I want to talk to you about ‘Sunglasses’, the brilliant single from emerging London six-piece Black Country, New Road. It’s a current obsession of mine; a nine-minute post-punk spoken word song with a withering, caustic tone and some fantastic lyrics. But instead, I’ve been asked to write about the new Justin Bieber single.
Now, for those who somehow don’t know, Justin was a teen pop star who successfully made the tricky transition to chart-friendly R&B / EDM with 2015 album Purpose. I can’t profess to be au fait with the record’s finer details, but the singles were absolutely huge and I can’t pretend that ‘Where Are U Now’ doesn’t slap a little.
In the interim period, he’s dropped a couple of massive features and dealt with a range of personal issues which probably come with the territory of suddenly becoming a millionaire when you’re in Year 9.
But now, Biebs is back. And Def Jam didn’t waste any time in kicking off 2020 Bieber season, releasing new single, (sigh) “Yummy”, just three days into the new year. “Yummy” is his first solo single in five years. His fans have been waiting. Was it any good?
Well, before we get to that, there are a couple of things to mention. And I know that it’s tediously obvious to lambast the soulless machinations of the music industry. But please, indulge me anyway.
Everything about “Yummy” indicates that it was not the product of genuine artistic expression, but planned in a boardroom instead. From the sickly, (unfortunately) unforgettable title, to the carefully synchronised act of the Biebmeister joining video-sharing service TikTok on release day, “Yummy” was precision-engineered to go viral. I mean, just look at the fucking video!
“Hey kids! Lip sync along to the Biebertron’s sexual innuendos! Look at his pink hair and funny glasses! Hey, now he’s dancing in a tank top for no apparent reason!”
In a way, there’s something to admire about the absolute shamelessness of the label’s strategy. I mean, Bieblad even used Instagram to promote specific instructions on how to get his single to no.1 by gaming the system. I mentioned this tactic in a piece last year, but I’ve never seen it done this blatantly before.
And then after all that, there’s the actual song – which is the least interesting thing about the new JB single. Because it’s just…so…bland! It’s a by-the-numbers, pop-R&B track that has this sterile, factory-produced sheen on it. Biebdog might be purring food-themed come-ons, but he may as well be crooning the contents of a car parts catalogue. “I Don’t Care”, his god-awful collaboration with Ed Sheeran last year, had a similarly disturbingly-phoned-in quality. These empty songs could be sung by anyone – they’re just vehicles for big stars to shift units for the labels.
My issue is that even the most mainstream pop music simply doesn’t have to be shit. But in this case, Def Jam, despite knowing that Bieber can actually release semi-decent music, decided to go risk-free with this one, creating a characterless, mostly palatable, inoffensive stock pop number to ease J-Bob back into the spotlight.
That’s their prerogative. And maybe it’s harmless, right? My first album, as a nine-year-old, was Simon Cowell-signed Westlife’s self-titled debut – from which all of the first four songs went to no. 1. I still know the words to ‘If I Let You Go’, and ‘Flying Without Wings’ is my go-to karaoke tune. I like to think my music taste turned out ok in the end(…)
I just hope that #Bieber2020 gets better than this. Because this food-themed song isn’t the equivalent of one of your five-a-day – it’s more like processed junk food, mostly fed to kids. And anyway, despite all of the promotion, “Yummy” only charted at no. 5 in the UK last week. If something’s not good for you, you’ll get sick of it after a while.
Words by Tom Burrows