Released Friday, Bieber’s sixth studio album, Justice, begins with one of the late civil rights icon’s most famous quotes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” words from his April 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”
Six tracks later is “MLK Interlude,” a 1-minute, 44-second snippet of King’s sermon “But If Not,” which he delivered at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in November 1967. “I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live,” King said as he urged his audience to do what is right, regardless of consequences.
Because of his contributions, King is even credited as a songwriter on Bieber’s album.
Some critics, both professional and civilian, had an issue with the use of King’s words, finding a disconnect between their origins and their placement on Justice.
As Variety reviewer Chris Willman — who has written for Yahoo Music in the past — noted, the song following the second King segment is about Bieber being willing to risk his life for a romance. “Now, 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: It, like the other MLK bit, or the socially conscious-sounding rationale for the album title, for that matter, doesn’t make a lick of sense,” he noted in a piece that was largely positive overall.
A lot of listeners agreed with him.
Justin Bieber has an “MLK Interlude” on his album. Then, an 80’s inspired pop song about dying for love comes on next. pic.twitter.com/11uBfJVGb3
— RacismSummitBookingAgent (@KirkWrites79) March 19, 2021
im confused why this justin bieber album is called justice and has a whole mlk skit if it’s just about how in love he is with hailey bieber💀
— bri🤪 (@iamabriannaa) March 19, 2021
justin bieber using mlk speeches about justice… to sing about his white wife ?
— cxitIyn (@cxitIyn) March 19, 2021
justin bieber profiting off of the civil rights movement as a white man is weird. his album is called ‘justice’ and has an MLK interlude but speaks nowhere of social justice, and is focused on love & relationships… huh?
— aly (@herestokesha) March 19, 2021
Why did Justin Bieber put a MLK speech on his album 😭😭😭
— Daniel (@flicker6dalinco) March 19, 2021
justin bieber’s album is cute but calling it justice and inserting a minute MLK speech when the rest of the album are love songs … pic.twitter.com/b7dGPWin7D
— thalia (@ThaliaMariie) March 19, 2021
However, some very important people appreciated Bieber’s move: notably King’s daughter Bernice and the staff at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. They pointed out that the performer called on fans to support the King Center and other organizations dedicated to social justice on the eve of his latest collection’s release.
Yahoo Entertainment did not immediately hear back after reaching out to a Bieber spokesman for comment.
Meanwhile, none of the controversy appears to be affecting sales. Justice was the best-selling album in the iTunes Store on Friday. His latest single, “Peaches,” from the album, was the fifth best-selling song.
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