A View From The Top #3

by Sam Norris

For the fifth week running now, Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean? is at Number 1 in the charts. He valiantly defeated the likes of R City and Adam Levine, with a boring, linear cod-reggae song Locked Away, and chart-regular Drake’s Hotline Bling. What does this mean? Well, it means that JB is one week behind the longest No. 1 of 2015, Mark Ronson’s ubiquitous Uptown Funk. And it’s entirely possible that the Canadian could topple it.

This all seems to suggest that What Do You Mean? is fast becoming the biggest song of the year, which is perhaps more unnerving than it is impressive. That’s not to say the song is bad - quite the contrary. As a pop song, it ticks all of the rudimentary boxes: fruity flutes dance along nicely with a quasi-house beat, and the vocals straddle the melodic and the catchy. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to think of it in the same echelon as Ronson’s feel-good funk masterpiece, especially in light of Bieber’s slightly dubious lyrical substance.

Having said that, here are a few points in favour of the Bieb-maester. Throughout the track, a clock ticks at 124 beats per minute, slightly faster than the beat itself at 120. This is no gimmick - it conveys a sense of urgency, an impatience that augments the confusion transmitted in the lyrics. The song structure is stolid – as the beat drops away, the ticking clock pulls you onwards on a voyage of self-discovery. The piano and synth throbs are spiritual, pulsating like heartbeats, emanating colour and depth. Bieber’s vocals sound like a tender, innocent adolescent bear cub voicing frustration at the female bears for their capricious behaviour - just what do they mean?

I’ll let you decide which parts of that were ironic. One can’t help but wonder if Justin’s success is actually representative of listening trends, given that the charts don’t take streaming into account, or whether the orcish hordes of Beliebers are just vast enough to legitimately take over the mainstream world. Perhaps we should start calling him Sauron Bieber.

Years ago, the charts were the “go to” place to find current musical trends. Decreases in CD sales, the widespread free streaming of songs in recent years and Jameela Jamil’s sanctimonious, patronising jibber-jabber has arguably put the charts off-balance. Some would say they no longer truly reflect musical trends. This seems strange, however: the charts measure music that is paid for, and you’d think that the kind of person who regularly pays for music is the kind of person who would be engaging in current musical movements. So perhaps Justin Bieber has indeed got a leg to stand on.

It’s hard to deny the song’s popularity taking into account it’s 178 million Spotify views and 174 million YouTube views (and that’s only on the official video), plus probably millions more streams on other sites. Bieber has captivated people with something, be it his personality, his song making, or his fly trim. Does it really matter which one it is? No. Either way, I can only concede that this track is one of the greatest tracks of this year. And it just might go on to be the greatest: it’s come this far, what could stop it?

Elsewhere in the charts, singer-songwriter Jamie Lawson has launched his grappling hook from 40 to Number 6 with Wasn’t Expecting That. I don’t think we were either, but it’s actually not bad.