Justin Bieber loves his wife. Being married, sharing a life together, having sex with his lawfully wedded spouse — he’s enjoying all these elements of his life as a 25-year-old, so much so that he has now recorded an entire album about this subject and not much else. Changes, which appropriately came out on Valentine’s Day, is a honeymoon phase in R&Bieber form: sweet, uncomplicated, and maybe just a bit hard to imagine lasting forever.
Bieber’s first album since 2015’s blockbuster, Purpose, comes after an extended period of personal tumult, as charted in his glossy new docuseries, Seasons. Public fuck-ups, breakups, and more have clouded the adulthood of a still-young star who’s been immensely famous since his teens. Changes celebrates the stability he’s finally found: On song after song, Bieber tells us that he’s young, in love, and doing very well, thank you. There’s an endearing newness to the way he sings about his wife, Hailey, a gorgeous model who shares the Christian values he’s been talking about all his life. On “Forever,” he wonders, “Could you be here with me forever?” He begs for close physical proximity on “All Around Me”: “I need you all around me.” On “E.T.A.” he wonders just how long he will have to wait for his wife to get home (“Be honest, what’s your E.T.A.?”).
None of these songs are bad, exactly, but they’re almost universally forgettable, with little of the catchiness that’s been Bieber’s hallmark in the past. His version of the trap-soul sound once pioneered by Bryson Tiller and made ubiquitous by Drake — dripping in rolling high-hats, accented by a soft guitar strum here and there — is soft and tender, but it wears on the listener with few variations from one song to the next.
What’s ultimately missing from this album is Bieber’s charming malleability as an artist. He has positioned Changes as “R&Bieber,” but his new music is devoid of the dangerous eroticism that marked his excellent 2013 mixtape, Journals, a true R&Bieber moment. There, we heard a star taking a new step in his life — adulthood — with a willingness to liven up his clean-cut bubblegum by placing himself at the center of then-dominant trends in rap, R&B, and pop. The hints of messiness in execution only made Journals all the more fun, and they began a journey of risk-taking trend-hopping for Biebz that found him at the charismatic center of movements like trop-pop and EDM. As pop itself becomes more genre-blurred and undefinable with every passing year, though, this long-undefinable pop star sounds more like he’s floating aimlessly through shallow waters.
The 16 songs on Changes focus almost exclusively on the logistics of having sex when you are both hot, young, and working in fields that require a lot of time apart. The concept itself is kind of funny, but the execution is often unimaginative and cliché, especially given how earnestly Bieber delivers every line, no matter how ridiculous. The details of how and when the Biebers will “get it in expeditiously,” as he suggests on “Come Around Me,” feel as banal as doing your taxes, and the lyrics sound like they were solely written to be used in #relationshipgoals Instagram posts. Even when Bieber experiences cheeky moments of wondering “who taught you how to drive stick,” it sounds more like he is legitimately posing a question about her car-driving skills as opposed to what’s going on in the bedroom.
If you’ve been following Bieber for years, it’s nice to know his life is so loving and boring now. The idea of expressing that feeling through music is nice, too, though a shorter, stronger project would have done so more effectively than this long, exhausting trudge. What he could use in the future is a commitment to finding either humor or more-nuanced reflections on his new life. He showcases both in Seasons, talking with candor about his struggles and goofing off with his wife and collaborators. There appears to be some semblance of looseness in his life now, and he may, for the first time, be in a place as an artist where he doesn’t owe anything to anyone but himself. Bieber has the capability to dig deeper into his soul for both joy and pain. It’s high time he tries that out in his music.