The first voice on Justin Bieber’s new album, JUSTICE, isn’t Bieber — it’s Martin Luther King Jr., delivering his oft-quoted line, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The line introduces a song called “2 Much,” a love song with lines like “Two seconds without you’s like two months.” It’s one of two speeches by Dr. King excerpted on JUSTICE and turning heads, along with a 104-second interlude of a 1967 sermon. “I still can’t get over Justin Bieber naming his album ‘Justice’ and using that MLK audio clip before transitioning into a Fame Monster leftover,” TV writer Kirk A. Moore tweeted. “Also, no one at the label thought to tell him… this ain’t it.” Podcast host Alex Lewis joked about Bieber and the U.S. government both “giving Black people ‘Justice’ but it’s really just MLK quotes.” And early reviews also took issue with Bieber quoting King on an album that largely seemed to be about his wife, Hailey. (Following the interlude, in which King talks about dying for justice, is a song called “Die for You,” on which Bieber sings, “I would walk through burning fire / Even if your kiss could kill me.”) “If you’re wondering why anyone thought it was a good idea to conflate civil-right martyrdom with the thought of succumbing to a hot woman, keep wondering,” Variety wrote in its review. “Hot goings-on, not What’s Going On,” the Guardian headlined its review, referencing Marvin Gaye’s 1971 protest album.
Bieber did appear to get permission to use the clips from the King estate. “Thank you, @justinbieber, for your support,” Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice King, tweeted, in response to Bieber’s announcement that he would partner with the King Center, among other social justice organizations. But other artists have had trouble using King speeches in their work, as Moore noted, citing that Ava DuVernay wrote new speeches for her biopic, Selma. “This just feels trashy and inappropriate,” he added.
When he announced the album three weeks ago, Bieber tweeted about “healing and justice for humanity.” His goal with the album, he added, was “to make songs that people can relate to and connect to so they feel less alone.” Yet the album barely even alludes to social justice issues, even as Bieber continues to talk about his new music in that context. “If we aren’t standing up for what’s right, what are we doing? It’s very timely and very necessary,” he told press of the King interlude during an album listening event, according to Official Charts.
Yet Bieber still released a song visualizer for the “MLK Interlude” on YouTube, alongside the rest of the songs on his new album. If Martin Luther King Jr. cracks the Billboard charts, you know who to blame.