Are you one of the many who can’t get Justin Bieber’s new single “What Do You Mean?” out of your head?
Based on the song’s stack of No.1’s on iTunes charts around the world, Justin Bieber’s catchy melody and relatable story about a guy trying to work out what his indecisive girl is on about spoke to millions about a common issue: how people in relationships often find it hard to communicate.
To the Biebs himself, his comeback single is about “girls [who] are often just flip-floppy,” as he previously explained to radio host Ryan Seacrest back in July. “They say something and they mean something else. ‘So what do you mean?’ I don’t really know, that’s why I’m asking.”
Innocent enough, right? A 2015 smash bop that updates the age-old “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” idea for millennials.
Over at TMZ, they had another theory. In search of clickbait for their Friday live call-in buzz topic show, the gossip website reached way beyond the actual context of Bieber’s plea in “What Do You Mean?” for straightforwardness from a girl. Instead, the website dialed up to 100 and asked if the song was “rape-y”?
Quite apart from the fact that the site conveniently assumes Bieber’s tropicana-pop gem is all about sex, when there is only one line that expressly talks about sex, the outlet spectacularly misses its own point.
Good point. Who would disagree? Bieber’s new single certainly doesn’t. Consider the chorus opener:
The heartthrob asks, “What do you mean? / Oh, oh, when you nod your head yes but you wanna say no.”
In that scenario, Bieber is the one double-checking that the girl nodding “yes” to whatever she is agreeing to really means yes, because he senses something different.
At another point in the song, which is in fact the only time the superstar does mention sex directly, he sings, “First you wanna go to the left then you wanna turn right / Wanna argue all day, making love all night.”
All very consensual, and likely describes the way many couples interact.
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) August 29, 2015
Fortunately, MTV also took a look at Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” and came up with some sensible takeaways about the song.
Franchesca Ramsey, host of MTV News’ Decoded webseries, offered her insights about what the song is about, and mused if it could be called a consent anthem.
“It’s all about Justin talking to this indecisive girl: are we doing this, are we not doing this? Are you into me, are you not into me?,” she says.
She went on, “And at first I was like, uh, is this ‘Blurred Lines 2.0’? But after listening to the lyrics, it’s actually the complete opposite.”
Franchesca explained, “Bieber is actually checking in with his partner, making sure everyone’s on the same page and cool with everything that’s going on. Relationships are complicated. It’s OK to ask if you can move forward, it’s OK to say no, it’s OK to have apprehensions!”
She also gave props to Justin for singing about a topic that she says young people of both sexes should hear. Ramsey stated, “You can’t deny that Justin Bieber has a ton of influence and a lot of young female and male fans who need to be exposed to this conversation.”
In closing: It’s mystifying why a single that does not require any expert decoding has generated hand-wringing and a leap to the subject of “rape,” when Bieber does nothing in the song but constantly ask for clarification from his girl about her feelings.
Bottom line? Would people even be having this debate if Ed Sheeran sang “What Do You Mean?”
[Images via Women’s Wear Daily]