bring it alive. “It’s one thing to be attracted to someone physically and another to be attracted to who they are,” Bieber tells us. “It’s a blessing to have you in my life” he coos on a verse.
The final track, “At Least For Now”, came to Bieber after hearing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”; an optimistic love song about the imaginary future he’s painting for himself, for Hailey, and for his fans right now. Post Lorde’s agonising break-up masterpiece Melodrama, we’re living in an era of lovestruck pop stars that Bieber is now a part of. Last year, Taylor Swift’s Lover showed us that gleaming pop music still harboured soul, and could crystallise that hard-to-define feeling of falling for someone so well. And in 2018, Troye Sivan did the same with Bloom, redefining the heartbroken queer narrative into something richer and more fulfilled. This is Bieber’s new chapter – sprawling and yet dedicated; a pop star at his most insular. There’s so much on Changes that you’re bound to fall Justin-and-Hailey-hard in love with at least something on it.