Earlier this year, Justin Bieber kicked off the campaign for his most recent album with the grossly underappreciated and overly-criticized “Yummy.” The slinky trap-inflected R&B pop song set the tone for Justin’s fifth album, Changes — a bloated collection of R&B and R&B-inspired love songs that too often erred on the side of monotony. Admittedly, after “Yummy” and “Intentions (feat. Quavo),” both of which landed in the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 10, the album campaign lost steam. No more singles were released Stateside, and the album continued to slip down the charts. As of this writing, the album currently ranks at #109 on the Billboard 200.
With this in mind, it only makes sense that Bieber & Co. would look ahead (justice for “Available!”) and start laying the groundwork for his next album era. In order to do so, The Biebs has recruited none other than Chance the Rapper. The three-time Grammy winner released his disappointing debut album, The Big Day, last year and featured on a track from Brandy (“Baby Mama“) this year. Chance and Bieber have previously collaborated on “Confident,” “Juke Jam,” “I’m The One,” and “No Brainer.” On “Holy,” Justin fully leans into the musical side of his Christian awakening and attempts to bring back Coloring Book era Chance. The track takes some cues from contemporary gospel (choirs and tambourines!) as Justin likens his relationship with his wife, Hailey Bieber, to his journey with God.
The most striking thing about “Holy” is how comfortable Justin sounds on the track. One of the things that prevented Changes from fully clicking was how awkward Justin sounded over some of the production. On “Holy,” however, he sounds markedly more at ease as he plays around in his lower register. Justin sounds fully invested in this song and that conviction adds some much-needed color to his vocal performance. The latter half of the verse melody is the star of the song in the way that it plays against the bouncy piano line and gentle tambourine. The chorus, which is also very catchy, explicitly opens up the song’s metaphor to be about his wife, God, or both at the same time. Interestingly, Bieber is able to fit in two verses and a bridge before Chance’s verse which only exacerbates the fact that Chance’s verse was unnecessary. Entirely too long and accented with his grating “singing” voice, Chance ruins the momentum of the song with a verse that says nothing and adds even less. This is frustrating because Chance is undoubtedly a talented rapper, but it feels like ever since Coloring Book, he has been in his own head which prevents him from reaching his full potential. The utterly forgettable verse forces Bieber to work overtime on the final chorus, and he, in fact, does rise to the occasion. The backing choir jumps into the driver seat and Justin smartly focuses on adding harmonies in his lower register instead of predictably opting to flex his falsetto.
“Holy” isn’t a masterpiece, but it does feel more natural than most of the Changes tracks. Justin sounds at home on this track and it’s an intriguing preview to what Christian-inspired Justin Bieber pop songs will sound like in 2020 and beyond.