After a three-year streak without a note of Justin Bieber solo music, 2020 has been comparatively flush with activity from the Canadian singer. The arrival of his ‘R&Bieber’ comeback single ‘Yummy’ back in January served as the first taste of his star-studded yet ultimately underwhelming fifth album ‘Changes’, which followed a month later. The subsequent global shutdown scuppered Bieber’s summer plans to tour ‘Changes’, although the pandemic did inspire his May team-up with Ariana Grande for their lockdown-nodding charity single ‘Stuck with U’ (which then led to a weird falling-out with Tekashi 6ix9ine).
Nine months into this most ridiculous of years, the 26-year-old is now poised to move into a “new era”, as his manager Scooter Braun put it recently. Released in the early hours of this morning, this new dawn is a ‘Holy’ one. Well, on first glance, at least: the title of Bieber’s new collaborative single with Chance The Rapper would appear to be a clear nod to the former’s recent embrace of Kanye-endorsed gospel music, religion and God. After all, Bieber told his fans in a video at the start of the year that he believes he’s “right where I’m supposed to be and God has me right where he wants me”.
But once you wrap your ears around ‘Holy’, Bieber’s latest offering turns out to be less a divine proclamation of his faith and more a declaration of his love and, er, lust for his partner. “I don’t believe in nirvana,” he sings over a walking bassline and bright drums, creating the sense of a church band-style accompaniment when uplifting piano chords join in. “But the way that we love in the night gave me life / Baby, I can’t explain”. Oh, for the love of God, Justin.
An optimistic love song caked in Christian imagery (“Runnin’ to the altar like a track star”) might not please the puritans, but Bieber plainly admits on ‘Holy’ that he doesn’t “think that I’ll be a saint” — and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees with that. Most people will be too busy, anyway, trying to free their minds of the track’s repetition-reliant chorus (“the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me / Feels so holy, holy, holy, holy, holy”) which, while not exactly suitable for the church pews, is perfect fodder for daytime radio playlists across the virus-savaged world.
Chance, himself an openly religious mainstream artist, is a rather obvious choice of guest here – although he does inject his charismatic energy into ‘Holy’ once his verse kicks in, upping the God-related lyrical content further in the process: “I know when the son takes the first steps, the Father’s proud / If you make it to the water, He’ll part the clouds.” He does drop in some cringeworthy lines — “When they get messy, go lefty like Lionel Messi” is a terrible own goal – which isn’t an ideal tactic for someone who must be desperate to regain their credibility in the rap world following his widely-derided album ‘The Big Day’.
While a guest spot on a Justin Bieber track won’t exactly win back the haters overnight, it’s a solid enough feature from Chance that offers some scant hope that he may have a second wind in the future.
Bieber, on the other hand, has begun his second assault on 2020 with ‘Holy’. It remains to be seen whether he’ll go full-Kanye West by thematically embracing religion in his next body of work, but, for now, you have to at least applaud the timing of ‘Holy’. With all of your plans for the future put on hold, economies and industries in ruins and a dreaded second wave looming, who wouldn’t want to be held until it feels holy?