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SPINfighting: What Should the New Justin Bieber Single Sound Like?

Our new weekly roundtable asks the really hard questions

As the roundtable format has grown into an effectively direct way for a publication to think out loud for its readers’ perusal, we’re happy to debut SPINfighting, a new column where the SPIN staff will debate about a new wrinkle in the musical landscape every week. In this inaugural edition, we asked ourselves what we want out of the new single from the lovably execrable Justin Bieber, scheduled to premiere next Friday.

Brennan Carley: As easy of a target as Bieber’s become — and believe me, as a newsblogger, he’s the lowest-hanging fruit on the tree — I’ve never for a second doubted that this comeback moment was inevitable. When I saw him in 2012 on his Believe tour, his voice had already started to crack (puberty’s a bitch), but even then, he was harnessing it in different, huskier, even sexier ways. Journals was an overlooked exercise in restraint; though his Diplo and Skrillex smash has won back fans (and probably even scored him new ones), there’d be no better way to silence the haters than slamming down an “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” of his own — a stripped-down slow jam that proves definitively that his voice is an instrument worth hearing. He can dance; he can charm; can he sing? All he needs is a stool, a spotlight, and a second-life single that shuts the haters up for good.

Andrew Unterberger: The Biebs already got himself halfway to his comeback with “Where Are Ü Now,” which is obviously one of the best singles he’s ever attached his name to, but just as importantly, features the (collective) names of Skrillex and Diplo ahead of his own. Bieber as a supporting performer is a pleasant surprise, a curiosity-sparking “Oh, really?” It shows an inherent kind of humility that we’d rarely seen from the burgeoning megalomaniac. It’s a good look.

Chris Brown got this in early 2011, when he released “Look at Me Now,” in which he largely (and wisely) ceded the floor to veteran guest MCs Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne, and even producer Diplo, really. Breezy was rewarded with his biggest hit since public opinion turned on him, and Bieber would do well to follow his example: Round up a couple of guest mic-rockers (say, old pal Ludacris and one of the TDE crew), a cutting-edge producer looking to go big-budget (Sophie, maybe?), keep things fun and casual. Biebs can even rap for a few bars if he really wants.

Harley Brown: “What Do Ü Mean, Where Are Ü Now?” Bieber doesn’t need to feel nearly so lost, especially since it seems like he’s finally arrived at a style that really fits him, unlike those drop-crotch pants he was so partial to for a while. Sure, Journals was a great R&B album, but that was post-Bad Boy Justin, forever associated with a shot at redemption via aesthetics best-suited to his girl-crumbling croon. Back then, longtime mentor and staunch defender Usher was one of the few in his back pocket; now, Bieber counts Diplo and Skrillex as one of his most prominent advocates (“He’s a f—king virtuoso who’ll school you at everything,” the latter recently told Billboard). With Sonny Moore on his side and “Where Are Ü Now” — a great, hair-raising track, with its hauntingly hollow build and feral-yet-understated drop — climbing the charts, Bieber would be wise to stick to the course that’s been drawn for him like those paint lines.

Dan Weiss: What if I want him to fail? The Jack Ü collab is good, but that doesn’t mean I want to put another dollar in the pocket of his pre-ripped jeans. I’d like his next single to feature a Macklemore verse that confuses Toni Morrison with Maya Angelou, while Robin Thicke croons “I don’t need consent, girl” on the hook. Diplo can “produce,” jacking the beat from a woman he follows on Instagram. The title? “Poop Emoji.”

Rachel Brodsky: Because he spent the last few years abandoning (unlawful) pet monkeys, wearing gas masks, pissing into buckets, siccing his bodyguards on photographers, and just generally being a spoiled-rotten asshat, it’s been difficult to expect much from Bieber in the way of decency. Then along came the stunning “Where Are Ü Now” to resurrect Bieber’s People Problem (despite his best PR efforts), and we were like, oh right, the guy has the falsetto of a baby angel. Only hiccup: Diplo and Skrillex won’t be around to lift Bieber out of professional purgatory every time he suffers a public-image oopsie (and Diplo has plenty of his own).

So the question is, what sonic good is Bieber capable of doing by himself? As his previous album hinted, probably something along the lines of the Weeknd. He may yet provide his own “Can’t Feel My Face,” a grooving, Michael Jackson-sounding dance-floor anthem with equal parts heart and groin. It’s clean enough to get played on every last Top 40 station — and maybe a few preteen birthday parties — but also dirrrty enough to get pelvises grinding. It’s a logical step forward for Bieber, too, who is arguably entering the third phase of his young career at 21: too old to ask high school juniors to be his girlfriend, but now he enjoy a skin-numbing legal drink with the rest of his pop contemporaries.

James Grebey: Honestly, what Bieber’s music sounds like is irrelevant, given that he’s probably better known at this point as a laughing-at (not with) subject of a Comedy Central Roast. He should keep on doing exactly what he’s been doing. The Biebs serves a very important and necessary role as America’s Chief Dirtbag, uniting tweens in their misplaced admiration and unites the rest of us in amused disdain. Unlike say, a Chris Brown, Bieber’s crimes — including pissing off the government of Argentinamaking a scene at Dave and Busters, and generally being a choad — aren’t serious enough to merit legitimate revulsion. He’s the perfect level of hateable, and it would be a shame if he did anything to change this status one way or another. To paraphrase Jim Gordon, “He’s not the dirtbag we deserve, but the dirtbag we need.”