Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Justin Bieber – What Do You Mean?

Let’s start Tuesday with the Canadian Bieber…


Jonathan Bradley: Is it enough for Justin Bieber to only be pretty? I don’t mean physically, in the sense prevalent since at least the days of Frank Sinatra that pop idols better suit bedroom walls than record players. I mean, rather, in “What Do You Mean” he’s a man turned into a voice turned into a glistening and trickling thing running about the clockwork machinery of this whirring, ticking, thunking, clunking production. He doesn’t have to grasp for anything here — not feeling (“Baby”), adulthood (“Boyfriend”), nor respectability (“Where Are Ü Now?” from which this transparently and understandably draws) — which means he doesn’t have that trademark cockiness either. He doesn’t have that much of anything, really, which inspires a question for the early ’00s: does lap-pop benefit from better singers or better stories?

Crystal Leww: Justin Bieber is still cruelly manipulating the girl, playing like she’s the one in charge when he knows exactly what he’s doing, but it still mostly works. The track’s production probably feels a year too late for anyone who followed UK pop house last year (“What Do You Mean” is basically a cruel hurtboy version of that Kelli-Leigh UK #1) but I listened to it every time I was in transit last week, so that counts for something as we wind into autumn.

Edward Okulicz: Against my instincts that this could easily be repurposed as some kind of #bitchesbecrazy statement, I’ve got to concede that the pan flute hook works and Bieber sells the statement with a weird naivety rather than smugness. The sentiment (“make up your mind,” as if to say if you don’t go to bed with him now you’ll miss your chance to score with the Justin Bieber) could possibly be ugly, but it’s delivered prettily.

Thomas Inskeep: Out of radio jail thanks to Skrillex and Diplo, the Biebs was clearly taking notes during the production of “Where Are Ü Now,” because this sounds like its poppier sequel — and he co-produced alongside frequent collaborator MdL. His vocal is light, the lyrics are slight, and the track is like a soft breeze. You’ll forget it in 10 minutes, but it’s pleasant as it drifts past. 

Cédric Le Merrer: This is fascinating because everything else the Bieb does is clearly hoping to establish some kind of redemption narrative. So we have to assume this is not a Kanye/Weeknd “I’m an asshole” trip. Even though it reads so much better that way! “What do You Mean” are not the words of a drunken abusive man blaming his girlfriend for having feelings, emotions, opinions. This is just a clueless but well meaning nice guy. The tick-tock beat totally isn’t there to evoke a threatening countdown until you “better make up your mind.” Bieber is just not sure what consent is, poor little guy. 

Rebecca A. Gowns: “Blurred Lines” content, Radio Disney form. It seems like he’s trying to display how his career/voice has evolved, but the single is a poor showcase for that; it’s immature on all fronts. Just leave her alone, man, and stop tooting that pan flute in her ear.

Will Adams: Given the wrong context, “What do you mean when you nod your head yes but you wanna say no” could set anybody’s DANGER DANGER bells off. In a more charitable light, “What Do You Mean” is essentially a whiny, self-serious (yet still just as dumb) rewrite of “Hot N Cold.” Bieber’s pinched vocal is neither improved nor weakened by the attendant limp beach house, so in the end the song is just there

Alfred Soto: In which the wannabe whippersnapper gets praise for undersinging over the kind of burbling post-house that comes three years too late but is four minutes pretty good.

Patrick St. Michel: It’s a particularly sad day when you realize you’ve been more smitten with an artist’s branding strategy than their latest song. Justin Bieber and his Scooter Braun-lead team have worked magic in 2015, first by getting him on the top-level “Where Are U Now” and then by getting him time in that New York Times video about the making of that song. “What Do You Mean” is the final step in a fantastic image rehab (remember when he was a total mess last year? remember the whole monkey fiasco?), a sleek number shooting jusssssst higher than most expect him to aim for…who ticking clocks, very deep…and absorbing all the goofiest elements of tropical house at just the right point. All of those elements make for great buzz, but the song itself barely has to prove why it’s good, opting instead to just breeze along. It’s good, but hardly a knockout song all the now blown-over Twitter whispering implied (doesn’t help that having to follow up that beastly Diplo and Skrillex collaboration was an impossible task).

Scott Mildenhall: The material of a 1970s club comedian presented as a thoughtful meditation on gender, and pan pipe sounds that would form the basis of an early 90s TV comedian’s parody of Enigma. Obviously not as funny as New World Sound and Lethal Bizzle’s “Flutes” then, but somehow it sounds alright. Bieber’s silky-but-slightly-Silk-Cut tone is very pleasant to listen to, and that’s the general theme, but the song pales into comparison to overblown stuff like “As Long As You Love Me.”

Brad Shoup: He’s so pretty. And still so, so dumb. “What Do You Mean?” sure sounds great: deep house with a balearic chill, paced by a ticking clock that might as well be Esperanto to teens. And Justin’s quite sympathetic to how obnoxious you’re being right now. That clock is a countdown; you can practically see him tapping a watch that could buy your parents the house they deserve. 

Ramzi Awn: Justin Bieber does all the right things on “What Do You Mean?” and the island vibes in the mix take it to the next level. His voice is surprisingly disarming, as is the distinct randomness of his influences. Soft and laidback is good for Justin.

Micha Cavaseno: After Bieber promised dalliances with ratchet, and instead provides house as his first single, I’m gonna be a bit salty. But it’s pretty decent that with the collapse of summer, Bugatti Biebz goes with a more subdued vibe, a bit more forlorn and a slight turn to the #fakedeep then you’d expect from the kid. As far as lead singles go, its a bit on the soft and fluffy side, but an interesting suggestion as to where his next project could take us.

Katherine St Asaph: What possible reason could someone have for building a Justin Bieber track around tick-tocks, a la “What You Waiting For,” besides trolling us all? The clock is ticking on his career, but now’s the best chance he’ll get: he’s still a super-hot he-male to someone somewhere, he’s got a million-dollar contract (still, somehow), and Diplo and Skrillex did for him what Drake failed to: make him a viable chart possibility. If this were early 2014 it’d be Pharrell&B and if this were late 2014 it’d be nu-disco, but Ed Sheeran and Austin Mahone have gotten precisely nowhere with those; and since Bieber sings about as well as the Brothers Disclosure, house it is. I know this is pretty much the definition of confirmation bias, but it’s astounding how convincing Bieber is, depending on how you feel about him, as the sweetheart who’s genuinely lovelorn and confused or douchebag who’s trying to finagle a “yes” out of a “no.” Like most of Bieber’s work, it’s fine. It suffices. It will be overpraised by people who will look very foolish in a year when it ceases to matter. Maybe it’s ceasing as you read. Tick-tock.

Reader average: [6.66] (6 votes)

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8 Responses to “Justin Bieber – What Do You Mean?”

  1. amazing writing here

  2. “It’s expensive, you know what I mean? They’re very expensive sounding-sounds”

    Both that quote and this song makes me think Where Are Ü Now’s genius was an accident.

  3. Why do Ramzi’s scores float sometimes??? Too much nbsp at the end of the blurb???

  4. oh god the lede of that billboard article Scott linked was an instant NOPE

  5. that the lyric reveal literally involved him sliding into people’s DMs is just so wonderful

  6. the floating is due to rogue span tags, editors try to kill these as often as we can but if you see them let us know

    (the span tags generally come from copy-pasting)

  7. An example of how constant radio play can transform a song into a minor classic.

  8. i actively avoided this, because bieber, and it came on at restaurant tonight and i was like *dance dance* “what is this?” *dance dance, looks it up* “OH GODDAMMIT”