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Music Reviews

MPAA Rating
Pop, R&B, Rap/Hip-Hop
Debuted in iTunes' Top 10.
Record Label
December 23, 2013
Adam R. Holz
Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber


The landscape of the music world is constantly evolving, with online outlets affording artists more ways than ever to distribute their work. In the 10 weeks from October to mid-December in 2013, for instance, Justin Bieber released a new track each Monday via iTunes. Now he's bundled those tunes and added five more in a "limited-edition collection" dubbed Journals. The 15-song effort feels like an official album, but it isn't being billed as such, and it's only available digitally.

Pro-Social Content

Begging is the first thing we hear on "Heartbreaker," as Bieber sings, "Girl, you don't know how I feel (how I really feel)/Since you've been away, oh baby," then pleads, "Any chance that you could take my call (take my call)/If I dialed you today, oh?" And while such vulnerable pining isn't necessarily positive, he later suggests that while he's got real flaws, those shouldn't completely disqualify him: "Despite all of the imperfections of who I am/I still wanna be your man/ … And I want you to know that I still love you." Here and elsewhere, Bieber pledges love through ups and downs, good times and bad: "I know the seasons may change/And sometimes love goes from sunshine to rain/ … I still believe in us/I still believe in love."

"All That Matters" continues in the same vein: "Oh, oh, whenever you're not in my presence/It feels like I'm missing my blessings, yeah." "Recovery" finds Biebs taking responsibility for mistakes ("I know that I caused a problem") and praying for a second chance ("First, I'll acknowledge/Your trust has been broken now/A successful recovery/I pray for us at night"). Similarly, "Change Me" includes this vow: "If you're with it, then I'm with it now/To accept all the responsibility/I'd go outta my way/To live by the words that you say." Though perhaps naive, he also tells her, "Maybe you could change me/Maybe you could be the light/That opens up my eyes/Make all my wrongs right." "One Life" offers yet another take on those sorts of faithfulness pledges. And the strangely titled "What's Hatnin'" focuses on conflict resolution and forgiveness ("Arguin' won't fix the problem/ … We just need forgiveness, baby").

In the "File Under: What?" category, "Backpack" has Bieber singing about rescuing a pint-sized alien (played hilariously—and without objectionable content—by Lil Wayne, of all people) and keeping the lil xenomorph exile in his backpack. "Stay in my backpack forever," Justin entreats. "You know I gotta find my spaceship/ … I can't stay in your backpack forever," the alien replies. On one level, it's one of the more innocently odd songs I've heard recently. On another, it's yet another example of Bieber trying to cling to a valued relationship.

Objectionable Content

The most glaringly problematic song on Journals, "PYD," features Bieber and R. Kelly singing about having sex with a woman in just about as many locations as they can brainstorm. The titular acronym stands for "put you down," a slang reference to sex: "From the door to the wall/Coffee table, girl, get ready/I'ma put you down (PYD, PYD, PYD)/All the way down (PYD, PYD, PYD)." And on and on and on it goes as the two singers list locales for their carnal conquests.

In the same nasty neighborhood is "Confident," on which Justin says of someone he's apparently just spied, "Focused, I'm focused/She got a body like that/I ain't never seen nothing like that/Like a fantasy in front of me." Sex soon follows: "She said it's her first time/I think she might have lied/Feels so good, d‑‑n." Bieber follows up with some racial condescension: "What's your nationality? I wonder if there's more of you." Later, Chance the Rapper adds two objectifying comments about the girl's "a‑‑" as he crudely sings about having sex with her as well.

"All That Matters" references a couple's sexual relationship. "Only been missing my lover," Bieber sings. And later he wonders, "What's a king bed without a queen?" "Hold Tight" focuses almost exclusively on sex: "Them lips won't let me go/ … Don't let this go to your head/But you're the best I've ever had." Those lyrics are then paired with this visually suggestive image: "Not to mention/That thing is swollen/You got me, oh, so in a trance." "Roller Coaster" references sex as well. And on "Memphis" Biebs brags, "If you spend the night, baby, it could be heaven." Guest Big Sean's contribution on that track includes an f-word.

"All Bad" makes a meanspirited and sexist accusation ("Ooh, you know females/And how they like to run their mouths"), and includes the line, "Least I'm provin' that I give a d‑‑n."

Summary Advisory

Journals is a mournfully desperate, frequently "freaky" set of songs that finds the 19-year-old Canadian singer begging for a second chance with an ex. And it's tempting to buy in to Justin Bieber's repeated pleas for one last loop-around with his beloved. That's because the painfully plaintive nature of his repeated pleas gives him an air of wounded authenticity. It's not hard to believe that he really has lost the one girl (Selena Gomez?) who means everything to him, and that he'll do anything to win her back—including apologizing, taking responsibility for bad behavior and pledging lifelong faithfulness.

Bieber's earnestness is undeniably winsome, then. But there are enough other nasty confessions jotted down in his Journals to help us see why his beloved (whoever she may be) might be rightly hesitant to take him at his cajoling word. Whether he's bragging about bedding sexy foreign girls or copulating on counter tops (among a long laundry list of other surfaces), it's abundantly clear that Bieber's libido is nearly as potent as his romantic promises—if not more so.