Just weeks after his sixth studio album Justice went to number 1 in over 130 countries around the world in 2021, the Canadian superstar released a surprise gospel-influenced EP to celebrate Easter.
Appropriately named Freedom, the pop-gospel tracks represent the star finally breaking free from the constructs of teenage fame, the Prince of Pop label and his turbulent past, in his first EP since My World in 2009.
Featuring an album cover of a screenshotted iPhone notes page, the limited promo behind Freedom consisted of Bieber posting it on his Instagram to his 170 million followers.
And with the project only taking 4 days from start to end, it’s no surprise.
Whilst his sixth album was meant to forge a new era in Bieber’s long career, a legal issue over his album cover and controversy over the inclusion of MLK Jr. audio meant Justice became little more than a sonically and lyrically sound chart-topper.
And although Justice garnered international acclaim, making Bieber the first solo male to debut at number one on both the Billboard 200 albums chart and Billboard Hot 100 songs chart, Freedom has received little mainstream attention.
However, the album and songs did debut high on the Christian charts due to their religious nature.
With lyrics grounded in faith, contrasting from the honeymoon crooning wife Hailey Bieber on 2020 R&B project Changes, or 2014 heartbreak anthology Journals about Bieber’s ex-girlfriend Selena Gomex, the songs on Freedom are an ode to a greater force.
Personal recollections and faith are intertwined in the EP just as they were in his life, with prayer outros in “Where You Go I Follow” feat. Pink Sweat$, Chandler Moore and Judah Smith and “Where Do I Fit In” feat. Tori Kelly, Chandler Moore and Judah Smith.
Beginning with the title song “Freedom”, a simple religious anthem with lyrics such as “the Devil is a liar” and “can’t you see the Messiah” is funked up by the inclusion of Jamaican and pop beats and rapper BEAM’s second verse.
In the second track “All She Wrote”, the multi-millionaire questions what God, who is depicted as a female, has in store for him now after such a successful career at such a young age: “Is there more for my life or is that all she wrote?”
The song reaps vulnerability and emotion as Bieber states: “I’m broken through and through” and “I’m a mess, but I’m trying to grow” and embraces Christian messages whilst cussing: “Damn it.”
Featuring Brandon Love in the third verse, Chandler Moore’s bridge and no chorus, the song sounds simultaneously inspired by Drake and traditional gospel music.
Following on, “We’re In This Together” which starts and ends with unprecedented raps from Bieber, sandwiched with a familiar chorus of blended pop and R&B beats, mixes into this contemporary gospel EP with surprising ease.
The stand-out track from the album, surplants an insight into his difficult upbringing with past mistakes in a refreshingly honest take on his own whirlwind fame.
In the song, Bieber reminisces that in his childhood the “only thing stable” was the kitchen table, growing up he was “good at anything [he] did”, and recounted that having “a milli” and “girls throwing themselves at me” made him “silly”.
In the most honest writing yet he recalled how an FBI raid into his mansion for drugs made him realise “s*** was getting dicey…I was doing stupid s*** to get people to like me” and that he wasn’t where he wanted to be: “On the surface I felt like the man, but deep inside I felt deprived just like an empty can”.
But even among restless searching: “I’ve had everything in life that people strive for / Just to ask the question what are we alive for?” Bieber remains hopeful singing “one thing I know is we’re in this together”.
“Where You Go I Follow” is a sleek sounding praise song of God merged with an Easter allegory of Jesus’ resurrection.
The least personal of the EP, the half-way song reminds listeners that the tracks are Christian praise songs after all.
With special guests Pink Sweat$, Chandler Moore and Churchome pastor Judah Smith, Bieber warbles: “There’s nobody like you Jesus” and promises to follow God faithfully.
Next, soft and sweet melancholy rings out in Freedom’s longest track: “Where Do I Fit In.”
Introducing Grammy-winning Tori Kelly, who sung “Name” with Bieber for his “Triple Chucks Deluxe” version of Justice, and with final performances from Moore and Smith, the song follows a simple structure of one verse each.
But with Moore’s shining silky-smooth vocals, the inclusion of a female voice and Smith’s repetitively soothing sermon, the track is a gentle guide for wavering Christians, and relaxing background music for the agnostics and atheists among us.
To finish off the 22-minute EP, “Afraid To Say (feat. Lauren Walters)” is an open letter addressing celebrity culture and cancel culture.
The chorus plays: “What have we done with society? / When everybody’s being cancelled / And can’t there be room for maturity? / ‘Cause writing them off is not the answer.”
Framing it in a Christian debate, Bieber questions why we write people off when God would never do that: “Even in our darkest days / Even when we least deserve it / Even when we’re doing that stupid thing we wish we weren’t doing / God never writes us off ever.”
And just as he claims God is with us, in our pain, struggles and bad decisions, so it seems, is a new and improved Bieber.
Whilst many praised Justice for its personal insights with Deserve You, Unstable and Lonely, it is here that Bieber has finally revealed all.
At 28 years old, Bieber is sober, married, and exactly in the place no one thought he would be.