Justin Bieber received criticism this week following the release of his studio album, Justice, which included multiple samples from Martin Luther King Jr. speeches. Although MLK was credited as a songwriter, many accused the pop singer of pandering and performative activism, pointing to the disconnect between MLK’s words and the album’s actual themes.

bieber has an interlude on his new album called ‘MLK interlude’ and it‘s a clip of a MLK speech and then it moves into a song…. about his love for… hailey? pic.twitter.com/DQVYUiLV4o

— ︎joe (@jxeker) March 19, 2021

justin bieber using mlk speeches about justice… to sing about his white wife ?

— cxitIyn (@cxitIyn) March 19, 2021

Who in the hell let Justin Bieber walk out the studio with an album called Justice w two samples of MLK and every track got him having a grand ol white ass time singin bout his wife over synthesized pop beats… my blood pressure gets higher every day, on god pic.twitter.com/TrzZ6s4d3h

— Derek Brown (@greendrawblin) March 19, 2021

Justice opens with one of MLK Jr.’s most recognizable quotes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” which is attributed to an open letter penned in 1963. The album also included “MLK Interlude,” a nearly two-minute track that sampled the civil rights leader’s 1967 sermon, “But If Not.” 

In the hours leading up to the project’s release, Bieber announced a campaign that aimed to raise awareness and generate support for social justice organizations. One of these groups was The King’s Center, a nonprofit founded by MLK’s family. MLK’s daughter Bernice King, who is also The King’s Center CEO, took to Twitter to publicly thank Bieber for his support; It was a gesture that many perceived as a co-sign of Bieber’s album.

Bieber spoke about his MLK samples in a recent interview with Vogue:

“What I wanted to do with this was amplify [Dr] Martin Luther King Jr’s voice to this generation,” Bieber explained. “Being Canadian, it wasn’t so much a part of my culture […] this speech was actually during the time when [he had] a feeling that he was going to die for the cause, and what he was standing up against was ultimately racism and division. I think his message was that a lot of people can be afraid to stand up for what is right, but if you’re not standing up for justice — for what is right — what are you doing with your life? I’m sorry to get so deep, but these are the times we’re living in. That’s why I wanted to make this album because I think it’s very timely and very necessary.”