Thursday, January 7th, 2021

Shawn Mendes & Justin Bieber – Monster

We’re not friends with this “Monster”…


Asif Becher: Critically acclaimed R&B superstar Justin Bieber teams up with a truly beautiful head of hair to pontificate on the pressures of stardom in 2021 (spoilers: it’s stressful). I don’t doubt that the gaze of millions is a heavy thing to carry, and I’m also sure it must be terrifying to know that the fragile nature of fame means all the people who love you could very easily start hating you at any moment. It’s a weighty subject, and one that two pop stars who grew up in the public eye obviously understand well. But despite the best efforts of producer Frank Dukes, who delivered an undeniable arena-stomper beat in this song, they can’t quite make it land. Both the king of R&B and my favorite middling Bruce Springsteen impersonator have struggled since the start of their careers with an odd vacuum at the center of their massive stardom. For both, there’s no public personality to speak of, just a swirling vortex of bland sexuality, hair, and 100 million followers on Instagram. Justin’s smooth, anonymous voice as ever betrays no emotion, and Shawn’s pained wails feel about as genuine as that Netflix documentary where he tries to convince me that his relationship with Camila Cabello is real. I liked this song better when it was called “Lucky” by Britney Spears. 

Al Varela: Welcome to yet another episode of “Justin Bieber Ruins Everything”. I’ve tried so many times to give this song the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t. It’s one of the worst songs Shawn Mendes has ever made. His voice isn’t built for this song’s cavernous, dismal atmosphere, and Bieber’s voice is even less built for it. Shawn can express angst and insecurity really well, but he needs production that’s more willing to be explosive and frenetic. This slow, clunky beat doesn’t do him any favors. Bieber doesn’t even try to change his tone, and his monotone white noise of a voice makes the song sound even worse, especially on the chorus. The concept has potential, but the tone is all off. It sounds terrible, the melodies aren’t sticky, and neither performance lives up to the song’s stakes, and that guitar solo is lousy. I don’t expect better from Bieber, but I do from Shawn Mendes. What a waste.

Kayla Beardslee: I can’t believe I’m starting another fucking year with another fucking Justin Bieber blurb about the same fucking thing. Yeah, “Monster” isn’t good, and yeah, most of the stuff worth saying about it isn’t about the music at all. This time, though, I’m not spending 600 words speculating on why this song took on such a toothless, vapid form. (But allow me this: how are you going to release another apology narrative single that sounds so uninterested in actually arguing its case to the general public? And why are you both posing these hypothetical “what if I sin?” questions, like a white male comedian whining about cancel culture, without actually bothering to dig deep and present specific examples and/or answers like a responsible human being?). In this case, the problem is pretty simple: pity is not a compelling narrative. I don’t understand how the fuck Bieber’s team doesn’t understand that — the Purpose rollout is right! there! — but no one wants to listen to rich pop stars whine about their troubles, no matter how serious their sentiments might be, if the music isn’t actually enjoyable in some other way. At least “Yummy” was a stale, ignorable saltine that tried nothing; a year later, slogging through the moral molasses of “Monster”, I think I might dislike it more because it actually does try — and, of course, misses the mark in such predictable ways that it undermines the entire premise of the song. “Monster” is a disposable, flawed, and lazy release that argues that celebrities shouldn’t be disposable just because they act flawed and lazy in the public eye: you’ll have to forgive me (…or maybe you don’t) for not being convinced.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Didn’t I just write this blurb about two other white dudes? 

Leah Isobel: Shawn Mendes has a lovely voice, but he has neither the gravity nor the persona to sell this concept; he’s not a boy, not yet a popstar. Justin, meanwhile, already made a better, deeper version of this song. Yet even if he’s playing at the shallow end of the pool, his sheer presence blows Shawn off the track entirely.

