Justin Bieber just wants to ask you a question, again. Owing either to marketing efforts or issues that can only be determined in a therapy session, the signature hits of the Canadian child star’s adult career have boasted choruses as interrogatives. When he transitioned to semi-adventurous dance-pop: “Where are you now that I need you?” Amid metronome and burbling keys: “What do you mean?” Over skeletal dancehall: “Is it too late to say sorry?” Now, he’s got a sunny new single and a hopeful new question: “Can we still be friends?”
In all cases, he and his team have executed a songwriting/brand-management trick. The lyrics literally address a lover—but allegorically it’s clear he’s talking to his famously devoted, famously long-suffering fans. Amid bucket-peeing scandals, and concert-stage surliness, and rants about the burden of giving autographs, he has repeatedly sought amends and checked on his followers’ loyalty. Asking, asking, asking: We cool? The plaintive stance is an easy match for Bieber’s musical and meta-musical identities—hangdog yet angelic, an eternal choirboy struggling with life in the spotlight.
The new single, “Friends,” is sleek electro—the zillionth child of the Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” to approach the public in the past three decades. It’s a collaboration with Blood Pop, one of the trendy producers of the moment and the leading musical architect of this phase of Bieber’s career. His signature is to bedazzle otherwise pro-forma pop with fidgety rhythmic details and snippets of manipulated vocals that evoke the image of an all-Pokemon backing choir.