Bieber’s “Justice” guilty of performative activism

Chloe Burdette

Editor in Chief 

 

As someone who has been a “Belieber” for most of my young teen life, I can assure you that I was initially excited for Justin Bieber’s sixth studio album to pop onto my Spotify feed. As I scrolled through the songs, I was instantly able to recognize that most of the songs were about relationships, whether successful or unsuccessful — tracks such as “Loved by You,” “Deserve You” and “Ghost.” Yet, I was also instantly confused when I saw that an “MLK Interlude” was included as the seventh track. Now, I was going to write a review solely based on the songs that I think are written well, have an enjoyable beat and have a somewhat relatable message, but I feel it necessary to highlight the criticism and exploitation of using an “MLK Interlude” in Bieber’s tracklist. 

When I noticed a snippet of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches (specifically from one of his 1967 sermons), I was left dumbfounded at how it connected to any of the songs on the album. Bieber did in fact get permission from King’s daughter to use the sermon in his album, but that is par for the course for any artist who wants to either sample another artist’s beat or use any other artist’s content. Yes, the album is called “Justice,” but for what reason? With lyrics such as, “I don’t wanna be my past / Oh, when we kiss, I’m alive and I feel brand new,” how does that relate to social injustice or civil rights? In order to hear others’ opinions on the matter, I took the question to Instagram and garnered responses. “I was mad and confused when I found out the album was about his marriage,” stated Lesley Chinery ’21. Another comment from Amelia Kemp ’21 read, “In my opinion, he better be donating any profits from that to charities or mutual aid funds supporting Black folks like MLK would have wanted.” She added, “I don’t know why he would have included it for any reason outside of weird performance activism, which is what it feels like to me.” (After further research, it was concluded that Bieber has indeed donated some funds from the album to The King Center, but it is unclear how much from the album’s overall revenue was donated.) Alum Kacy Muthiora ’20 simply put, “I audibly laughed when I heard it.”

Based on the overall opinion I had heard from my followers, I think the inclusion of the “MLK Interlude” was — for a lack of better words — unjust. I also do not understand why his placement of the interlude was right before a track called “Die For You” — a song that states, “I would walk through burning fire / Even if your kiss could kill me / You know I would die for you.” I am not exactly sure how Bieber’s love for his wife equates to a sermon given by MLK about Black injustice, in which he states, “I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you, that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.” 

With respect to Bieber, he did collaborate with many incredible Black artists on his album — Burna Boy, Khalid, Chance the Rapper, Daniel Caesar, Giveon and Beam — but let’s be honest, these artists are already established enough in the industry that a track with Bieber would not increase their stardom. Yet most of their tracks are quite impressive and catchy — especially “Peaches,” a song by Bieber, Giveon and Daniel Caesar.

Overall, the album is singable. Most songs are fun to listen to and you will catch me humming along to them every once in a while. But I think the inclusion of the interlude is too glaring of a performative headache, and Bieber should be actively working to advocate for Black lives instead of just a quick, lazy addition of an MLK speech on an album. Am I still a Belieber? The results aren’t in just yet.