Brendan Nagle: Celebrities moaning about how hard it is to be a celebrity will always rank as one of the most boring subjects for art, but “Monster” does at least have the makings of something affecting: two pop stars reflecting not just on a life lived in the spotlight, but on a stardom that began in childhood. (That one of them literally made his first viral breakthrough covering the other’s song should make this even more poignant.) Yet Mendes’ strain towards vulnerability falls almost laughably flat — it isn’t that it’s insincere it’s just so blank, it doesn’t register as anything, really. I continue to be amused that someone as resolutely devoid of personality remains such consistent tabloid fodder. Bieber, for his faults, is at least not a total bore. “I was fifteen when the world put me on a pedestal” genuinely made my ears perk up, and given his history, “made some bad moves tryna act cool” carries some real weight. It doesn’t save the song, but it hints at the direction this needed to take to really work. Maybe it would hit harder if the actual music wasn’t so inoffensively forgettable.

Katherine St Asaph: Hearing a Daniel Caesar song performed by Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber really illuminates how thin the line is between critically acclaimed “tasteful” R&B and… this. Like 5% of me is convinced the demo of “Monster” instead went, in a flail at relevance, “am I the asshole.”

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Justin Bieber’s entrance has enough panache to make this song momentarily convincing, but it otherwise devolves into self-aggrandizing mush. And I’m not talking about the lyrics either: the production begins like a 40-produced Drake track but settles into a stripped-down affair. These two, with their similarly plain vocals, do some strained crooning atop soft crackling, sparse guitar strums, and a lackadaisical drum beat. They’re not nearly as smooth as they think, and having them both here makes that painfully clear.

Alfred Soto: Are you bros on a pedestal or buried in Carlsbad Caverns? How else can you explain the echo? Hayley Williams might’ve gotten away with making sense of the arrangement, but she knows a few things about celebrity, one of which is she will not waste our time decrying the image she helped construct. After all, Biebs, the public has forgiven your sins many times, just as it will Shawn Mendes’ hair. 

Rachel Saywitz: It’s unclear what exactly these two privileged celebrities are trying to get across in “Monster.” Looking at just the lyrics, it actually seems as if Mendes wants to take responsibility for any missteps he might make in his career, asking friends and fans alike to call him out and help correct his behavior. Unfortunately, it’s the context that matters here, especially when adding Bieber into the mix, a man who thinks he is a genuine R&B singer. There’s no doubt that accruing fame at a young age can lead to reckless behavior in an attempt to free oneself from the cage built by fans, press, and management, and in that regard I do feel sympathy for Mendes and Bieber, who lost their teenage years to live in a world they couldn’t fully consent to. But both men are still men — white, straight, cis men at that — and both now have the power in their celebrity status to change their the way they behave and conduct themselves professionally. “Monster” proves to me that by participating in a soulless, mundane sounding collaboration that sounds mechanically designed to garner sympathy, they haven’t learned much. 

Thomas Inskeep: These self-involved pricks have never known true pain in their lives, and with this self-piteous song, this pair of mediocre-at-best pop idols can fuck the fuck off. The idea that anyone should feel sorry for either of them is absurdity at its height. (On top of that, the song is 2020 pop garbage.)

Nortey Dowuona: To quote Sean Burns, FUCK this movie.

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One Response to “Shawn Mendes & Justin Bieber – Monster”

  1. Didn’t have the Mental Capacity to blurb this yesterday (first week of the quarter is rough, who knew !!), but the fact that the emotional climax of this song is Shawn Mendes dishing out Greek-tragedian hypotheticals when the gravest sin he’s committed is a toss-up between being part of the Magcon boys (which people overlooked when he released “Stitches”) or smooch-eating Camila Cabello’s face like it was whipped cream (which was overwritten with the album rollout for Wonder) is….underwhelming. Also underwhelming: How the weird vintage-vocal sample at the beginning reminds me of Kehlani’s CLOUD 19 (namely, “Get Away”) only the be thrown out the window for abstract grooving. Then the guitar comes in only for there to be…scatting? An interesting coping mechanism for impostor syndrome, but if it gets you White Boy of the Month on Twitter, I guess it works?