Former bad-boy and teen heartthrob Justin Bieber has finally settled down. His latest album, “Changes,” released on Valentine’s Day, is a tribute to his wife, Hailey Bieber. The romance-driven songs all sound the same, the half-dozen guest features often outshine Bieber and the subject matter is trite and repetitive.
The album’s sound is cohesive, full of electro-R&B vibes and smooth vocals. The first three tracks flow seamlessly into each other but the forgettable melodies are almost indistinguishable in sound. “Changes” is saturated with chill beats and wavy, low-key melodies. It’s not unpleasant to listen to, but it’s hardly groundbreaking.
The lyrics play it safe as well, staying securely in the zone of romance while barely touching other subjects. The repetitive attempts at earworm-y hooks highlight the lack of complexity in the words. If you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all.
Despite the monotony, there are a few gems on the record. The seventh track, “Forever,” is about loyalty and uncertainty in a relationship, and provides a welcome change of pace to an otherwise subdued album. The most interesting aspect of the track is the guest vocals — Post Malone and R&B artist Clever bring variety and emotion compared to Bieber’s smooth, unaffected tone.
“E.T.A.” is a solid slow jam, starting out with a funked-up guitar riff that leads into velvety vocals with a slight edge. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, and its gooey, lovestruck lyrics were perfect for Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, it’s over as soon as it starts, clocking in at under three minutes — as do most of the other songs on the album.
Like the rest of the tracklist, the lead single “Yummy” is perfectly designed to be the soundtrack for sleazy e-boy TikToks. The album is more than enough fodder to sustain a wave of lip-sync videos until the next batch of horny slow jams finds its way to the airwaves.
Bieber seems eager to illustrate just how much he’s matured now that he’s a married man, but there’s an inescapable juvenility that comes with referring to sex with his wife as “that yummy yummy.” Bieber has grown older, but it’s uncertain if he’s grown up.
That childishness is encapsulated in the social media campaign through which Bieber promoted his single. In January, his Instagram feed was a barrage of bizarre photos of babies, each accompanied by the word “yummy.” He begged fans to listen to the song on streaming platforms and to buy it on iTunes in order to get it to the top of the charts.
One post is captioned “Let’s get yummy number 1 stream it now!! And please buy on iTunes!!!!!!!! Follow me on tik tok.” Another post, which has since been deleted, featured a repost of a fan-made graphic with instructions for how to manipulate streaming algorithms. The graphic told fans to “create a playlist with yummy on repeat and stream it” on Spotify, and to “buy the song multiple times on Justin’s website” as well as on iTunes.
The ultimate weakness of this album is its thematic shallowness. Bieber paddles on the surface, so hesitant — or so enthralled with young love — that he doesn’t dive any deeper to explore themes that don’t revolve around romance.
It’s not for lack of other things to talk about. He has battled substance abuse, chronic illness, breakups and a meteoric rise to fame that would make even the most grounded person’s head spin. The problem is that all of this is only alluded to in passing in the title track, which arrives three-quarters of the way through the album.
That lack of complexity is disappointing because at this point in his life, Bieber should be perfectly poised to take a chill beat and reflect on the path that brought him to where he is now. The end result is a record that ends up being a lot like Valentine’s Day candy: excessively saccharine, prone to cause toothaches and empty of anything substantial.
“Changes” is available on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms.