Why Did Bieber Choose Now To Get Into Performative Activism?
Justin Bieber’s newest album JUSTICE faces criticism for its misuse of MLK
( @justinbieber / Instagram )
Rihanna could have prevented this. If she had released R9 as promised, we wouldn’t be dealing with Bieber “misusing” and “appropriating” in yet another album. He would have never dared to produce music after the rerun of the Notorious R.I.H (please read “rih” with the same intonation as B.I.G) and we’d have a banger for the summer.
On March 26, Justin Bieber released his sixth studio album JUSTICE in tandem with a social campaign to “support organizations that embody what justice looks like.”
Like any celebrity’s attempt at activism, controversy surrounds the album and its accompanying social justice efforts.
As JUSTICE’s first track 2 Much begins we hear MLK, not Bieber, say, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Then the audio transitions, a sweet piano ballad commences, and Bieber croons, “'Cause eternity with you ain't long enough. Two seconds without you's like two months. And that's too much.”
It’s a love song. 2 Much — a song which again, commences with MLK’s words on injustice — is a love song. Very much “weird flex but okay” vibes.
This intro alone made it quickly and increasingly clear that Bieber’s alleged focus on social justice and actual the lyrics of his songs do not match. I’m not sure who on the label thought Bieber’s lyrics, “Love the way you love your mom,” matched the caliber of language MLK used and were a good marriage with the beauty, pain and desperation of MLK’s words, but they’re either hilarious for letting it happen or out of a job by now.
The seventh track on the album, MLK Interlude, uses samples from King’s 1967 sermon, ‘But If Not’. In it, MLK’s voice washes over the listener as he begins, “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.”
In the last seconds of the interlude, MLK powerfully concluded, “You die when you refuse to stand up for justice.” Naturally, the interlude then leads into a disco-esque ode to (you guessed it) Hailey Bieber.
So just after MLK calls for listeners to pursue justice at all costs, even if it means death, Bieber lets us know he would chase a kiss from his wife to his death.
Assuming he meant his wife.
Contributing Pitchfork writer, Rawiya Kameir summed it up succinctly in an album review when she wrote, “And if Bieber is anything, he is a corporation; perhaps that is why I don’t find it especially jarring to hear King’s exhortation for radical sacrifice juxtaposed with a song about being horny enough to walk through fire.”
The Internet – the most widely recognized body of standards and regulations – has been outraged by his latest release. It wasn’t because of his flavor-less bubblegum pop music like last time (yes, that’s a dig at Yummy). It was because it was tone-deaf in its use of sampled audio of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
According to Twitter users, JUSTICE was decent-at-best music sprinkled with misuse and poor timing.
It’s worth mentioning the caucacity JB demonstrates using MLK’s words as a backing track to what could be described as a 22-song romantic gesture to his wife. JUSTICE — regardless of intention or amount donated by Bieber leading up to the release day — belittles the seriousness of what MLK stood for.
Bieber’s the latest white person to adopt the trend of using MLK to promote messages he hasn’t actually stood for in the past. In doing so, his words invalidate the actions and experiences of the Black community.
The civil rights movement and MLK himself are sensitive topics for the BIPOC community, especially following a summer of white people taking MLK’s words out of context. (Let us not forget when some dared to challenge MLK’s son himself, claiming MLK would have condemned the “violent” protests and looting that occurred in response to Black pain. Seems like Bieber’s on it though.) For Black people, justice continues to be an unattainable concept. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are glaring examples.
On Twitter, some raised concerns about copyright issues and infringement but apparently, the appropriate channels were taken and King’s Daughter, Bernice King herself applauded Bieber’s efforts.
Ultimately, it boiled down to a matter of bad taste and poor execution rather than egregious offenses or unlawful behavior by Bieber. But then again, bad taste and poor execution aren’t shocking from the man who couldn’t plan for gas, got stranded in the streets and then gave us:
Alazne Cameron was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and is an Online Activism writer at Rowdy Magazine. She loves food-based metaphors, alliteration and social justice. Her favorite food is food for thought (but anything with a cheesy, creamy Alfredo base is a close second). You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @alaznecameron for more information.