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The Where Are Ü Now video and the current cultural function of Justin Bieber

The Where Are Ü Now video and the current cultural function of Justin Bieber


The fallen heartthrob is now just a canvas for dick jokes and summer hits

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Of all my high-rotation summer pop songs, Justin Bieber's collaboration with Jack Ü (aka Skrillex and Diplo) is the one I am most conflicted about. There are three people in that musical triangle, and two elicit feelings ranging from conflicted discomfort to outright disgust, but the third happens to be joy personified, so somehow it balances out. I'll ignore for now the rumors that Skrillex has little-to-nothing to do artistically with the Jack Ü project, especially because, at least in this song, I'm pretty sure I'm vibing more to whatever Diplo brought to the table. The song's greatest asset, its melancholy little flute whine of a hook, is straight out of the 2005 Diplo Florida handbook, aka BACK WHEN HE HAD A SOUL. Somehow that refrain has enough summery pathos to make you forget that it comes in between two verses of Justin passive-aggressively guilt tripping his fans / the world for abandoning him while he raced Lambos and abandoned monkeys and acted like this.

Justin just stands there and gets drawn on

"Where Are Ü Now" is about the priceless value of the personal relationship that is forged between a fan and a pop star, so it's only fitting that the music video is built on the scribbles and scrawls of an army of beleaguered Beliebers. Fans and attendees at an event at Seventh Letter Gallery in Los Angeles were invited to draw over still frames of Bieber, and the drawings were stitched together and animated over the clip. There are phone numbers, Twitter handles, and "I love you Justin"s to be found in its untold thousands of hand-drawn frames, as well as scattered Justin / Selena 'shipper bait and at least one (very generous) phallus drawn over Bieber's crotch. Stop-starting frame by frame through the video is a far more interesting timewaster than Justin's mealy mouthed lip-sync work — Biebs doesn't really do much in this video other than stand there and get drawn on, perhaps a metaphor for what happens when you become a universally recognized public figure and the rest of the world's interpretation of you is almost more real than your own personal experience.

Bieber's plea in the song is basically, "I brought you joy through the power of music, and I deserve your loyalty in return" — the emotional version of Taylor Swift's "valuable things should be paid for" argument she's been using on Spotify and Apple Music. It comes off as more than a little resentful and kind of at odds with Jack Ü's more magnanimous statement that accompanied the video: "Justin wrote this record during a tough time in his life," it reads, "and it comes to us that sometimes, as artists, we are also just objects and we have to take that as much as we have to use that to create." But in the video, Bieber's drowned out by the doodles and scribbles. He's been reduced to a canvas onto which ideas can be projected by everyone else; including but not limited to Skrillex and Diplo.