Here we are then. It’s PearShaped’s exciting new weekly comment on the charts. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t the 2nd of October an arbitrary place to start? Yes, absolutely. Especially seeing as Justin Bieber’s return makes it feel a lot like 2010. However, What Do You Mean? is JB’s first and only number one in the US and UK. Smash hits Baby and Boyfriend tragically peaked at number 3 and 2 respectively, and all it took for What Do You Mean? to break through was for the Canadian heart-throb to crease his little face up during his VMA performance, overcome with mock-emotion. So what’s really changed?
In all fairness, this is probably his best song to date; it throbs with a tropical house vibe that seems a tad unfit for October but, like his other recent single with Skrillex, the instrumentation gives his polished vocals room to breathe whilst also maintaining a solid beat. Justin’s prep for that fruity flute-synth riff is astounding; notoriously he spent most of his sabbatical in the Andes learning from master Tibetan flute players. The results speak for themselves.
The actual sentiment of the number 1 song has been heavily scrutinized. In his own words, it’s about how “Girls are often flip-floppy. They say something, and then they mean something else. ‘What do you mean?’… I don’t really know – that’s why I’m asking.”
At this point the sexism is only quite mild but feminist Lena Dunham has tweeted “Let’s do away with pop songs where a girl nods yes when she means no and vice versa, k?” clearly reminiscing about Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, with creepy rape lyrics and a video that objectified both women and goats. However MTV’s Franchesca Ramsey, acknowledging the Blurred Lines-esque concerns, counters:
“So, Blurred Lines is like, ‘You’re a good girl, but I know you want it’ whereas What Do You Mean is like, ‘Hey, is everything okay? Because it seems like you’re into me, but now you’re not saying what you want and I want to make sure you’re comfortable.’ So, essentially, it’s a song about consent. Which is really cool.”
It’s certainly a tricky one but I think the answer can be found entirely by looking just at Bieber’s always-bewildered yet good-hearted face; he’s just a bit naïve.
Puppy-eyes accounted for, Bieber’s morals are still questionable in the video to this song. Justin is seen negotiating with a shady character before joining a heavily browed beauty in a motel room for a spot of raunchy canoodling, which is interspersed with shots of her lying, aloof, on the bed as he sits up looking a bit put-out. The couple get kidnapped, spoon in the boot of a car, then jump out of a warehouse. The big reveal is that all of this was an elaborate ruse by Bieber, who wanted to bring them closer together.
This edgily shot video is a glimpse into a world where Bieber, having easily escaped controversy and criminal charges in the past, has realised just how powerful his pop-stardom is. Bieber makes the law his plaything and I worry about what he won’t do for the sake of a leggy damsel. Will he cancel Christmas this year as part of a nefarious scheme to win back Selena? The return of Bieber also comes with his spiral into lawlessness, but who cares when the songs are this catchy; he certainly is still relevant despite his new silly hair, and his desecration of preteen girls’ idea of romance.
If you’re interested in similarly unsettling bedroom antics in new music, check out the Father John Misty video for The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment that came out this week. You’ll see the Fleet Foxes singer seduce and then sex himself in a much more romantic way than Bieber and his beau. The music is better and you don’t have to worry about the touchy issue of consent because it’s technically masturbation.