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What was it that was so alluring about Justin Bieber in 2010? There was something exuberant and undeniable about the tryhard teenybopper — something comforting about his floppy-haired shallowness and rampant consumerism that drew in a generation of fans. He seemed sweet and earnest, charming in a way that allowed us to overlook, even embrace the fact that his music sounded like it was written by a team of capitalist nudge psychologists in a last ditch effort to push purple hi-tops and snapback caps.
Back in that golden era of Bieberdom, we, the listeners, held the power. Bieber was just a kid, and when he sang “Baby, baby, baby oh” for the hundredth time, it was always wistful, a hand outreached, a single soul grasping towards a million others, simply yearning for a moment in the spotlight.
Of course, it’s been many years since the reign of young Bieber. But in the past decade, the Bieber brand has become synonymous with gold-standard hit-making: He’s collaborated with some of the biggest and most innovative names in the music industry. Given this history, “Yummy,” Bieber's first solo single in three years, has high stakes. It is the legacy of an international phenomenon, a touchstone for the sonic identity of the decade.
So why is the song so devastatingly mediocre?
The problem with “Yummy” isn’t its vapidity or its shameless social media stream-mongering. These are core parts of Bieber’s cultural footprint, and listeners simply don’t turn to Bieber for heavyweight experimentation or strong political messages. No, what really jars about “Yummy” is that Bieber has finally let down the essential facade of pop utopianism, revealing a stark truth: that Justin Bieber, who has an estimated net worth of $265 million, does not care whether you like his song. Justin Bieber is too big too fail, and no matter how substandard “Yummy” is, you still will be listening to it for the next six months, on TikTok, during YouTube makeup tutorials, and at crummy Ibiza-themed club nights across the globe.
“Yummy” itself is like the sonic manifestation of Bieber’s “scumbro” aesthetic: sagging tie-dye pullovers and greasy hair. Its triadic syncopated synths are recycled from reliable bops like Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” released just recently enough in 2016 to make the copycat style more derivative than retro. The main melodic hook is amateurish, catchy in intention but not in practice. By Bieber’s standards, the vocals sound flaccid and disinterested. The lyrics don’t even bear discussing.
“Yummy” is more than just an untimely flop for Bieber. It perfectly encapsulates the cracks starting to form in our current guard of pop superstardom. For years, popular culture was a band-aid intrepidly plastered over the gaping wound of corporate America. No longer. Where pop songs once reminded us of our individuality and the validity of our rich personal lives, “Yummy” positions the listener as the outsider, watching Justin and Hailey make out on a luxury resort, dressed head to toe in Bieber’s own apparel line, Drew House.
This isn’t music that expresses any discernible human emotion. Instead, it is background music for an already perfect life — but in a drastically imperfect word, it is derisive, and even offensive to wield power and influence like Bieber’s and still stand for so little.
—Staff writer Lauren V. Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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