Freedom. is a platitude-heavy onslaught of alternately generic and sympathy-seeking songwriting that makes for a wholly embarrassing EP.
Offering a second helping of solipsistic pop psalms just in time for Easter, Justin Bieber has “blessed” listeners with a new EP worth of material only a mere month after his last really bad studio album. Freedom. — dramatically stylized with a period at the end, so you know Justin is really serious about this — is his first overtly Christian release, which might help to explain why it’s gotten nearly zero coverage by most major music outlets. Which is not to suggest that the Christain faith has been wrongfully persecuted by the mainstream media over the past few years (one can reasonably assume most of the vitriol a reborn Kanye West has faced was more politically motivated), but it has more or less become a musical mode most won’t critically engage with: most writers understand that covering this now niche genre requires a great degree of theological knowledge and personal good-will regarding the given topic to not come off like a cranky, clueless smug asshole — or, really, like Bill Maher every time he opens his mouth. So take the following pan not as a polemic aimed towards a particular religion and more as an attack against the rampant appropriation of such iconography for personal gain. In a sense, Jesus is here what MLK Jr. was on Justice: a prop, some nice window dressing to make you think better of its lead artist.
After adopting a Jamaican blaccent on the watered-down dancehall title track, in a similar fashion to when his Canadian brother Drake raps about his “tings,” JB delves into the meat and potatoes of this affair: a series of platitudinous tracks on faith and spirituality in a COVID-ravaged world. This abstract sort of engagement would seem cute if spouted by a semi-clueless teenager; but at 27, Bieber, possibly the least self-conscious megastar alive, reveals he contemplates life in some rather simplistic terms. On the acoustic “We’re In This Together,” he speaks on how “I’ve had everything in life that people strive for/Just to ask the question: “What are we alive for?” suggesting material wealth only provides momentary happiness and doesn’t fulfill one’s purpose in life; a lame, sorta obvious point that comes off as facetious finger-wagging from a horrendously wealthy socialite. And this doesn’t even compare to how outright offensive his ethos gets when he claims on the chorus that “One thing I know is we’re in this together” which, considering the current state of things, are we really in this together, Mr. Millionaire Justin? (Also, tell that to Lil Twist).
Things somehow get even worse as Bieber posits, on “Afraid to Say,” that Jesus would never cancel anyone, which is one of the biggest problems plaguing society at the moment. Besides this being an alarmingly untrue conservative talking point, with issues such as poverty, unemployment, inequality, racism, and immigration being far more prevalent for most Americans (maybe this is strictly an Ontario thing), it brazenly reeks of a privileged manbaby lamenting that the woke mob is about to get him. He frames this message to speak about all mankind — “We can’t write people off / God never writes us off / Even in our darkest days, even when we least deserve it” — when it’s beyond obvious what he’s really doing here: cleansing himself wholesale of his own sins, rhetorically asking “And can’t there be room for maturity?” to make all these critics out as the real bad guys for not granting him enough leniency. As proven with his other pity-inducing closer from 2021, “Lonely,” there’s never an opportunity Bieber won’t take in making you feel bad for him.
Not even the actual musical side of things can save this awful songwriting, with lowkey instrumentals and cheap instrumentation serving as unregistrable background noise for awkwardly inserted sermons. This approach is most apparent on “Where You Go I Follow,” which features an extended spoken-word outro from pastor and long-time close friend of the Biebs Judah Smith, set to a limp trap beat. His looming, sedated voice sounds as half-hearted as the rest of the material on Freedom., which further cements Bieber as an egotist who barely seems to grasp the basic tenets of his religion beyond the whole forgiveness angle and how it affects his bottom line. If Justin’s supposed lord and savior died for his sins, it seems as if his disciple has failed to nail down the apparent sentiment — which is the total opposite of how the Romans were able to nail him down, if ya know what I mean.
Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 2.